Donald Trump is the first former president in history to face impeachment. Here’s what Trump’s indictment could mean for his political future — and that of his party.
No, a prosecutor in New York didn’t just hand Trump the election.
Some Republicans have claimed that impeaching Trump would only help his efforts to retake the White House in 2024.
“Most people on our side think it’s a never-ending effort to bring Trump a wrecking ball,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, said on The Daily Show this month. “So yes, I think it will help him.”
Trump has weathered numerous scandals both before and during his presidency. His approval in polls generally remained close to 40%, falling about 5 points after the Jan. 6 uprising sparked by his attempts to overthrow the presidential election.
As The Times’ David Lauter wrote last week, Trump has been in the public eye since at least the 1980s, and most people have strong opinions of him.
But even if Trump retains an engaged voter base of 35% to 40%, that base wasn’t enough to get him re-elected in 2020.
To retake the White House, Trump must increase his support, which he has not been able to do.
“When every scandal tightens 99% of his base and alienates only 1%, it’s still a lost formula,” Politico columnist Alex Burns wrote this month.
Republicans remain tied to Trump.
Trump may not have majority support, but his impeachment has shown once again that Republicans are afraid to upset him.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican who owes his position to Trump, followed Trump’s lead in blaming New York Dist. atty Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, called it “an outrageous abuse of power” and last week ordered House committees to investigate the prosecutor, even though no one in Congress had seen the evidence against Trump. Other Republicans followed suit.
Former presidents — especially those who lost re-election — rarely wield that kind of power over their parties. Trump owes his command of the GOP to the passion of his base. Many Republican congressmen represent muddled, deep-red congressional districts where the odds of losing a Republican primary to a Trump-backed opponent are greater than the odds of losing to a Democrat in a general election.
While using his base to keep elected Republicans in line enables Trump’s political survival, it’s also a dangerous formula. Last week, Trump warned that an indictment would bring “potential death and destruction” in the country, repeating the language he used inciting the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Trump can still win the nomination and the presidency.
The constitution does not prohibit Trump from serving as president again, even from prison.
Republican presidential primary gives outsize power to candidates with committed grassroots supporters. Trump still leads in the Republican primary. If he wins the nomination, he is likely to meet President Biden, who is now 80 years old and is also struggling with low approval ratings.
Major obstacles stand in Trump’s way. The first is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has sought to channel Trump’s populism minus the scandals while pursuing a likely presidential bid. He criticized Bragg this week, but then sneakily shot Trump.
“I don’t know what it takes to pay a porn star to keep quiet about any sort of alleged affair. I just can’t talk to it,” DeSantis said.
Should Trump succeed in defeating DeSantis, he would still face an uphill battle against Biden, who demonstrated his ability to form a coalition in 2020. The 2022 midterm elections, which saw Republicans lag behind historical trends, showed Trump’s ongoing burden on the party.
But winning the nomination would still give Trump a hitting chance in the White House. He proved that in 2016 when he defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose own candidacy was marred by an investigation into her use of a private server to store her government email.
Trump is the first former president to be impeached, but others came close to him.
Richard Nixon left the White House in 1974 believing he was going to prison. He even asked Egil Krogh, a former aide who served time for Watergate crimes, what it was like behind bars.
“It was very likely” that Nixon would have been impeached had not President Ford pre-emptively pardoned him, said Timothy Naftali, former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
Ford had his own reasons for pardoning Nixon, including the fact that Ford had been appointed vice president before taking over from Nixon, Naftali said. Ford, unsure of his own legitimacy, was desperate for the news media and public to stop talking about his predecessor. Nixon had already resigned in disfavor, making it less urgent that he face further consequences.
Bill Clinton, who was still in office for hours, admitted to lying under oath about Monica Lewinsky to avoid prosecution for perjury in a deal with Robert W. Ray, a special prosecutor.
Warren Harding died in office, but might have had consequences for scandals that later came to light.
“We didn’t have a lot of people with criminal clouds around them when they left the White House,” Naftali said. “We’ve had a lot of flawed people in the White House, but fortunately not that many.”
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2023-03-30/trump-new-york-indictment-2024-election What Trump’s indictment means for his political future