No, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution of former President Donald Trump is not about the rule of law or holding the powerful to account. It is about Bragg putting himself at the front of a very crowded line to run for mayor or U.S. Senate in New York.
That’s not to say Trump is not guilty. Trump is constantly putting himself in compromising positions and exacerbating them with his undisciplined rantings. Trump’s best defense might be mental incapacity — how do you argue against that?
However, this case, and especially its timing, has all the markings of an ambitious politician seizing an opportunity to position himself for higher office. Not only is the case considered dubious even by left-leaning media outlets, but also his predecessors in the New York County DA’s office declined to prosecute.
Like anything in politics, only fools believe what politicians say. To understand true motivation, you have to look at their actions and circumstances, then piece together a logical explanation. On the surface, the Bragg indictment makes little sense. In a city with high crime, a local district attorney is diverting significant resources to prosecute a six-year-old nonviolent alleged crime over which his jurisdictional authority is questionable. In addition, there are other active investigations against the former president that seem to be much stronger than Bragg’s raggedy charges.
So, why did Bragg move to indict and do it so quickly?
If his prime motivation is to move up in the world of New York politics, it all makes sense. In the Lord of the Flies competitive world of New York, the Manhattan DA is just one in a crowd of ambitious politicians. Not since Thomas Dewey in 1942 has the Manhattan DA moved to higher office. In order to move up, Bragg is going to have to make a real splash – and The Mob just ain’t what it used to be.
Arresting and charging Trump is a slam dunk politically in a place (Manhattan) where Trump lost to President Joe Biden 86.7 percent to 12.3 percent and in New York state 61 percent to 38 percent. National polls show little moderation in Democratic and liberal loathing of Trump, with 66 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of liberals considering Trump “very unfavorable.” Bragg is not only sure to raise his profile and popularity, but campaign donations are going to go through the roof.
Bragg instantly becomes a top contender for higher office. It’s too soon to mount a primary challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand or Gov. Kathy Hochul in 2024, but a challenge from the left to New York City Mayor Eric Adams is not out of the question. Even more enticing is Sen. Chuck Schumer’s seat, due up in 2028 when Schumer will be 78. Liberal celebrity Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made noise in 2021 about primarying Schumer. Against the Black DA who arrested Trump, Ocasio-Cortez would not stand a chance.
The recent flurry of activity in Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis’ case must have made Bragg nervous. With grand jury testimony wrapping up and revelations from the kooky, chatty forewoman, Bragg had to figure an indictment in Georgia could happen any time. If he wanted the biggest headlines and the most credit, he would have to move. As a result, in the contest to arrest Trump, Bragg nabbed first place. Willis is now stuck with a participation trophy.
There is the possibility that Bragg loses at trial or the case is dismissed (after all, there is zero possibility of a plea bargain: Bragg has to go for jail time and Trump will never accept that). However, it seems rather unlikely that this case will move quickly to trial. Trump’s legal team is sure to fight each step of the way, which will mean delay after delay. Some analysts have scoffed at the idea a trial will be completed by November 2024.
In addition, would the judge want to preside over a trial that is concurrent with the heart of a presidential campaign? It seems reasonable to expect that the judge would suspend any trial if it were going to bleed into September and October 0f 2024 until after Election Day. As a result, it seems highly unlikely there will be an actual verdict before November 2024.
If Trump either loses the GOP nomination or loses to Biden in the general election, Bragg will undoubtedly claim credit for hobbling Trump and an acquittal will be inconsequential. The inefficiency of the New York courts is essentially giving Bragg a free pass.
The two troublesome scenarios for Bragg would be a dismissal by an appeals court or Trump withstanding the prosecution and even benefiting by winning election in 2024. Depending on the circumstances of a dismissal, Bragg could claim bias or that Trump’s intemperate behavior tainted the process (or some other set of excuses). He gets dented but could still survive.
Trump winning would be the nightmare scenario and one that Bragg could never recover from. While the Biden–Trump ballot test is currently close (with Trump ahead on average), I doubt that Trump is a good bet. Nobody motivates Democrats and liberals like Trump. They may be reticent about another Biden run, but Trump on the ballot unites them. As for independent and moderate voters, the Trump circus is ever more tiring.
But beyond the polling numbers, can anyone trust Trump on the campaign trail? His impulsive, unhinged behavior is sure to create problems. His talent for self-sabotage is unmatched. The chaos certainly won’t decrease with Trump.
Given all the political factors and the hard road he would face moving beyond the district attorney’s office, being first to indict Trump, even with a weak case, seems worth the risk for Bragg. If you’re keeping score at home, Bragg wins this political round while Adams and Schumer better watch their backs.