Welcome to Trump's latest reality show

If you’re charged with a crime, the safest course of action is to keep quiet about it. The last thing you want to do is provide relevant details about your conduct to anyone who may later have to testify against you or compound your predicament by behaving in ways that offend the court. Even if he were inclined to exercise that level of discretion, Donald Trump wouldn’t really have that option.

With just about 24 hours to go before he will reportedly surrender to authorities in New York to be arrested and arraigned, Donald Trump — a declared presidential candidate — is preparing to make his arrest a focal point of his campaign.

Trump will deliver remarks Tuesday night in Florida after his scheduled arraignment in New York on charges related to hush money payments, his campaign announced Sunday. The former president will speak at his Mar-a-Lago club after returning from Manhattan, where he is expected to voluntarily turn himself in.

We don’t know what Trump intends to say. Indeed, NBC News reporter Jonathan Allen wonders if he’ll be able to say anything at all. “Some legal experts believe the judge in the case may consider issuing a gag order to lower the temperature around a trial that Trump has publicly denounced and has subjected the prosecutor, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, to threats,” Allen speculates. But if he does speak, it’s reasonable to expect that the former president will at least echo the concerns expressed by so many Republican lawmakers about the novelty of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg’s prosecution strategy. Trump is, however, unlikely to stop there.

The sources in Trump’s orbit willing to share their thoughts on the indictment with reporters seem elated by their good fortune. “Trump’s team believes this indictment will help him raise money and could give him some boost,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman told David Leonhardt over the weekend, “and maybe political antibodies when and if future indictments come from other investigations.” The Washington Post cited “Republican lawmakers and strategists” who believe the politics around the indictment “have set up Trump for short-term gains in his quest for the nomination.” It’s hard to find a Republican lawmaker willing to criticize Trump for allegedly engaging in the business practices that produced this indictment in the first place — likely only his first indictment this year. Even his foremost rival for the Republican nomination, Ron DeSantis, is firmly in Trump’s corner. DeSantis has gone so far as to insist that his office would not facilitate an extradition order, if it came to that (which, blessedly, seems unlikely).

Given all these good vibes, why wouldn’t Trump turn up the heat? In prepared remarks, we’re likely to hear Trump elevate his plight into a battle for the very soul of the nation. He’ll make his legal troubles into a litmus test. “Did you support Trump against Alvin Bragg?” is the question, and the right answer will become the price of admission into Republican politics at the national level. Trump would certainly like to put a binary choice before GOP lawmakers on this or any other indictment he might face: Either you believe this left-wing lawfare is a threat to the republic’s foundations, and you’re obliged to say as much, or you’re off the team.

But that assumes Trump sticks to the script. Democrats are fully prepared to capitalize on — er, rather, ruefully condemn — anything that Trump might say that even hints at incitement. Reuters reporters Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt observe that the Biden White House has kept its cards close when it comes to Trump’s legal woes. But that “calculation could shift if Trump supporters upset by the criminal charges erupt in violence.” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insists that the Biden administration is “always prepared” for political violence. Fortunately, the Times found few indications of imminent violence, and local and federal law-enforcement agencies are readying a “force larger and better trained than some national armies” to respond if events spiral out of control.

Even Trump must know that anything that even resembles riotous misconduct in his name would do him no favors at this point. And yet, when he gets rolling, the former president is not known for his rhetorical moderation. According to The Guardian’s reporting, Trump has “told advisors and associates” that he has no intention of behaving like someone who is facing a criminal indictment. Trump relayed his intention to continue his attacks on Bragg and his allies, and he believes it’s in his interests to “rough ‘em up” — politically, of course.

The gauntlet Trump’s attorney, Joe Tacopina, was forced to run in his appearances on the Sunday shows this weekend is a testament to what a headache it must be to have Donald Trump as a client.

“No, I don’t believe the judge is biased,” Tacopina said when George Stephanopoulos asked him if his client’s views reflected their legal position. Trump had previously written and published on his social-media website, Truth Social, that the judge presiding in his case, Juan M. Merchan, “Hates Me.” Tacopina squirmed. “I mean the president is entitled to his own opinion,” he added. “Look, he’s been the victim of a political persecution.” So, if the judge isn’t biased, “Why is the president saying so?” Stephanopoulos asked. Pregnant pause. “You’re interviewing me, George,” Tacopina finally replied.

Elsewhere on the Sunday circuit, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Tacopina if Trump’s attacks on the judge would compel him to file a motion to request a new judge. He dodged the question, pivoting inexplicably to Trump’s poll numbers, which Tacopina noted had “gone up significantly” since “this thing was announced.”

Trump’s attorney isn’t wrong there. But that perspective also depends on where you look. Horse-race polling of the 2024 Republican presidential field does suggest that Trump is enjoying a bounce as Republican voters rally to his side. But there are some indications that a sizable minority of self-described Republicans aren’t thrilled about how the new season of the Trump Show is unfolding.

In reporting the results of their latest Ipsos poll, ABC News observed that “compared with Democrats, Republicans are less united”:

While a majority, 62%, say that Trump should not have been charged, one in five Republicans say they “don’t know” and 16% say he should have been charged, per the ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel.

The fact that close to one-in-four Republicans either believes the charges against Trump are valid or hasn’t formulated an opinion on the subject is potentially significant. Few Republican influencers have exhibited that level of prudence. What’s more, the GOP seems to have already convinced the public of at least one of its arguments against Bragg’s conduct. That ABC/Ipsos poll found that a plurality understands the charges against Trump to be “politically motivated,” and most of the adults surveyed don’t believe they should derail his presidential campaign. Even so, half the country remains convinced that the charges against Trump are serious, to one degree or another.

ABC/Ipsos’s results square with other indictment-related polling only insofar as voters don’t believe Bragg is doing anything other than pursuing politics by different means. But that’s where the general public’s agreement with the GOP begins and ends.

A Quinnipiac University survey found that, despite their suspicions of Bragg’s motives, 57 percent of respondents told pollsters that the “criminal charges should disqualify former President Donald Trump from running for president again.” That includes 23 percent of self-identified Republican adults and one-fifth of registered Republican voters.

When asked to choose between calling Bragg’s behavior “fair” or endorsing Trump’s characterization of his investigation as a “witch hunt,” 56 percent of respondents to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll backed Bragg. Moreover, about “six in ten Americans (61%) do not want Trump to be President, again,” including 21 percent of Republicans. Just 38 percent “want him to be elected to another term.”

Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson volunteered himself to represent the minority-Republican viewpoint on Sunday when he announced his own campaign for the GOP presidential nomination on ABC’s This Week. His first act as a candidate was to call on Trump to drop out of the race. “I mean, first of all, the office is more important than any individual person,” Hutchinson said. “And, so, for the sake of the office of the presidency, I do think that’s too much of a sideshow and distraction and he needs to be able to concentrate on his due process, and there is a presumption of innocence.”

When it comes to Trump’s most potent rival, this weekend produced little indication that Ron DeSantis is willing to criticize the former president beyond his rote recitation of the charges against him, which only constitutes an attack because so few Republicans have been willing to state the facts of the case against Trump (as we understand them ahead of the indictment’s unsealing) out loud.

In his speech at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island on Saturday, DeSantis reiterated his objections to the “flimsy indictment against a former president of the United States,” which is “all about politics.” Though he declined to use Trump’s name, the audience got the message. As Politico reporter Sally Goldenberg observed, DeSantis’s remarks prompted “lots of applause.”

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