Democrats facing a Donald Trump conundrum heading into 2024

Democrats facing a Donald Trump conundrum heading into 2024
Former President Donald Trump speaking at an event hosted by Students for Trump and Turning Point Action at Dream City Church in Phoenix, Arizona in June 2020 (Gage Skidmore)

With midterm elections right around the corner, Democratic lawmakers must quickly decide how they want to address former President Donald Trump. Although he is at the center of multiple investigations, there is still a strong possibility he could ultimately become the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.

With that possibility looming, a new analysis is breaking down the two options Democratic lawmakers have: to indict Trump or run against him in 2024. A number of legal experts have weighed in to share their take on the possibilities. Speaking to Newsweek, Thomas Gift, the founding director of the Centre on U.S. Politics at the University College London, explained why it may be difficult to prosecute the former president.

Gift also stressed the importance of the U.S. Department of Justice building a solid case against Trump due to the political nature of the situation. "Prosecuting Trump is fraught with huge political and legal pitfalls, and if Merrick Garland wants to go ahead with a case, one point is obvious: he'd better not miss," Gift said.

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He later added, "The bar for both criminal incitement of violence and seditious conspiracy are steep, and if Garland isn't doubly sure he can win, that may be enough to dissuade the DOJ from indicting."

However, Gift also noted another negative possibility. "For Democrats, after all, perhaps the only thing worse than not prosecuting Trump is prosecuting Trump and losing," he said.

Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, also offered a different perspective explaining the "awkward position" President Joe Biden is in amid mounting pressure to prosecute Trump. While it has been made abundantly clear that Trump is still a threat to the United States' democracy, a solid prosecution against him is still not an easy feat.

"He has declared the urgent priority of protecting democracy and blocking efforts by Trump and MAGA Republicans to undermine or overturn free and fair elections in the current election year and beyond. He has pointed out that Trump remains a serious threat to American democracy," Quirk said.

"Through the efforts of the House January 6 committee, strong evidence has emerged of multiple serious crimes, committed by President Trump, as well as his lawyers, other aides, and supporters—all aimed at overturning the result of the 2020 election," he said. He later added, "Although this evidence has not been subjected to cross-examination, challenged by opposing witnesses, or tested in a trial, it amounts to a very compelling evidence of likely criminality. And yet it is not at all clear that Biden's Justice Department has gotten the memo."

Quirk also explained why Garland may be moving a bit slower to prosecute Trump.

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"Garland may be afraid of giving the appearance of a politically motivated prosecution," Quirk says. "But as critics point out, that objection is itself politically motivated."

He added, "More important, to refrain from prosecuting the crimes involved in a concerted effort by a president and his supporters to keep him in office after he had lost an election would fail to deter future efforts to undermine democracy."

While an indictment and a solid case may subsequently diminish Trump's chances of running for office again, another legal expert is explaining why that still may not be the most viable option. David A. Bateman, an associate government professor at Cornell University, weighed in from a political perspective. "A Trump indictment messes up these strategies," he said. "It will be a major focus of political and public discussion, giving Democrats a national issue—like abortion—on which they can run, and forcing or inviting Republicans to take a position that in most places is probably not going to help them much and which will distract from inflation."

Although Democrats do face several odds where Trump is concerned, Quirk believes a solid prosecution established on substantial evidence could have a negative impact on the former president. "But well-grounded prosecutions, putting the evidence of serious criminality on public display," Quirk said, "would severely weaken Trump and the subversive faction of the Republican Party, not strengthen them."

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