116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Prosecutors in New York have gummed up Donald Trump’s political gears. They have taken their probe into possible civil wrongdoing by his organization and raised it to criminal level: bank, tax and insurance fraud. At the same time, Trump remains Republicans’ runaway choice as their 2024 nominee.
That puts GOP leaders in a quandary. They must painstakingly plan for a contingency: Trump running as a felon.
Challenges abound. First they must convince party rank-and-file and, most crucially, megadonors that it’s OK — perfectly legal — to have a proven crook as president. That should be easy, given many Republicans’ conviction that the most law-abiding Democrat would be worse. While no convicted felon has ever run for the highest office in the land, nothing in the Constitution says one can’t. Just be at least 35 years old, a native-born American and a resident of this country. That’s it.
For many decades, teachers have inspired students by saying anyone in the Land of the Free can get to be president — anyone! Having shown as much already, Trump can prove any malefactor can get to be president a second time — even after losing a reelection bid. Bolstering his chances is his claim that since the 2020 election was stolen from him, a second term, albeit delayed, is rightfully his.
Republicans, who overwhelmingly agree, can take heart from recent history.
While presidential scholars say a felonious candidate would risk an opponent’s focusing on character issues, seemingly damning accusations didn’t stop Trump from coming within 2.8 million votes of his 2016 opponent while winning the decisive electoral tally.
As for Trump’s misconduct during his four White House years, Republican leaders can cover it up. They can kick more dirt on the two impeachments and continue denying evidence of obstruction of justice. They can build on the claim that the Jan. 6 unpleasantness was nothing but a stroll in the park that detoured into the Capitol Building. Granted, vivid videotape contradicts that assertion, but a recent poll shows 39 percent of Republicans support political violence “when necessary.”
Come 2024, strategists can support their candidate’s pre-election claim that any outcome other than a Trump victory means rigged balloting.
The next concern central to Republican leaders’ planning is: Could their standard-bearer operate effectively from behind bars?
Gangland shot-callers manage it. And some observers have likened Trump to a mob boss. Still, in the event of sentencing, GOP leaders should work with compliant courts to arrange parole. Failing that, they should insist on house arrest or minimum security. Jailing of a U.S. president at Level 2 or above would hamper communications. Work release would work best for a reelected but convicted Trump. And if he really works the second time around — no daytime Fox News bingeing — the arrangement could prove not only productive but profitable for political supporters.
Will all GOP leaders stick with Trump over the long haul? Doubters should remember that the same ones who mocked him five years ago now pledge fealty. What’s more, those who now oppose their ever-vengeful leader do not escape penalty.
So all bets are off. The only sure thing is that if jailing looms, the “Lock him/her up!” mantra will change.
Writer-editor Jerry Elsea is retired after 40 years with The Gazette, the last 15 as opinion page editor.