All eyes are on New York. There were no sensational protests outside the courthouse in south Manhattan on Friday morning after ex-President Donald Trump was indicted. As in the days before, dozens of media representatives with cameras and TV broadcast vehicles have gathered there. A helicopter circles overhead. The night before, what had already been suspected - and even predicted by Trump himself - came true. The Republican has been charged by New York prosecutors in connection with paying hush money to a porn star.
Should Trump leave his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next Tuesday and come to New York to volunteer, the appearance should be a big show. His fingerprints are taken, he is photographed. All of this will most likely happen behind closed doors. But at the latest the indictment will be public. For Trump, all of this offers an opportunity to continue to present himself as a victim - to make himself the martyr of ordinary Americans who are allegedly being harassed and persecuted by a left-wing political elite. The question is whether he can benefit from this spectacle in the end.
Since Trump was elected to the White House in 2016, so many "unthinkable firsts" have happened and so many "untouchable boundaries" have been crossed that it's easy to lose sight of how amazing this special moment really is, writes the "New York Times". Never in US history has a former president been indicted. And probably never before has a former president incited so much against the judiciary and made contempt for democracy. Even after the indictment, Trump is no insult and no superlative too extreme. "Criminals and radical left-wing monsters" have accused him, he writes. It was an attack on the United States like never before.
The US is not New York anyway - and the case is complex. Because it's not about the hush money payments as such, but about how they were booked and the question of whether this might represent illegal campaign financing. Unlike his role in the storming of the US Capitol or his handling of classified government documents, Trump's possible crimes are less tangible. In addition, the Republican base does not live in New York. What a liberal public prosecutor decides in the democratic east coast metropolis is viewed critically anyway.
This also explains why the Republicans are united behind Trump after the impeachment. Influential party colleagues reacted with outrage to the charges and saw them as an attack on democracy. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that Attorney Bragg "instrumentalized our sacred legal system against President Donald Trump."
Even potential Trump rivals within the party, who could challenge his presidential candidacy for 2024, are flocking to the former president. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has not yet announced his candidacy but whose ambitions are known, said in an interview that the impeachment was a scandal. It only serves to further divide the country. Prominent Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the move "un-American." He is also said to have ambitions for the White House.
Difficult position for Republicans
The Republicans hardly have a choice, they can hardly side with a liberal prosecutor. Nevertheless, they have to take a stand on the Trump charge. Regardless of what they think of the allegations, they are, in a sense, forced to stand in solidarity with Trump on the matter. Anything else will be difficult for the Republican electorate to understand. And so the indictment comes in handy for Trump. But in order to win the election in November 2024, the party must also convince voters in the center - the indictment is likely to do more harm.
Since Trump's entry into the White House in 2016, the Republicans cannot necessarily look back on a successful streak in elections - on the contrary. The most recent example was the midterm elections last November, in which Trump-supported and particularly extreme candidates failed to score. It is the right-wing base that stands particularly adamantly behind Trump. But the party is far from breaking away from the 76-year-old.
The question will now also be what strategy his internal party competitors will adopt in the long term. Will they continue to demonize the charges or target Trump's legal woes? If you talk to party supporters, they often say that the unrest surrounding Trump is increasingly distracting from the content. The indictment, a trial, a possible conviction - all of which could brand DeSantis or Pence as chaos and thus attack Trump. Especially since the charges in New York could not be Trump's last - he has various legal construction sites.
Trump leads in party polls. It is not unlikely that he will become the Republican presidential nominee. Should that happen, he would most likely face US President Joe Biden again in 2024. The Democrat has not yet officially submitted his bid, but has made it abundantly clear that he is seeking a second term. Trump has lost to Biden before.
The United States is now - again - faced with an uncertain future. Because the indictment is likely to further polarize the already divided country - and perhaps provoke some. The deadly Capitol attack on January 6, 2021 dramatically demonstrated what that can mean.