Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has indicted former president Donald Trump over his alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. On both the political left and right, Bragg has received thoughtful criticism for the legally dubious case, leading many to ask: What is he thinking? But some of the nuances of the actual prosecution and Bragg’s own political ambitions give the answer a surprising logic.
Consider that Bragg just might convict Trump. This case is being prosecuted in Manhattan, with jurors drawn from that wealthy and liberal borough. During a prior presidential campaign, Trump infamously stated, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” If that’s true, and it might be, it’s because virtually nobody in Manhattan votes for Trump. During the 2020 election, Trump lost the Manhattan vote by a staggering 84.5 percent to 14.5 percent. A jury drawn from that pool is capable of convicting the former president of just about anything.
Bragg may also be betting on eventual vindication from Fani Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta. Willis is pursuing a potential obstruction of justice and conspiracy case against Trump for attempting to interfere with the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. Such a case is more serious, credible, and evidence-based than Bragg’s. Unlike Bragg, Willis is a no-nonsense prosecutor who isn’t afraid to call out criminals in her jurisdiction. She has openly targeted violent gang members who are committing homicides in Atlanta, challenging the orthodoxy of progressive prosecutors about the need to pursue violent criminals. If Willis eventually charges Trump, Bragg will not only claim the honor of being first to charge but also credit himself with contributing to any other prosecutor’s later conviction of Trump.
The third factor is that, for Bragg’s own purposes, it doesn’t matter whether he convicts Trump or not. The political ecosystem Bragg occupies contains only two factions: liberal Democrats and uber-progressive Democrats. The rest of the country might have some trouble differentiating between these two tribes, but they are distinct and divided in New York City. One thing both groups agree on, though, is that anything adverse to Donald Trump is inherently good. Bragg’s voting and donor base will approve of his attempt to prosecute the former president.
Nobody should be surprised that Alvin Bragg decided to indict Donald Trump, notwithstanding the technical legal issues, the expiration of the statute of limitations, or the political well-being of the country. Bragg has a betting man’s chance of convicting Trump because he is playing on his home field. Being first to charge is a political trophy that might mean more than the ultimate results. And charging the former president with anything is likely to lead to electoral and fundraising rewards. The only remaining surprise in Bragg’s case against Trump is what effect the charges will have on the 2024 presidential primaries and the nation’s civic health. Not all surprises are happy ones.
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