Column: Voters don’t buy Trump’s political persecution claim

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After months of legal wrangling, a schedule for former President Trump’s four pending criminal trials is finally taking shape.

Last week, federal district Judge Tanya Chutkan set March 4 as the date to begin Trump’s trial in Washington on charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election. That’s one day before Super Tuesday, when Republican voters in 15 states including California will cast ballots in primary elections.

Trump and his supporters erupted, claiming that the start date proved that the case is politically motivated.

“A biased, Trump Hating Judge gave me … just what our corrupt government wanted, SUPER TUESDAY!” Trump roared on his social media account. “I will APPEAL!”

“Chutkan should be thrown off the bench,” said Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, in a social media post.

“Their attempts to interfere with the 2024 election are so brazen it’s disgusting,” Donalds said.

Their outrage was artificial.

In last week’s hearing, Chutkan asked Trump’s attorney to propose a date his client would prefer.

But the lawyer, John Lauro, refused to budge from Trump’s laughable demand that the trial be postponed until April 2026, claiming the defense needs 2½ years to prepare the former president’s case.

Lauro never mentioned Super Tuesday.

The omission was telling. Trump’s objection isn’t to starting the trial on March 4 — it’s to any date before Inauguration Day in 2025, when he hopes to retake the presidency and order the case dropped.

In any case, Chutkan’s March 4 date is unlikely to have any discernible effect on Super Tuesday’s results. Trump might not even be required to attend the initial court sessions, which will be taken up by jury selection. (He would normally be required to attend most later proceedings, however.)

And the start date may well slip. Trump’s lawyers can still ask the judge for a delay if they genuinely need more time to prepare.

Bottom line: There’s no uncomplicated date to start a trial between now and election day. The presidential race is already underway, and the primary calendar begins in January and runs virtually uninterrupted from February until June. And after that, the general election campaign begins.

So no, this isn’t really about Super Tuesday. But it does connect to someone’s political strategy — Trump’s.

One of his goals is to postpone the trials as long as possible.

The other is convincing voters not only that the prosecutors and judges are corrupt, but that his supposed martyrdom at their hands makes him heroic.

“I am being indicted for you,” he told supporters in June. “They attack me because I fight for you.”

“Our Court System is rigged against me!” he wrote in a social media post at 3 a.m. Friday.

Trump is trying to turn the trials into an asset instead of a liability — a tool to rally his already committed supporters and force his rivals for the GOP nomination to come to his defense. He’s largely succeeded on both counts.

The good news, though, is that he doesn’t appear to be convincing anyone else.

In an Ipsos/Politico poll last month, 59% of respondents said they believe the Justice Department’s decision to indict Trump “was based on a fair evaluation of the evidence,” not politics.

Most Republicans sided with the former president — 75% said they believed the federal indictment was politically motivated. Even so, a sizable minority, 23%, said they thought the indictment was fair.

In another Ipsos poll, for Reuters, 45% of Republicans said they won’t vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a felony. If that many GOP voters were to abandon him, Trump’s chances of winning the general election would be doomed.

There’s no guarantee, of course, that any of Trump’s trials will result in convictions. A single holdout juror can prevent a guilty verdict.

“We’re looking at two possible futures,” former federal prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig said. “In one, Trump is convicted, and Biden wins the election. In the other, the trial ends with a hung jury and Trump wins the election — after which he kills the two federal cases and leans on the Georgia Legislature to kill the prosecution there.”

If Chutkan’s March 4 start date holds, lawyers estimate that case could reach a verdict by May.

Other trials could follow by the middle of next year: a state trial in Georgia, where Trump and 18 others have been indicted on accusations of attempting to subvert the election; and a federal trial in Florida, where Trump has been charged with illegally retaining national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate. A fourth trial, in
New York, on charges that Trump illegally paid hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels, will probably come last.

It’s reasonable to wish that the prosecutors had brought their charges earlier. But it takes time to build a case, and Trump would have claimed that he was being persecuted regardless of when the trials began.

No matter the timing, Trump’s trials are no longer a sideshow; they’re central to his 2024 campaign. The presidential election may hinge on what happens in those courtrooms.

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