Courting votes: a campaign like no other for Defendant Trump

Courting votes: a campaign like no other for Defendant Trump

Former US president Donald Trump gets a feel for spending time in court in New York on October 18 2023
Former US president Donald Trump gets a feel for spending time in court in New York on October 18 2023

MIAMI - US presidential elections are described as a 50-state obstacle course, but the hurdles across Donald Trump's path in the coming year look particularly daunting as a crush of court dates competes with campaign commitments in his 2024 calendar.

While pushing his case in the court of public opinion, the presumptive Republican nominee will flit from hustings to hearings as he answers no less than 91 felony charges brought in multiple jurisdictions.

The Florida-based real estate magnate has been indicted four times in 2023 on allegations of covering up hush money payments to a porn star, mishandling national security secrets and trying to steal the 2020 election (twice).

And those are just the criminal cases. Trump, 77, is also focused on a time-consuming civil fraud trial in New York and ongoing litigation with a writer he was found to have sexually assaulted.

A year out from Election Day, the campaign is already shaping up to be "divisive, dreaded, democracy-threatening," says political scientist Larry Sabato, as Trump takes his angry denunciations of the justice system out on the road.

Every day, in incendiary e-mails, Trump marshals his still-loyal base against what he calls a "witch-hunt" -- raking in donations as he targets prosecutors and judges for abuse.

The donations speak for themselves: $4 million within 24 hours of his first indictment, $7 million just after the second and $3 million in one week hawking merchandise adorned with his mugshot when arrested in Georgia.

- Trump's crazy year -

Trump describes himself as a billionaire but the windfall is still significant, given the eye-watering sums that candidates spend on getting into office in the United States.

And the cash cow could produce even more from January, as Trump prepares to embark on a year like no candidate in history has had to navigate.

The carnival kicks off in mid-January, with the defamation trial brought against Trump by the New York writer E. Jean Carroll, whom the former president was found by a civil jury to have sexually abused.

In the same week, the Midwestern state of Iowa hosts the inaugural Republican nominating contest of the 2024 cycle -- Trump's first test on his road to the White House.

Eight other Republicans are challenging his claim to the party's 2024 nomination.

That number is likely to have been whittled by the new year -- Trump's vice president Mike Pence dropped out at the end of October -- but he has little to worry about anyway.

His nearest rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, languishes 45 points behind in polling.

Six weeks after the Iowa contest, Trump goes on trial in Washington over charges that he conspired to steal the 2020 election -- on the eve of one of the biggest milestones in the Republican primary calendar, "Super Tuesday."

Trump's New York hush money case is also tentatively penciled in for a March trial, while the "security secrets" classified documents case is set for a May trial in Florida.

- 'Doing the job' -

Both are likely to see considerable delays but it remains likely that Trump will spend much of 2024 juggling rallies and fundraisers with court appearances.

With his instinct for showmanship, the former reality TV star will undoubtedly seek to turn these split screen moments to his benefit.

"Trump has always used his private plane to his advantage and this time will be no different," political analyst Wendy Schiller told AFP.

"He will fly back and forth in it, and with his name prominently on the aircraft. Everyone will pay attention to him."

Trump hopes to make his nomination official at the Republican national convention in July. And President Joe Biden will be named as his opponent a month later, barring some shock development.

The current occupant of the Oval Office will seek to frame his administration as sober and professional -- in contrast to the chaos that often surrounds his opponent.

But the 80-year-old Biden has been reticent to capitalize on Trump's legal woes, eager to not appear to be putting his thumb on the scale.

"Biden will most likely use the Oval Office as his campaign perch because it reminds voters that he is in charge of the federal government, and that he is spending his time doing the job rather than in a courtroom," said Schiller.

However the election itself shakes out, one thing is certain: with a multiple indictee facing an octogenarian, the 2024 campaign will make history.

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