Kudos to Ron DeSantis.
The Republican Florida governor – and likely 2024 presidential contender – waded briefly into Donald Trump’s legal circus Monday, and he handled it perfectly.
While he noted that Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, is pursuing charges against the former president for political reasons, DeSantis certainly didn’t defend Trump either.
“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said. “I just, I can’t speak to that.”
As he added: “I’ve got real issues to deal with here in the state of Florida.”
If only more Republicans could see this distinction: It’s possible to acknowledge that Democrats are overplaying their hand while also questioning why Trump keeps finding himself in these legal tangles.
It’s hard to keep track of all of the criminal investigations into Trump, from the mishandling of classified documents to election tampering in Georgia. But it’s the $130,000 hush money payment in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels that appears to be causing him the most immediate headache. A grand jury in New York is reportedly close to wrapping up its investigation, and indictments are expected in the near future.
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Trump has denied any wrongdoing – including the affair with Daniels – and federal investigators who looked into the payments chose not to pursue charges in 2019.
Trump has learned nothing
Over the weekend, in typical fashion, Trump – who is making a third bid for the White House – upped the drama in the whole affair. He claimed on social media that he would be “arrested” on Tuesday. He also called on his supporters to “protest, take our nation back!”
That missive encapsulates many of his flaws.
Let’s start with the exaggerated claim of the arrest, which is very different from an indictment.
“Donald Trump is not going to be arrested, not tomorrow or next week or ever,” says Matthew Schneider, a former federal prosecutor and U.S. attorney (nominated by Trump). “Being arrested is a legal term. And when you’re arrested, that means you’re not free to leave and you’re in law enforcement custody, and there’s no reason that Donald Trump would ever be in custody where he’s not free to leave.”
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Yet Trump has proved time and again he’ll say what’s necessary to stir up anger and rally his troops. Indicting a former president would be unprecedented on its own, but it’s far different from an arrest.
He used that word on purpose, in conjunction with a call to action. Perhaps the former president learned nothing from Jan. 6, 2021, and the riot he helped incite at the U.S. Capitol. He knows he holds a lot of power over his most ardent fans, and making any suggestion of a public demonstration to “save the country” is badly misguided.
Democrats aren’t innocent, either
Don’t get me wrong. It seems pretty obvious that Bragg is stretching the bounds of his office to make a name for himself, and many legal experts have questioned the soundness of the anticipated felony charges.
Since before Trump became president, Democrats have overplayed their hand with investigations and claims that have proved untrue. And it’s possible that if Trump is indeed charged in the hush money case, it will actually help him politically.
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A recent poll showed the majority of Republicans and right-leaning independents think they would have a better shot at winning the White House with someone other than Trump.
Yet Trump’s hardcore base has remained fairly constant, and a Democratic “witch hunt” could be just the thing to win him even more support.
“I don’t think it hurts him politically,” Republican consultant Dennis Darnoi told me. “I just don’t.”
It’s also not above Democrats that they could be trying to rally support for the former president (look at what they did to meddle with Republican primaries last year). They want the weakest candidate to run against President Joe Biden, and there’s no doubt that candidate is Trump.
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Someone like DeSantis, who is Trump’s strongest primary opponent, poses a greater threat to Democrats.
Republican Party must move on
Trump did some good things while president, including the appointment of three excellent Supreme Court justices. The reality at this point, however, is that he comes with too much baggage that he brought on himself, from the bizarre election denial in 2020 to the Jan. 6 riot.
And as the New York criminal investigation – and others – has made clear, Trump associates himself with sleazy characters, including his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, a felon who is a lead witness in the hush money case.
Despite the real political motivation behind these criminal investigations into Trump, at some point Republicans need to ask themselves hard questions about why it is he keeps finding himself in these sticky situations.
Isn’t it time to move on?