The Coming Storm

Dr. Malcolm Cross

The trial of Donald Trump for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up the payment of “hush money” to a former porn star is underway.  Its actual outcome is impossible to determine at this time, but whatever the outcome of the trial, the fact that the trial was held at all will have an impact on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election and ongoing ramifications for the American political system as well.

The 2024 presidential election is a “national election” only in the sense that voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will be able to cast ballots for president.  But in reality, most of the states are either obviously red or obviously blue, and the election results in those states, for all practical intents and purposes, are foregone conclusions.  Nobody doubts that Biden will carry California or Trump Texas.  The election will actually be decided, as were the 2016 and 2020 elections, in a handful of purple states where the voters are almost equally divided in their support for Trump or Biden, and where a large enough percentage of undecided voters hold the balance of power, meaning the outcome of the election could go either way, depending on the decisions of a few thousand voters out of millions nationwide.

Since Trump first entered presidential politics in 2015, he’s endured crises and scandals which would have long ago sunk anyone else’s career and ambitions.  But the release of the Access Hollywood tape, the impeachments, the indictments, and the findings of liability for sexual assault and defamation of character have all strengthened his supporters’ willingness to believe he is being persecuted for their sake and have thereby strengthened his supporters’ loyalty to him.  Hence in the Republican primaries he was able to easily vanquish a field of capable opponents in his quest for renomination. Should he win acquittal or at least a hung jury, no doubt his supporters will become even more energized to return him to the White House.  So a favorable outcome for Trump may make him president again.

But the actual conviction of a former president on criminal charges would be unprecedented.  It could conceivably strengthen the loyalty of his most hardcore supporters even more.  But Republicans and Republican-leaning independents without the same emotional investment in Trump’s welfare might be repelled by the thought of returning a convicted felon to the White House, thereby leading them to either vote for Biden, or for a third party candidate, or for nobody at all.  The loss of a few thousand voters in the few swing states where the election will be decided could be fatal to his chances for returning to the White House. 

But whatever the precise outcome of the case, Trump’s indictment and trial will continue to poison the American political system for years to come.  The impeachments of Trump have provoked threats from Republicans to impeach Biden, which will almost certainly occur should Biden be re-elected his fall and the GOP wins a large enough majority in the House of Representatives in the elections of 2024 or 2026.  The criminal investigations of Trump have likewise provoked Republicans to seek indictments and convictions of the entire “Biden Criminal Enterprise,” and will no doubt continue for as long as Biden is president. A conviction of Trump will, if anything, accelerate and strengthen GOP efforts make Biden the second president in history to be adjudged a felon.  Moreover, it will inspire more Democratic prosecutors to seek indictments of Republicans, and more Republican prosecutors to seek indictments of Democrats.  Tit for tat.

None of this is to say that Trump should not be indicted or convicted only because to do so will inject more turmoil and bitterness into the political system.  He is neither above nor beneath the law.  He should be held accountable to the same extent as any other person in the United States—no more, but no less.  The facts and the law, not the political implications of their application to Trump or anyone else, should govern Trump’s case and those of everyone else in the legal system.

And the political system itself is strong enough to survive, over the long run at least, the coming storm provoked by prosecuting Trump.  But the coming storm, whether produced by his acquittal, or by his conviction, or by the efforts of anyone to avenge Trump or his opponents will distract us from the serious work to bring our finances in order or meet the myriad other domestic, economic, or foreign challenges we face.  So fasten your seatbelts.  We have a long and perilous journey through American politics ahead.  

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville since 1987 and taught politics and government at Tarleton for 36 years, retiring in 2023. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990-2024).  He was Mayor pro-tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He has served on the Board of Directors of the Stephenville
Economic Development Authority since 2018 and as chair of the Erath County Appraisal District’s Appraisal Review Board since 2015.  He is also a member of the Stephenville Rotary Club, the Board of Vestry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts’ Pecan Valley District.  Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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