Yesterday, POLITICO Playbook reported that law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County, Florida have actively prepared for the possibility that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance could indict former President Donald Trump while he’s sojourning at Mar-a-Lago. Trump is also under investigation in the State of Georgia and in the Federal Southern District of New York.
Accordingly, I suspect that we will be reading reports as to the possibility of indictments of The Donald in these jurisdictions and vicinages as well. I do not have a background in criminal law, except for a brief period of practice in the 1970s, Thus, I will not speculate as to the likelihood of issuance of any these indictments.
Politics is another matter, however.
My dear friend and mentor and Sage of Wall Street Lew Eisenberg used to tell me, “Alan, what I love about you is that you are always six months ahead of everybody else in speculating about the future.” So in accordance with the observation of Lord Lew, I will speculate as to the political impact of Trump indictments without opining as to their significance or likelihood.
In order to assess the political impact of any indictment of Donald Trump, it is first necessary to review in depth the political landscape of both the national and New Jersey Republican Parties. And such a review leads me to the conclusion that the ultimate impact of a Trump indictment will be quite different in New Jersey from the rest of the nation.
The recent contretemps involving the removal of House Republican Conference Leader Liz Cheney, engineered by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy has given rise to discussion of a current Republican civil war. I must say in all my distinctive immodesty that I was writing and discussing this civil war in my column and media appearances long before anybody else in New Jersey.
An example of this is my column, “Chris Christie, Meet Liz Cheney, back on February 3, 2021. (https://www.insidernj.com/chris-christie-meet-liz-cheney/). This column can serve the reader well as a current comprehensive guide to the Republican civil war.
The current Republican civil war, between Trumpism and Center-Right is not at all an ideological clash. Instead, it is a conflict between the personality cult of Trumpism and the general philosophy of center-right Republicanism, whose current avatar is Liz Cheney.
The central theme of the cult of Trumpism is a literal worship of all things named Trump. It manifests itself in a political reactional behavior characterized by two words: Authoritarianism and nativism. These two words also serve as a foundation statement for Trump-sponsored racist efforts at the state level to suppress the African-American vote and anti-immigration efforts nationally.
Trumpism represents a total departure from the Reaganism that governed the GOP nationally during the 1980s. Ronald Reagan relished both legal immigration and legal immigrants as a source of American power and greatness. Trump despises both.
I must confess that I remain baffled as to the hold that Trumpism has among its GOP followers. I have not observed such a powerful personality cult since that exercised by former Soviet Union dictator Nikita Khrushchev in the 1950s and early 1960s.
But Khrushchevism eventually lost its grip on the Communist Party in Russia, and Trumpism will lose it hold on the national GOP – once the grassroots become finally convinced that Trumpism is a national loser.
The Trumpists themselves are heralding a GOP triumph in the forthcoming 2022 campaigns to control the House and Senate.
They can forget it. It was the opposition of African-American voters, as I predicted at the end of 2019, that resulted in the Trump defeat at the hands of Joe Biden in 2020. https://www.nj.com/opinion/2019/12/2020-will-be-the-year-of-the-african-american-voter-opinion.html
And it will be the massive continuing defections of suburban women voters, due to Trump toxicity that will doom all efforts of the GOP to regain control of either house of Congress in 2022.
Within the GOP ranks, Trump will continue to enjoy his cult-like level of popularity, regardless of any indictment. But he will be besieged in terms of resources and time by the need to defend himself in criminal courts of law.
Given their drain on his time and resources, Trump will find that any and all indictments will make it impossible for him to mount his own 2024 presidential campaign. Instead, he will bestow the 2024 mantle of Trumpism on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who will lose in the general election. The national GOP will lose with another Trumpist presidential candidate in 2028 until the message finally gets through to their leadership and rank and file that Trumpism is a loser from which the party must flee.
The Center-Right starts off the conflict with a recognized leader in Liz Cheney and ample financial resources as well. Former Vice President Dick Cheney serves as his daughter’s consigliere. He has experience as a wartime consigliere, so he does not have the weakness of The Godfather’s Tom Hagen.
The daunting task Cheney faces as a challenger to the establishment is the building of a political infrastructure. The role of the political consultant is vital in this regard. It is not clear who Cheney’s consultant will be, although Stuart Stevens, with his tweets of praise for Liz, seems to be auditioning for the role.
New Jersey is one state where a Trump indictment could enable Cheney and the Center-Right to score a breakthrough. Republicans in New Jersey are very sensitive to scandal involving violation of the rule of law.
The scandal already is giving the Democrats an advantage in the State Senate race in the Second District. Republican incumbent Chris Brown has been a state senator of supreme competency and unquestionable ethics, independence, and integrity. He was a profile in courage in being one of only two Republican senators in the wake of the January 6 insurrection to vote for a state senate resolution calling for Trump’s impeachment.
Brown, unfortunately for the Republicans, has decided not to seek reelection. The Republicans now have on their hands a destructive primary between Seth Grossman, a racially insensitive right-wing kook, and Vince Polistina, a former Assemblyman and friend of Donald Trump, Jr. A Trump indictment will bathe Polistina in Trump toxicity. A victory in the Second District and a State Senate seat awaits the Democratic candidate, Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo.
There is one Republican, however, who will emerge from the aftermath of any Trump indictment with an enhanced political profile sufficient to propel him to the 2025 GOP gubernatorial nomination. I’ll reveal his identity in my next column.
Alan Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.