Washington Whispers: Trump’s Fate—The Campaign Trail or Jail?
Updated: 6 days ago
By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
The political scene right now is like one of those horror movies in which, no matter what you do to escape the madman, Jason or Freddy—or in this instance, Donald Trump—he just keeps rising out of his swamp or your nightmares, coming back to plague you again and again and again.
That Trump plans to run for president once more in 2024 is no surprise. The speculation is whether he will announce it before the midterm elections or after.
Trump is chomping at the bit to announce early.
Most important, to Trump’s way of thinking, becoming president will stop the investigations into his many crimes. One source who discussed the matter with Trump this summer told Rolling Stone this month, “He says when he is president again, a new Republican administration will put a stop to the [Justice Department] investigation that he views as the Biden Administration working to hit him with criminal charges –or even put him and his people in prison.” Another source reported that Trump “said something like, ‘[prosecutors] couldn’t get away with this while I was president.’”
If Trump gains the presidency in 2024, the Department of Justice (DOJ) policy forbidding prosecution of a sitting president would insulate him from any federal charges for another four years.
Double trouble: Trump is facing possible criminal prosecution by Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta area district attorney. and Merrick Garland, the U.S. Attorney General in Washington, D.C. (R)
Given the right-wing leanings of the Supreme Court, it might even hold that the presidency protects Trump from all those pesky state criminal investigations and civil lawsuits currently being leveled against him (the Georgia criminal investigation and the civil suit brought by Capitol and Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police officers, to name just two).
In addition, based on DOJ guidance to eschew investigation of presidential candidates too near an election, Trump likely thinks that announcing his candidacy this early will insulate him from prosecution now. However, unless Attorney General Merrick Garland is entirely feckless, it’s unlikely that such insulation would kick in two and a half years before the next presidential election.
Trump is also calculating that a pre-midterm announcement would discourage primary challenges against him. He told New York Magazine, “I think a lot of people would not even run if I did that…I think that you would actually have a backlash against them if they ran.”
Some Trump adherents have been encouraging him to announce before the midterms. But many other Republican politicos are afraid that doing so will make Trump’s malfeasance the midterm issue, rather than the rising price of gas and food. One Republican strategist told the Washington Post, “Of all the selfish things he does every minute of every day, it would probably be the most… Everything we are doing that is not talking about the economy is going to be a disaster.”
This fear can only have increased after the final January 6 committee hearing last Thursday (July 21), which thoroughly exposed Trump’s leadership of the January 6 coup attempt and his callous criminal intent. Of course, these Republicans are fine with Trump running—they only want his announcement delayed so that he doesn’t harm their chances of taking over the Senate and the House. However, one would expect that the jeopardy the revelations create for Trump will increase his panic to announce early.
Unlike the Republicans, Democrats are rooting for Trump to announce as early as possible. The common wisdom is that Trump would be the perfect foil to turn attention away from the Biden Administration’s perceived failure to adequately react to obstruction in the Senate and the right-wing onslaught from the Supreme Court.
Democratic strategist Xochitl Hinojosa told New York Magazine’s Intelligencer column this month, “now you have Roe, and if you also have the threat of Trump becoming president, that becomes a motivating factor not just for the Democratic base to turn out but also for moderate voters who didn’t vote for him in the last election.”
Democrats apparently hope that an early Trump candidacy will not only allow Biden to contrast his steady style with Trump’s instability, but will aid down-ballot candidates during the midterm election. Former White House Senior Advisor Cedric Richmond told Politico this month, “It puts in perspective what’s at stake, shows that the Republican Party is still extreme and helps set up the contrast…Democrats need to home in on what they stand for — from their agenda to their values and contrast it with how extreme the other side is and what they want to do.”
My advice to the Democrats: be careful what you wish for. Assumptions about the best foe to defeat in an election tend to backfire. Witness the 2016 election. Though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, she did not win out against Trump’s Putin-aided manipulations. The aftermath of the 2020 election nearly ended in a successful coup. And now the GOP and the Supreme Court are gearing up to allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to substitute their will for that of the voters if elections go against their party. Although this effort is ongoing with or without Trump, with Trump on the presidential ticket, the anti-democratic corruption will likely be more intense.
Though millions of people have watched the January 6 committee hearings, there are others who only watch Fox News. Fox did not even carry the last, decisive hearing, but falsely characterized it as absolving Trump.
It is an open question whether the voters—the people—will crack wise to their own true interests and vote accordingly. Will they simply react to the moment’s economic and other political pain rather than understand that Republican obstruction is preventing the current administration from easing it? In the midterms, will they have the perception to throw out the Trumpist candidates lock, stock and barrel?
I tend toward H.L. Mencken’s statement: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” But like any good pessimist, I sincerely hope I’m wrong.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.