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Home Politics Trump Indictment, Part IV: A Spectacle That Has Become Surreally Routine

Trump Indictment, Part IV: A Spectacle That Has Become Surreally Routine

by nytime
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Another grand jury, another indictment. For the fourth time in as many months, former President Donald J. Trump was charged on Monday with serious crimes and what was once unprecedented has now become surreally routine.

The novelty of a former leader of the United States being called a felon has somehow worn off. Not that the sweeping 98-page indictment handed up in Georgia accusing him of corruptly trying to reverse the state’s 2020 election results was any less momentous. But a country of short attention spans has now seen this three times before and grown oddly accustomed to the spectacle.

Multiple prosecutors have now cumulatively laid out an alleged presidential crime spree of epic proportions, complete with tangled intrigues, mysterious co-conspirators and intersecting subplots. The Georgia indictment went further than previous ones by charging 18 others with joining a criminal enterprise with the former president, including associates like Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mark Meadows, Sidney Powell, Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman.

Yet most Americans made up their minds about Mr. Trump long before prosecutors like Fani T. Willis or Jack Smith weighed in, polls have shown. He is, depending on the perspective, a serial lawbreaker finally being brought to justice or a victim of persecution by partisans intent on keeping him out of office. The Georgia indictment, powerful as it is in its language, has been priced into the market, as the Wall Street types would put it.

“The accumulated indictments are kind of a white noise for voters,” said Sarah Longwell, a Republican political consultant who has organized opposition to Mr. Trump and conducts weekly focus groups with voters. “They can’t tell the difference between Georgia and Jack Smith because it all blurs together in one long news cycle of Trump’s-in-trouble.”

This speaks volumes about how much Mr. Trump has transformed America in the eight years since he first ran for the White House. The nation once recoiled at presidential candidates caught driving under the influence or swiping lines in a speech without credit. Now one of the two major parties has not ruled out a front-runner charged with conspiring to subvert democracy, endangering national security, obstructing justice and falsifying records of hush money to a pornographic film star.

Mr. Trump has moved the lines so far that supporters — including most of his Republican opponents for next year’s presidential nomination — show no signs of turning against him no matter how many indictments are issued, a testament to how much he has forced his party to embrace his martyrdom narrative. The notion that a rap sheet with multiple felonies would not be automatically disqualifying would have stunned the 44 presidents who came before him, including the Republicans.

“It’s just another norm he’s smashed,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a longtime Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Mr. Trump in 2016. “The indictments have failed to upset the fundamental dynamic that keeps Trump strong — his supporters’ rock-solid belief that he is on their side.”

He benefits too from the been-there, done-that quality of a fourth time in the dock. When Mr. Trump was arraigned in April on the New York hush money charges, the first indictment of a former president in history, 8.2 million people tuned into Fox, MSNBC and CNN to watch. But when he entered a plea in Florida in June in the classified documents case, the audience fell to 5.5 million. Interest ticked up for this month’s arraignment in Washington on charges of corruptly trying to overturn the election, with 5.9 million tuning in.

Still, even if the surprise value has faded, the outrage surely has not for a sizable part of the country, which sees this as a much-deserved comeuppance. And while the indictments have bolstered rather than eroded Mr. Trump’s support among Republicans, no one can predict for sure what might happen if and when he goes on trial after trial after trial.

A relentless drumbeat of evidence and witnesses against him could in theory persuade some backers to abandon him, if for no other reason than it might make him less likely to win a general election rematch against President Biden next year.

Of course, that is just what some analysts predicted might happen if Mr. Trump were actually indicted. If not the first time, then surely the second time. If not the second time, then maybe the third time. Predictions stopped by the fourth.

It could still play out the opposite way. While the general facts are not contested, some of the cases are built on legal arguments that may end up not persuading a jury. If Mr. Trump is acquitted, he will trumpet the verdict as an I-told-you-so vindication.

“I do think a conviction on a serious felony charge may change the views of at least the maybe-Republican cohort in the G.O.P. about his electability,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster. “On the other hand, an acquittal in the first case virtually assures his renomination.”

Case No. 23SC188947 brought by Ms. Willis, the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney, raises grave matters. Among other things, the former president was charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, a law historically associated with mafia prosecutions, as well as solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer and conspiracy to commit false statements and writings.

“It is still historic and meaningful but there’s diminishing marginal utility in the politics, particularly when it’s the same scheme on which Jack Smith indicted him,” said Brendan Buck, an adviser to past Republican House speakers. “For voters, at this point you’ve decided whether being indicted is problematic or if you believe this is all being done to undermine his campaign.”

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster, agreed that the Georgia indictment “largely replays the same political dynamics as the federal indictment.” But he added that what makes the Georgia case slightly different “is that it focuses the narrative more closely on Republican officials who stood up to Trump because they knew what he was asking was wrong.”

Mr. Trump has systematically treated his criminal cases as if they were just another plot twist in his ongoing political reality show.

After a day of blitzing out fund-raising appeals anticipating the Georgia indictment, Mr. Trump’s campaign issued a late-night statement once it was issued assailing “the Biden-Smith goon squads” and the “rabid partisan” Ms. Willis while calling the various prosecutions “un-American and wrong.”

Speaking to supporters in Alabama a couple of days after his last arraignment, he claimed he was looking forward to the next one. “We need one more indictment to close out this election,” he boasted.

That is bravado — the sort of bring-it-on bluster that electrifies a Trump rally. As much as his strategists spin that more indictments are actually better for him, no one truly wants to face multiple prosecutions, or at least no one ought to. Each case is a threat to Mr. Trump’s liberty and legacy. Even if he manages an escape from one legal net, there are that many more that could ensnare him.

At this point, Mr. Trump is about to become a professional defendant. He has already been found liable for sexual abuse by a jury that ordered $5 million in damages in a civil trial this year, and his family-run business has been convicted of 17 counts of tax fraud and other financial crimes in a separate criminal trial.

Mr. Trump has five more trials scheduled between now and May — the hush money case, the classified documents case, a New York State civil fraud trial and two federal civil trials. A sixth trial will be scheduled in Mr. Smith’s election conspiracy case and now a seventh on the Georgia counts. Altogether, that would mean nine trials for Mr. Trump since leaving the White House, not counting the Senate impeachment trial just after his term expired.

But these four criminal trials matter the most. The table has now been set, the issues laid out by four grand juries in four locations. All told, they have charged him with 91 felonies, any one of which could send him to prison for years.

And so the country must brace itself for what will surely be described as the Trial of the Century. Which will be followed by the next Trial of the Century. And then the next. And then the next.

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