Donald Trump: What is the former president’s plan to face his arrest scenario?
Donald Trump predictions about his arrest this week have yet to materialize, but with criminal charges pending against him, the former US president is plotting a strategy aimed at keeping him out of prison and furthering his historic bid to return to the White House.
It’s a daunting task, and Trump, lounging at his Mar-a-Lago home, seems resigned to becoming the first US president to be charged with a crime.
However, it is also clear that it will not go smoothly. His previous choices in moments of political crisis are a useful guide to what we may see in the near future.
When cornered by political opponents, Trump strikes back with a slap.
Is subject to criticism of war hero John McCain? No, Trump escalated his attacks. And when he was accused of sexual harassment before a debate with Hillary Clinton, he held a press conference with Bill Clinton’s accusers of sexual abuse.
During his presidency, it was the same story at the time of two attempts to impeach him through legal proceedings, during a special counsel’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election and countless other minor controversies.
“If Trump is indicted, the rules of the game remain exactly the same,” says Brian Lanza, a Republican strategist and adviser to Trump. “Attack what’s legal as political.”
The best defense, they say, is a good offense.
Trump is already striking blows against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, portraying him as a liberal prosecutor bent on pursuing political revenge against the former president.
Monday’s press release referred to him as a “progressive activist,” a “rogue prosecutor,” and a “tyrant who has politicized the justice system.”
These attacks are expected to continue if an indictment is announced against Trump, who will portray himself as the victim of a left-wing conspiracy — a popular theory of persecution that Trump has relied on regularly in his political career.
According to Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, the former president is “energized and outraged” by the prospect of his arrest. He is focused on appearing defiant in any potential public appearances, and is willing to portray the criminal case as a de facto attack on his supporters.
The former president has at least two major opportunities to launch his counterattack in the coming days. One is a planned rally in Waco, Texas. And if the past tells us anything, Trump is in his true, spotless image during rallies, going off script, attacking his opponents, and fueling the energy of his crowds.
Another chance for Trump, if he is indeed indicted, will come the day he can travel to New York City for a police custody and court summons, precisely the moment the defendant walks through a crowd of reporters on his way to court.
It may not happen due to security concerns, but another judicial tradition seems more likely: the press conference on top of the courtroom stairs.
The former president will be given the opportunity to attack his accusers, portray himself as a victim of a liberal elite, and dominate headlines across the United States.
Such thoughts are already appearing in Trump’s campaign fundraising appeals, which have reached a feverish pace since he speculated that he might be charged with a crime.
“If this political persecution continues unchallenged, I won’t be the target, one day it will be you,” he said in an email. According to the Washington Post, citing the Trump adviser, the campaign has raised more than $1.5 million since Saturday.
For now, the usual response from Republicans — including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other prominent elected officials — has played into Trump’s favour. They echo Trump’s rhetoric in condemning the New York investigation as an illegal political attack.
Ohio Senator J.D. Vance said, “Many reporters have asked me if the indictment would cause me to recant my endorsement of Donald Trump. The answer is: Absolutely not. A politically motivated impeachment makes Trump’s case stronger. We simply won’t have a real country.” If justice depends on politics.”
However, this strategy puts pressure on Trump’s Republican political opponents, who may have to step up their efforts to wrest the spotlight from the former president.
It is no coincidence that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, potentially the most dangerous challenger for the former president’s 2024 nomination, criticized Trump directly for the first time this week.
In the past, attacking Trump directly was a fool’s errand for his Republican opponents—a step of desperation that only serves to solidify Trump’s standing with his base. Indeed, more attacks might only strengthen his position.
“If he was indicted, he would be bulletproof,” says Lanza.
But in the long run, Trump’s position is not without risks.
Regardless of the possibility of his conviction and prison sentence, his legal troubles — which go beyond the charges expected in New York courts and include investigations by Georgia state officials and a federal special counsel — highlight personality traits that many Republican voters said they disliked very much.
His feisty online persona and lack of personal discipline have been targeted by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
And those expected accusations could be a major distraction for the president and his campaign, who will have to respond to events in New York completely outside their control, as court appearances compete with Republican debates and primary contests on Trump’s electoral calendar.
And if Trump were to overcome the hurdles and win the Republican nomination, his legal struggles would likely be a negative factor against the Democratic nominee.
“Ultimately, an impeachment helps no one,” former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said during an interview with ABC News. “Donald Trump is not someone who would be a winning candidate in the Republican general election.”
Although Trump has survived these kinds of scandals and investigations for the past eight years, his luck may run out, and even the best political talent can fail when circumstances change.
Even the strongest ships can be wrecked in rough waters.