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Trump on Trial

Donald Trump is on trial in Manhattan over hush-money payments made to a former porn star prior to the 2016 presidential election. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court has been hearing arguments on whether, as a former US president, he should be immune from criminal prosecution for actions he took while in the White House, not least his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

According to Louisiana State University’s Nancy Isenberg, “the weight of history – and three precedents, in particular – invalidate Trump’s claim” that he is immune from criminal prosecution. “No president has absolute immunity,” she concludes. “To decide otherwise would make America’s founders turn in their graves.”

In fact, writes the University of Chicago’s Eric Posner, the “sheer number of criminal trials” Trump is facing means that a conviction is entirely possible – “even likely.” But such an outcome – even if it includes jail time – does not meant that Trump will be disqualified from running for the presidency. How well he performs will depend far less on the “intricate legal issues” at play in his criminal trials than on “how the defendant appears to a narrow sliver of undecided voters.”

But, as the Lincoln Project’s Reed Galen explains, the demographic odds are stacked against Trump. Between the 2016 and 2024 elections, some 20 million older voters (who are more likely to vote Republican) will have died, and about 32 million younger Americans (who are more likely to vote Democratic) will have reached voting age. In this context, if Trump’s extreme rhetoric and behavior “depresses Republican voter turnout even marginally,” he will be “headed for a major defeat this November.

And yet, laments Richard K. Sherwin, Trump might get help from another presidential hopeful: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. “Armed with paranoid conspiracy theories about America’s descent into chronic sickness, loneliness, and depression,” Kennedy has launched a “spoiler campaign” that threatens to “peel disenchanted Democrats away from President Joe Biden,” effectively handing the White House to Trump.

The risks should not be underestimated. If Trump wins in November, New York University’s William L. Silber warns, he probably will “exhibit all the recklessness and risky behavior that has characterized past second-term US presidents.” And given his “well-known propensity for declaring bankruptcy,” there is reason to fear that he might even decide to default on US bonds, causing US debt to “lose its exalted position and all the privileges that come with it.”

Featured in this Big Picture

  1. Nancy IsenbergNancy Isenberg
  2. Eric PosnerEric Posner
  3. Reed GalenReed Galen
  4. Richard K. SherwinRichard K. Sherwin
  5. William L. SilberWilliam L. Silber

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