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The exhausting view of this bizarre week – with the first GOP presidential primary debate one day, followed by the fourth arrest this year of the former president the next – is that everyone should prepare for so much more of this uniquely American and continuously unbelievable political spectacle.
It will be impossible to look away.
The atmospherics are distracting
Former President Donald Trump’s stone-faced mug shot and the televised motorcade of his trip to court painted his arrest Thursday at the Fulton County jail in Atlanta with a reality TV theatricality. They also drove home that Trump, like every other American, must ultimately submit to the law – in this case, in relation to charges against him for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
His return to the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, in order to defiantly share the mug shot suggests he is reclaiming the weapons of misinformation he utilized during his last failed campaign, which ended in loss and inspired an insurrection.
Questions about whether his weight was misrepresented on booking documents – 215 pounds for his 6-foot-3-inches frame – is a reminder that disputed small details take on the feeling of importance when Trump is involved.
The competition can’t find its footing
Trump’s control of the party he remade around himself continues to hold.
If there’s any doubt that 2024 could ultimately rematch Trump with President Joe Biden, note that the Republican debate that could have anointed a legitimate GOP challenger to Trump may instead have elevated Vivek Ramaswamy, the outsider and upstart who is modeling himself as Trump’s political heir.
The other acknowledged standout at the debate, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, has not yet broken double digits in polling. Stay tuned to see if an anti-Trump sentiment coalesces around her or anyone else.
Related: CNN’s John King is following GOP voters in Iowa. Read his report on how the debate affected which candidate they support.
The deeper questions are essential
The mug shot is a cover image for the four trials, played out in courtrooms up and down the East Coast, which will see Trump tried for:
- What he did to get elected in 2016 (the Manhattan district attorney’s charges related to a hush-money scheme).
- His treatment of the nation’s secrets (special counsel Jack Smith’s classified documents case in Florida).
- And most importantly, whether he tried to subvert the democracy he swore to protect in 2020 (Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ case in Georgia and Smith’s in Washington, DC).
This is ugly, but the alternative is worse
If the world is indeed locked in a struggle between democracies and autocracies, as Biden often asserts, then it is hard not to compare Trump’s coming trials and the coming American election with the other most sensational worldwide story of the week:
- In the US, the former president and leader of the free world surrendered to a county prosecutor to answer charges he masterminded a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
- In Russia, a onetime mutineer against the country’s strongman leader tumbled to earth in a mysterious and fiery plane crash.
Unlike in Russia, where the political rivals of President Vladimir Putin are routinely stripped of their rights and shipped off to prison camps, in the US we can expect juries to stand in judgment of Trump and his alleged co-conspirators.
It will continue to be exhausting
There will be numerous subplots and mini-dramas in the months to come.
How to find impartial juries, whether Trump’s Georgia case should be moved to federal court or separated from his alleged co-conspirators, and just how speedy any of these trials should occur are guaranteed storylines.
But ultimately, just as he was forced to submit to a mug shot, Trump will have to submit to the fact that juries of his peers, American citizens, will decide these trials of the century.
Trump will argue persecution, as always
He is also perfectly within his rights to repeat his yearslong mantra that this is all part of a “witch hunt.”
Assuming he can continue to motivate Republican voters with his campaign of retribution and hang on to his top spot in the GOP to become the party’s presidential nominee for the third straight time, then a much larger jury pool of sorts – every American voter – will get their say about that claim.
And that brings up another, perhaps more inspiring view of this very weird week, which is that a democratic system that has lasted and evolved over 200-plus years is going to stand up for itself.
The rhetoric is getting worse
“Do you want us to be in civil war? Because that’s what’s going to happen,” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said during a Thursday appearance on Newsmax.
It’s far from a mainstream view, and Trump’s multiple arrests have so far yielded little in the way of mass protest. But there is clearly a new openness on the right to using the language of war in terms of “taking the country back.”
The fact is that none of these things are set
Trump remains innocent until proven guilty. He could win acquittal in any or all four of the trials in which he’s a defendant.
Republican voters could well choose someone else. Primaries won’t get underway until early next year, at which time the majority of Republicans who would rather see someone other than Trump as their nominee may have found an alternative.
He’s competitive against Biden. Many Republicans fear Trump would be easier for Biden to beat than a candidate without Trump’s baggage, but the current polling suggests the next presidential election will be as close as the last one.