Mutually assured re-nomination
August 3, 2023
There's being fortunate in your enemies, and then there's having enemies who are helping you take the first step in your political comeback.
Donald Trump and his adversaries want profoundly different things in the long run -- Trump wants to be back in the White House; Democrats want him in an orange jumpsuit.
Yet, in the shorter term, they both are seeking the same thing -- Trump as the Republican nominee, either so he can sweep to victory (Trump's view) or be beaten again and held to account for his crimes (the Democrats' view).
The serial indictments of Trump, even if it's not their primary purpose, advance this mutual interest. With every indictment, Trump dominates media attention and rallies Republicans to his side based on charges of selective prosecution.
The routine is so predictable, it's become boring. The first indictment of a former president had some novelty, but now it feels as commonplace as a pork chop on a stick at the Iowa State Fair.
The pushback against the notion that Trump's prosecutorial pursuers know that they might as well be 'MAGA' agents is that it's too clever by half, that Trump has these legal vulnerabilities and is simply paying the price. No theories about underhanded political motivation are necessary.
It's certainly true that Trump had major exposure in the documents case, but the Alvin Bragg indictment is gossamer-thin, and we don't know yet what Special Counsel Jack Smith has next or what District Attorney Fani Willis is working with in Fulton County, Georgia.
Consider this thought experiment: If the Justice Department and the other prosecutors knew that the indictments guaranteed a Ron DeSantis or Tim Scott nomination, would they still go through with them? If they thought they made Trump a stronger general election candidate and the favorite to beat Joe Biden, would they still pull the trigger? Or would they find some reason for forbearance when there's plenty to be said for forbearance in the first place?
It doesn't require a fine-grained understanding of Republican politics to grasp what's going on. Certainly, after the passionately pro-Trump GOP reaction to the Mar-a-Lago search, it was obvious that targeting Trump would benefit him. If there were any doubt, the Trump surge in the polls after the Bragg indictment should have removed it.
Still, Trump's pursuers have persisted.
For Trump, the Leninist logic of the worse, the better applies -- the more he's indicted and the weaker the cases, the more Republicans are inclined to believe he's the victim of a politicized justice system.
For Trump's adversaries, meanwhile, quantity trumps quality; everyone gets a piece of the action, and it increases the odds that a trial or two happens before the November 2024 election.
If the indictments boost Trump in the primaries, they hurt him in the general, and trials and guilty verdicts would presumably wound him even more.
Again, if Trump's prosecutors believed that rushing to trial would somehow boost Trump against Biden, it's hard to see them being so desperate to get him in courtrooms as soon as possible.
Of course, Trump doesn't like getting indicted more than anyone else. His denunciations of "these vicious Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Democrats," "THESE LUNATICS AND THUGS" who are out to get him are wholly sincere. But without the vicious Communists et al., he might well be 10 points lower in the polls, and anything that makes the primary race look more competitive is bad for him.
The legal handiwork of the "LUNATICS AND THUGS" is one of the former president's most valuable political assets.
Trump and his enemies may despise one other, but they are working toward the same immediate outcome, i.e., a high-stakes, hate-filled, Third World-ish Trump-Biden rematch with the possibility of jail for one of the contenders if he loses and intense prosecutorial scrutiny for the other if he comes up short.
And everything so far indicates that they're going to get it.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.
(c) 2023 by King Features Synd., Inc.