Donald Trump unites, then divides

There are several ways of looking at the events that occurred last week inside a Manhattan courtroom and later at Donald Trump’s home in Florida. 

First, the indictment of the former president for illegally “conspiring” to win the White House in the 2016 election by paying “hush money” to two women and a doorman to keep secret behavior that could have adversely swayed voters at the ballot box. Even former Attorney General Bill Barr has said it is a “pathetically weak case.” George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley called the indictment “A legal Slurpee, instantly satisfying, but there’s nothing there.” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said there is also an “underlying crime,” which he said he didn’t have to mention. How is that fair to Trump?  

Second, Trump managed to do something no one else has accomplished. He united (most) Republicans behind him, at least for now. Statements by former rivals and targets of his rhetorical attacks have come out in support of him and against Bragg. These include former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Alan Dershowitz, who said he would still vote against Trump given the chance but deplores the 34-count felony indictment, former Attorney General Bill Barr, many House Republicans and former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who Trump once called “low energy.” Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, who voted twice to impeach Trump, expressed skepticism about the legal justification for the Trump indictment, warning that the prosecutor’s overreach sets “… a dangerous precedent for criminalizing political opponents and damages the public’s faith in our justice system.”  

Third, the post-arraignment speech was typical of Trump. He blasted every adversary, including the Biden family, New York State Attorney General Letitia James and the Georgia grand jury that is mulling Trump’s infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pressured him to find more votes. (Trump says it was a “perfect call” while others claim he wanted the votes “re-evaluated.”) He labeled Atlanta’s district attorney a “racist.”  

In his speech, which lasted shorter than his usual one hour-plus rants, Trump repeated his attacks on the 51 intelligence agents who reportedly claimed collusion between Russia and Trump in the 2016 election, attacked the “radical left George Soros prosecutor Bragg,” claimed we are on the verge of a nuclear World War III (no one has ever accused Trump of having a gift for understatement), rightly noted the tighter relationship between Russia, China and Iran, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (he said it wouldn’t have happened if he were still president), said the boxes of classified documents taken from his home when the FBI executed a lawful search warrant is “a hoax” and he had the right as president to declassify them. He claimed previous presidents have done the same, but the National Archives says differently. Trump noted the rise in crime in New York City, implying that focusing on him does nothing to reduce it. He tossed in high energy and food prices, inflation and an “open border,” all the fault he said of Biden administration policies. 

He called Special Counsel Jack Smith “a lunatic” and claimed the justice system is “lawless” and claimed he is the victim of “persecution.”  

Yes, Alvin Bragg vowed to “get Trump” when he ran for office. Yes, from the start, Democrats have been united in their antipathy toward Trump. And yes, the major media have been united in their opposition to Trump, despite Trump’s claims of success on the economy, the border, the Abraham Accords and judges who adhere to the Constitution. 

The question for many is this: Can Trump’s behavior and legal jeopardy win the independents that any presidential candidate needs to win an election? Polls show many independents are turned off by his rhetoric and the current and possible future legal peril in which he finds himself. 

The ultimate verdict should be up to voters, not Democratic prosecutors and judges appointed by Democrats. Letting voters decide Trump’s fate might help restore some of the public’s faith in the legal and political systems that are now in serious disrepair. Or, as Trump put it last Tuesday night: “Our country is going to Hell.” 

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.