I deliberately avoided getting pulled into today’s play-by-play and drama. I kept up on it by dropping in on our team’s live blog. But with the day over, every account and image I’ve seen of today’s events reads like a man, yes, overcome by rage but even more overcome by fear. His Truth Social platform has a bit of an air of The Wizard of Oz, bellowing and menace. But out from behind the curtain he’s a much smaller figure.
The simple fact is that if Donald Trump isn’t elected in November 2024, there’s a good chance he’ll spend a good part or most of the rest of his life in prison. That would terrify anyone. Especially someone who experiences powerlessness, being dominated as a kind of death.
What is coming into focus for me is that we’re likely going to get a hugely consequential decision pretty soon: a trial date. The government seems very intent on a speedy trial calendar, one that would have the trial take place early in 2024, ahead of his trial in the documents case in Florida. Trump’s lawyer, Lauro, acted as though this is a borderline absurd proposition, that the defense will need far longer to prepare. I simply don’t know enough about the law or judicial practices to know whether he has much to stand on to make that case with any effect. But unlike in Florida it doesn’t seem like he’ll have a judge doing his bidding or giving any special dispensation.
Whatever their stated rationale, it’s clear that pushing the trial out past the election is an almost existential goal for Trump and his lawyers. Remember: as we’ve noted before, if they can get the D.C. trial scheduled after the Mar-a-Lago trial, delays in the latter will likely force delays in the former.
Why is this so important? There are political and legal — or, rather, extra-legal reasons — and the two intertwine. If the trial is pushed out past the election and Trump wins, the case disappears, a total victory. But there’s a political factor too. For reasons I didn’t fully appreciate until recently, Trump doesn’t want to go into the election a convicted felon. He definitely doesn’t want to go into the convention a convicted felon. (If you think the charges are a witch hunt why does a conviction matter? But it does.) Needless to say, Trump will remain free pending appeal, a process which could well stretch out past the election. For his diehard supporters, it’s just another step in the Deep State’s persecution of Trump. But voting for a convicted felon is probably more than at least a significant slice of Republican voters have the stomach for. I think he knows that. Having it happen prior to the convention also creates at least the possibility of resistance to his nomination. A speedy trial could even take place before the primary race itself is even decided.
To stay out of jail Trump needs to win the election. But he also needs to prevent the cases from making it harder to win the election.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think a guilty verdict will necessarily lose Trump the nomination. I don’t think the bottom is going to fall out of his support in the general election either. But it introduces at least some uncertainty on the first count and is likely highly damaging on the second. If he loses the election he’s probably doing real jail time with sentences in one or more of what will likely be four separate criminal trials.
As you can see, the trial date is a pretty big deal. The initial date probably won’t hold. But we’ll probably get a clear indication of whether we’re looking at an early 2024 date or something later in the year which may end up delayed until after the election or never happen at all. That decision will be a big deal.