One of the axioms that commentators in the United States live by is that a year is an eternity in American politics. In one of his trademark overhauls of the principles of politics, Donald Trump has shrunk eternity to a week.
As a result, the tumultuous week since the former president disclosed that a New York grand jury was preparing charges against him has been transformed from an operatic overture into an indictment interlude.
And in that interlude – one in which the themes have changed markedly – several of the principal elements of the political and legal dramas surrounding Mr. Trump have been altered.
New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg meets with his grand jury again Monday to examine Mr. Trump’s role in presenting a porn star with US$130,000 in hush money after an alleged sexual encounter.
By announcing earlier this month that he expected legal action against him to proceed to the next, consequential level, Mr. Trump set in motion two contradictory developments. He fortified his profile as a victim even as he baked in the assumption that a former occupant of the White House was about to be indicted. In a week’s time, the astonishing became the assumed.
And in that brief time much of the American political landscape was transformed. Here are some of the effects of the indictment interlude:
The emergence of a new Republican litmus test
For months, Mr. Trump’s putative rivals for the party’s presidential nomination have performed an awkward rumba with the 45th president, their subtle side-to-side movements providing them with distance from him. Now the apparent imminent indictment has forced them into a gavotte, the 18th-century kissing dance that in its 21st-century version required Mr. Trump’s opponents to deplore Mr. Bragg’s legal tactics and to dismiss the notion of indicting him for actions after an alleged sexual incident as nakedly political and patently revengeful. All of these announced and probable candidates have conformed to this pressure.
The development of an uncomfortable consensus among Mr. Trump’s supporters and his opponents
The criticism from the Trump corner of conservatism over indicting Mr. Trump for the alleged payment to Stormy Daniels was unremarkable; his base marches in lockstep with him.
But the qualms among progressives were notable; the gathering concurrence in that corner of liberalism is that, in the spectrum of Trump crimes – debasing democracy, trying to overturn the 2020 election, inciting insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – the Daniels episode is peripheral.
Moreover, the progressives argue, indicting Mr. Trump for a relatively insignificant action has the potential of removing the power of the legal action that may follow, growing out of investigations in Washington (Justice Department examinations of his harbouring of classified government documents) and Georgia (inquiries into his efforts to “find” sufficient votes to swing the state from Joe Biden’s column to his).
The changes in the architecture of the 2024 presidential election
For months the GOP nomination fight has taken the character of a Sunshine State struggle between Palm Beach (site of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat) and Tallahassee (site of the governor’s mansion where Ron DeSantis resides, in part because of the boost of the 2018 gubernatorial endorsement from Mr. Trump himself).
For weeks, Mr. Trump had taunted Mr. DeSantis, calling him an ingrate, assailing his character, labelling him “Ron DeSanctimonious.” The Florida Governor’s political potential – he led several public opinion polls – became a Trump preoccupation. Mr. DeSantis’s failure to engage Mr. Trump was seen for a time as prudent if not brilliant.
In recent days Mr. DeSantis bowed to party pressure and joined the criticism of the New York District Attorney. At the same time doubts about Mr. DeSantis’s restraint grew as Mr. Trump made discernible gains in the polls, consolidating his position as the Republican Party leader and nomination front-runner. The gap in the RealClearPolitics running average now is 15 percentage points.
Caveat: The Iowa caucuses, the first test in the GOP nomination fight, are more than nine months away. Many swings in political support are inevitable. At this point in the 2008 presidential race, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a commanding 24-percentage-point lead in the Republican race and senator Hillary Rodham Clinton had a 14-point lead in the Democratic race, according to the USAToday/Gallup poll. Neither became the nominee, and the distant second-place candidates (senators John McCain and Barack Obama) advanced to the autumn general election.
The even further solidification of Mr. Trump’s profile as a defiant warrior against conventional political comportment
Mr. Trump’s recent steps into once-forbidden rhetorical territory promoted the New York Post, the onetime Trump ally owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., to label him, in a tabloid front-page headline, as “deranged.”
Saturday night Mr. Trump told a raucous crowd in Waco, Tex., that “when they go after me, they’re going after you.” Earlier in the week he threatened “death and destruction” if he is indicted, an unsettling reprise of his remarks before the Capitol insurrection. He labelled Mr. Bragg, who is Black, as an “animal,” calling him a “degenerate psychopath.”
Responding to Republican congressional efforts to investigate his investigation Saturday, Mr. Bragg said, “We evaluate cases in our jurisdiction based on the facts, the law and the evidence.”