A family in MAGA hats waves a flag.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump wait for his arrival outside the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 24, 2023.

(Photo: Christian Monterrosa/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite 4 Indictments, Trump Will Still Be the GOP Nominee

His ability to campaign may be limited by his legal woes, but his supporters will vote for him anyway.

It’s election season, and the leading candidates for president are barnstorming from state to state on the stump-speech circuit. Or, in the case of former president Donald Trump, to keep court dates.

As they say: priorities.

Trump was indicted last week, along with 18 other defendants, in Fulton County, Georgia. That makes the fourth jurisdiction in which the former president is facing criminal penalties, following the cases in Washington, D.C., where he was charged in federal court with conspiracy to overturn the election (four counts), and in Florida for illegally possessing classified documents (40 counts, including superseding indictments, for obstructing the government’s efforts to get them back), and in New York for paying off an adult film star to cover up an affair (34 counts of falsifying business records).

In Georgia, Trump himself faces 13 counts in the latest indictment, out of 41 total charges that also target 18 co-defendants. Trump’s charges include violating Georgia’s racketeering laws, and several that stem from the conspiracy to submit a false slate of electors to the Electoral College—and which also include the “absolutely perfect phone call” to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, asking him to “find 11,780 votes” to change the outcome of the election.

If four indictments seem excessive, it’s because Donald Trump was excessive in committing crimes in multiple jurisdictions.

Among the flurry of indictments and addenda and superseding indictments, it’s hard to keep track of which ones are important. The answer is that all of them are vitally important. If four indictments seem excessive, it’s because Donald Trump was excessive in committing crimes in multiple jurisdictions.

In the words of another former president, Trump is in deep doo-doo. But that doesn’t mean we can let down our guard.

We need to come to terms with an uncomfortable truth: the fact that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. His ability to campaign may be limited by his legal woes, but his supporters will vote for him anyway. We’re entering a presidential election phase where the Biden-vs.-Trump rematch is 99% certain, and that 1% hedge has only to do with both candidates being decades older than the average American president.

No viable candidate is going to emerge on the Democratic side to challenge an incumbent president with a largely successful term in office under his belt. First, we have Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a new darling of the right whose dangerous anti-vaccine crusade has been shown to be just the surface of his conspiracy-mongering and transphobia. Second, we have Marianne Williamson, whose “politics of love” nonetheless failed to win over American hearts in 2020, and whose own views on vaccines are likewise suspect, even if they’ve since been eclipsed by those of RFK Jr.

And it’s been obvious from day one that the Republican Party is setting itself up to repeat the 2015 primary race, where Trump picks off, one by one, a large number of third-tier politicians too cowardly to challenge him directly. Just as in 2015, he won’t even need a majority of the Republican vote, because he’s the only candidate who will have more than 20% to begin with.

(The one possible exception to this is former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has said he’s in the race specifically to try to take Trump down. More power to him if he does, because no one can defeat Trump by ignoring him—he has to be confronted head-on and destroyed. Maybe Christie is the one to do that, but I’m still waiting for evidence.)

In 2023 though, Trump’s already polling well above 50% among Republicans, despite the indictments. That’s because the GOP since 2015 has largely purged itself of its establishment wing, leaving the extremists in control. (Meanwhile, 53% of Americans actually approve of the indictments, and they may be hurting Trump’s overall favorability as the campaign season begins.)

And, while the indictments seem to be fueling a modest dip in Trump’s national polling numbers, the indictments are boosting his polling numbers within the Republican primary. That’s because his followers believe, with all the fervent religiosity of cult members, that the Big Bad Woke Government is persecuting loyal, patriotic Republicans. The charges only feed their persecution complex, which is what feeds the hand-wringing commentators urging us not to prosecute Trump, out of fear of what his supporters will do. As if his supporters haven’t already tried to violently overthrow the government.

Let’s disabuse ourselves of another fantasy. Even if Trump goes to prison because he’s found guilty, or he’s put in jail for contempt by a judge who refuses to tolerate his taunts and threats, he will continue running for president, he will win the GOP nomination, and he could indeed be reelected. There ought to be a law, but there isn’t. The narrowly divided Congress has been unable to do the sensible thing and pass legislation barring him under the 14th Amendment from holding public office, or even just in response to his two impeachments.

I wouldn’t put much stock in the recent “conservative argument for barring Trump” articles either. They’re interesting arguments, and the law professors making the case are perhaps even correct that the 14th Amendment prohibition is automatic, with no Congressional action needed. But most state GOP officials who have the power to boot Trump from the ballot aren’t going to do that without a court order, and this is a party that has increasingly shown its willingness to ignore the law entirely.

This doesn’t mean Trump won’t eventually go to prison. But it’s very unlikely to happen before the next election, given the inevitable appeals and Trump’s expertise in delay tactics and avoiding accountability. After all, he still insists he won the 2020 election. This could go on for a long time.

But there are signs we will see some major results before the election.

Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, who brought both the classified documents case in Florida and the election interference case in Washington, D.C., has indicated he isn’t going to accommodate Trump’s usual tactics and requested January 2 as a date for Trump’s election interference trial. Smith even indicated he’d allow the documents trial to be postponed to accommodate this one.

That’s important for two reasons. One, voters have a right to know if Trump is guilty or not guilty before casting their votes. More importantly, if Trump wins, he can, and will, simply dismiss any federal cases that are still pending. Maybe he’ll even settle the cases with a payout from the government to himself to cover his (likely inflated) legal fees. He may pardon himself if he’s both found guilty and wins the election, because his handpicked, subservient attorney general won’t stop him—and that’s even more of an argument to make sure Trump never again obtains power.

Speaking personally as someone who grew up on the East Coast in the 1970s and ’80s, it was pretty obvious back then that Trump was, at best, a tawdry huckster with a long line of shady deals and business failures to his name, both his own and others’.

Fortunately, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan also appears to be resistant to Trumpian antics, granting Smith’s early request to prevent Trump from sharing trial evidence publicly, as he is almost certainly going to do. She’s also issued a warning to Trump, indicating that she will take any necessary measures to stop Trump from intimidating witnesses or tainting the jury pool with his trial-by-tantrum strategy.

In 2016, someone who hadn’t been paying attention might be forgiven for not expecting the rampancy of criminal behavior once Trump ascended to national office. But the mass media can’t be forgiven, since it’s their job to be paying attention. And, speaking personally as someone who grew up on the East Coast in the 1970s and ’80s, it was pretty obvious back then that Trump was, at best, a tawdry huckster with a long line of shady deals and business failures to his name, both his own and others’. He was a regular of the New York Post’s “Page Six” gossip column and grocery store checkout-line magazines. By extension, the “serious” media should have done a better job warning American voters about someone they only knew from highly scripted appearances on The Apprentice.

In 2023, mass media no longer have an excuse, and largely they’ve been fairly good. But they’re still acting as if the Republican nomination isn’t a foregone conclusion. And the possibilities of more Trumpian violence, let alone another January 6-style insurrection, can’t be understated.

The United States is quite imperfect in living up to its ideals, but the general trend has been to get better at it. Allowing someone to escape justice just because he’s a former president, or because we’re afraid of his followers, undermines our commitment to have justice for all.

Fortunately, it appears we aren’t going to allow justice to be denied in this case. Prosecuting (and convicting) Trump won’t change the minds of his loyal base, and it may indeed push some of them over the edge. But it will show that the rest of the nation is willing to live up to its principles.

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This article was written for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.