Out of Power, Trump Still Exercising It

Since he left office, Democrats and a small number of Republicans have vowed to ensure that former President Donald J. Trump never reclaims the White House, where he would regain immense power over the nation and around the world.

However, in his insistence on pressing ahead with the campaign while facing multiple criminal investigations, his refusal to support Ukraine against Russian aggression and his constant provocations on social media and in campaign speeches, Trump has demonstrated that he does not need control of government levers to have any effect on country – and, in the minds of many, to do mischief.

To those who believe the secret to ousting Trump is to deprive him of attention – that ignoring him will make him leave – he has shown that to be wishful thinking.

To fully understand that, one need look no further than Saturday's events. The day began with a 7:26 a.m. post by Trump on his social media site, Truth Social, declaring that he would be arrested Tuesday, though the timing was still uncertain, and asking people to “protest” and “take the nation we're back.”

The effect is like a starter weapon: It prompted Republican leaders to rush to Trump's side and attack the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, a Democrat, who has indicated he is likely to press charges against Trump. in connection with a 2016 hush money payment to a porn star who said she had an affair with him.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Trump ally, wrote on Twitter that the Mr. Bragg was an “abuse of power” and that he would direct a congressional committee to investigate whether federal money was involved—a veiled threat at a key moment before Mr. Bragg. Bragg explained his plan.

A number of other Republicans denounced the expected charges as politically motivated. They include one announced presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, and one potential candidate who has yet to officially enter the mainstream, former Vice President Mike Pence.

Senator JD Vance of Ohio, who has backed Trump in the 2024 campaign, tweeted that the “politically motivated prosecution makes the argument for Trump stronger.” And both he and Representative Elise Stefanik, a staunch Trump supporter from New York, have accused Bragg and his fellow Democrats of trying to turn America into a “third world country.”

The rallies around Trump came in the days after the November 3, 2020 election, when his two eldest sons pressured many Republicans — who had been waiting for the president to concede defeat — to fight on his behalf.

But this time, like when FBI agents executed search warrants on Mr. Trump, Mar-a-Lago, in August, no one needs to sound the alarm. Mr. social media posts. Trump did that himself.

Little did anyone know that the investigation Trump was facing included a Justice Department probe into his attempts to stay in power ahead of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by mobs of his supporters, some of whom had told prosecutors they felt called to Washington in a tweet from Mr Trump the previous month. .

Authorities in New York City were already preparing for a possible riot in response to the charges before Mr Trump's call for action Saturday morning. And while some Republicans don't echo his call to protest while defending it, relatively few openly reject it. Mr McCarthy on Sunday appeared to be splitting the differences, saying he didn't believe people should protest the charges and didn't think Mr Trump really believed they should, according to NBC News.

“There is a lot of power in the presidency, which is dangerous in the hands of self-serving demagogues,” said David Axelrod, a veteran Democratic strategist and former adviser to President Obama. “But as we have seen, there are also some institutional constraints. Without it, there is no guardrail around Trump. And the more embattled he feels, the more inclined he is to incite mass action.

Already, grip Mr. Trump in the party has far outlived his tenure. While the 2022 midterms exposed his weakness in selecting candidates who could win the general election and his failure to focus on issues that appeal to a wider pool of voters, he nevertheless bent the GOP to his will.

In the midterm primaries, admitting his lie that the 2020 election had been stolen from him becomes a test for the candidates seeking his support. Many of them echo, and amplify, his false claims, undermining voter confidence in the electoral process.

Mr. Trump also has enormous influence on several key issues in the Republican primary.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Trump initially described it as a “smart” attempt to seize another country's land. He did not repeat the praise, but he opposed the treatment of defending Ukraine as a top national priority.

His position resonates with a large portion of the Republican voting base. But Mr. Trump, as a former president and as a leader in primary Republican polls, has helped set the tone for the party. And that worries international officials, who have predicted that Trump's victory in the 2024 presidential bid could break the bipartisan coalition in Washington behind helping Ukraine.

“I hope, I would say not only from a European perspective but from a global perspective, that the Republican Party will nominate a candidate who is much more beholden to America's global leadership than Trump and the Trumpists,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former secretary general of NATO, told Alexander Burns of Politico last weekpredict a “geopolitical catastrophe”.

There are still other questions about what Trump's indictment will mean if Trump, who has said he will not withdraw from the nomination if prosecuted, does remain a candidate in 2024, let alone reclaim the nomination.

Not being incumbent means Mr Trump lacks the ultimate platform from which to summon his followers, as well as the power traps that have so appealed to some of his most vocal supporters.

But Mr. Trump's strength as president has never come entirely from the office itself. He has spent decades building a fan base across the country and portrays himself as synonymous with success in business, though that image is as fake as the facts.

Over the years, Trump has moved through several New York power circles even as the rest of the elite shunned him. He has ties spanning decades, for example, to New York law enforcement officers whose agencies will play a role in providing security during indictments, arrests, or charges.

Dennis Quirk, chief bailiffs' association, once advised Trump on building Wollman Rink, an ice skating rink in Central Park whose renovation was critical to Trump's selling of himself as an innovator.

Trump was endorsed by the nation's largest police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, in 2020. And his longtime personal aide, Keith Schiller, is a New York City police detective.

Among those who attacked the Manhattan district attorney on Saturday was Bernard B. Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner, who took part in efforts to maintain Trump in power after the 2020 election and has known him since Trump was mostly a New York real estate developer. .

“At some point, local, state, and federal law enforcement officials need to stand up and step out, if they are being forced to engage in illegal political persecution!” Pak Kerik wrote on Twitter. “You can't break the law to enforce it, and that's exactly what it is @ManhattanDA are doing.”