Carl P. Leubsdorf: This is just the beginning for Donald Trump

From the commentary: Still, it remains hard to see how the events of the past week — and those likely to unfold over the coming months — will strengthen Trump’s 2024 general election chances, even if they increase the likelihood that his solid GOP support will net him a third straight Republican nomination.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan court during his arraignment on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in New York City.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump appears in a Manhattan court during his arraignment on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in New York City.
Seth Wenig/TNS

Here’s an important thing to remember: This is probably just the beginning. The end is unforeseeable.

From the commentary: There can be only one priority in 2024 if Trump is a candidate: making sure the country's fate is not put back into the hands of a man already proved to be reckless, undemocratic, dishonest, self-dealing and supportive of violence.
From the commentary: Based on what he has done to date, Ron DeSantis' pledge to do for America what he has done for Florida may not frighten the right wing of the Republican Party, many of them Trumpers, but it may not hold up so well among general election voters, who overwhelmingly support Roe v. Wade and think well of Mickey Mouse. And Trump remains the 600-pound gorilla on the Republican side.
From the commentary: The growing number of entrants is good news for the front-runner, who benefits from facing fragmented opposition as he did in 2016. But it's also good news for Republican voters, who are not only getting more candidates to choose from, but also more ideas about their party's post-Trump future — even though that may not arrive until 2028.

That’s because the unprecedented indictment of Donald Trump by a New York County grand jury on charges of paying “hush money” to a former porn star is almost certainly the first of several criminal charges he will face.

The former president faces potentially far more serious allegations, most stemming from his extra-legal efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat. They include pressuring Georgia officials to change the state’s outcome, resisting efforts to retrieve illegally possessed classified documents and inciting the insurrection to prevent Congress from ratifying electoral votes.

These cases – and any indictments and trials that may flow from them — are likely to dominate the political news for months, freezing the current situation in which Trump is the solid GOP front-runner and the November 2024 outlook remains very much in doubt.

That also means that the arguments — and the forecasts — that partisans and independent analysts have been making in recent days are unlikely to change much as Americans confront the spectacle of a former president brought before the bar of justice.


On one side, Trump’s Republican Party has lined up virtually unanimously against New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecution of the former president — though not necessarily supporting Trump’s ever-changing explanation of the events in question.

“The American people will not tolerate this injustice, and the House of Representatives will hold Alvin Bragg and his unprecedented abuse of power to account,” tweeted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “This is an outrage,” said former Vice President Mike Pence, who just recently said history will hold Trump “accountable” for the Capitol insurrection.

The GOP enthusiasm for Trump prompted some Republicans to make premature predictions. "Alvin Bragg just single-handedly secured Donald Trump the 2024 presidential election," Texas Republican Rep. Troy Nehls told Axios.

Meanwhile, Democrats played it generally low-key, declaring that the former president’s indictment shows that everyone faces equal treatment under the law.

“A nation of laws must hold the rich and powerful accountable, even when they hold high office,” said California Rep. Adam Schiff, the floor manager for one of the two failed impeachments of Trump. “Especially when they do. To do otherwise is not democracy."

In the short term, analysts agree, Trump’s indictment complicates the task of his opponents for the Republican nomination. Recent polls show Trump increasing his lead nationally over his closest challenger, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but in a less commanding position in the key early states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

But it will likely be much harder now for Trump’s challengers to make a strong case against his nomination while at the same time supporting his challenge of the New York indictment.

In addition, it will be hard for any of them to get much media attention if daily news accounts – especially those on 24-hour cable TV – are dominated by Trump and the legal issues swirling around him.


Even without this, the first important test for the entire GOP field won’t take place for many months, a multi-candidate debate scheduled for August in the city that will host the party’s 2024 convention, Milwaukee.

Here’s something else to consider: The history of many past contested races suggests they often don’t come into clear focus until the final weeks before voters cast their first caucus and primary votes, either in late January or early February next year.

Meanwhile, the latest proceedings against Trump are giving new impetus to those House Republicans who want to use their newly gained majority to investigate everything possible about the Democrats, starting with President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.

Even before the New York grand jury indicted Trump, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, and two other GOP chairs demanded that Bragg testify before Congress and produce documents about the probe. Bragg refused.

Meanwhile, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene went to New York to demonstrate against the former president’s indictment.

These events underscore the degree that Trump — and the House Republican support for him — is dominating the work of the House GOP majority, far overshadowing its efforts to implement some of its pre-election legislative agenda.

Meanwhile, President Biden can revel in the fact that, while Republicans soft-pedal some normal political jockeying to join one another in opposing the case against Trump, Biden is being seen daily as carrying out the people’s business.

Last Friday, for example, while Republicans fulminated against Bragg and the national news was dominated by the plans for Trump’s Tuesday arraignment, Biden was in Mississippi, consoling victims of recent devasting tornadoes and promising federal help to rebuild.


On Monday, the president was in Minneapolis for the latest in a series of trips to highlight his administration’s measures dealing with climate change, infrastructure upgrading and inflation.

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From the commentary: Casey DeSantis has three young children to raise while her husband runs for president. Anyone and everyone can find something to fault her for in how she chooses to balance her family and the campaign and on her roles as wife, partner and mother, which is why none of us should be sitting in judgment.
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From the commentary: The numbers: Republicans hold a House majority of only nine members, one of whom is the notorious George Santos. Biden won 18 of the districts currently held by Republicans. One can assume that many of their swing-voting constituents are most unhappy over the party's opposition to reproductive rights. They're sickened by its defense of lunatics' strutting through Walmarts with weapons of war.
From the commentary: If Florida Democrats find an acceptable candidate, they might just recapture the governorship. America probably doesn't want to become DeSantis' Florida. Florida may not like that either.
From the commentary: For now, parents have no choice but to do the best they can to protect children based on insights from experts and researchers.
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From the commentary: It's the "mini-me" factor that no one is even aware of and that leads people (men) to duplicate themselves. Then there is the "comfort factor," also unconscious but no less powerful, the measure of who the decisionmaker literally feels more comfortable with, generally someone like him.
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The president’s own job approval remains in the lower 40s, none too strong for his anticipated re-election bid, and his matchup numbers with Trump and DeSantis continue to suggest a close 2024 race.

That may not change for months. Still, it remains hard to see how the events of the past week — and those likely to unfold over the coming months — will strengthen Trump’s 2024 general election chances, even if they increase the likelihood that his solid GOP support will net him a third straight Republican nomination.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. This commentary is the columnist's opinion. Send feedback to:

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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