Possible Trump trial plunges US 2024 race into uncharted territory

The former president is using his indictment to drum up more support and remains the Republican favorite, while Biden’s failure to confirm a 2024 run creates further uncertainty

Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his Mar-a-Lago estate hours after being arraigned in New York City, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Former President Donald Trump arrives to speak at his Mar-a-Lago estate hours after being arraigned in New York City, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US voters on Wednesday surveyed a uniquely volatile 2024 presidential election landscape, where the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, now faces trial and the incumbent, Joe Biden, has not even confirmed he’s running.

Trump pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 34 felony charges linked to alleged attempts to silence damaging personal information during his triumphant 2016 race for the White House.

The man who went from 1980s playboy real estate magnate to TV reality show star in the 2000s, then right-wing populist president, made history as the first serving or former commander in chief to face a criminal trial.

But while he had to go through the humiliating process of arrest in a New York courtroom, polls show Trump remains by far the strongest Republican candidate.

In fact, his numbers have only improved as his legal scandals grow, making it hard for his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to gain traction.

Far from cowed, Trump is doubling down on extreme rhetoric, painting himself in a speech after his release Tuesday as the victim of a “Trump-hating judge” and “massive election interference.”

On Wednesday, he called on his Truth Social app for Republicans in Congress to “DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI” in response to what he claimed is the “ABUSE OF POWER” by the Department of Justice and chief federal law enforcement body.

Former US president Donald Trump sits at the defense table with his legal team in a Manhattan court, April 4, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, Pool)

Trump attorney Todd Blanche said his client is “upset.”

But, said Blanche, “I’ll tell you what — he’s motivated and it’s not going to stop him and it’s not going to slow him down.”

Troubles pile up

For all the bravado, 76-year-old Trump is in serious trouble.

During his decades in the public eye, he has shown an astonishing ability to escape legal peril, whether during his many business disputes or even as president when Republicans acquitted him in an unprecedented two impeachment trials.

But Trump is now in the hands of the New York state court system, where Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is mounting an aggressive prosecution.

He also risks the wrath of Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing his case in New York and cautioned against “comments that have potential to incite violence.”

Even if some analysts have questioned the strength of the New York case, Trump’s real problems may lie elsewhere.

Reports indicate that a high-level probe into his hoarding of top-secret White House documents at his private Florida Mar-a-Lago residence is gathering pace. Another criminal probe is underway in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden but refused to concede.

A pro-Trump rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 3, 2023. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald via AP)

Next year, the legal calendars will likely collide with the political calendar, sparking new levels of unpredictability.

The Manhattan court is set to reconvene December 4, with a trial expected sometime early in 2024. Trump, meanwhile, would in theory be campaigning hard for Republican presidential nomination — with the first contests scheduled February 5 and 13 in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Not a focus

At the White House, Biden appears content to sit back and watch the fall of a man he has branded a “toxic presence.”

Asked Wednesday about the president’s view of the spectacle, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reemphasized that Biden is “not focused on this indictment.”

“Our focus is on what the president was elected to do, which is make sure we deliver… to talk about the issues that matter,” she added.

Biden and his party got another piece of good news overnight Tuesday with victory for the Democratic candidate in an especially fierce battle for a vacant Wisconsin Supreme Court seat. This creates a liberal majority on the court, which will play a key role refereeing electoral disputes in 2024 in one of the tightest swing states in the country.

But Biden is also injecting uncertainty into 2024.

His age is a constant source of concern, even to allies. Now 80, he would be 86 by the time he left office after a second term.

US President Joe Biden listens to a reporter’s question during a meeting with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in the State Dining Room of the White House, Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

And he has yet to confirm he is running, despite strongly hinting on several occasions that he will. After repeated delays to the expected announcement, Axios has reported that it may now only land in July or even later.

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