Trump will surrender next week, but his war is just beginning

It will be up to a New York jury to decide if he is telling the truth about Stormy Daniels. And this is where things get tricky

Protesters gather in front of Trump Tower in New York City on Friday. AFP
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In a short tweet, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg made history this week by announcing that Donald Trump, the former US president, had been indicted and must surrender to face criminal charges in New York.

He will turn himself in on Tuesday, having travelled from his adopted home in Florida to the Big Apple, the city of his birth.

Although Mr Trump has agreed to surrender to authorities and avoid the ignominy of being arrested, this legal step is just the beginning of a new chapter in his culture war that will further reshape a nation already riven by politics.

The charges against Mr Trump have not yet been made public, but they stem from hush-money he allegedly paid, via his lawyer, to adult film star Stormy Daniels to cover up a sexual encounter she says she had with him 17 years ago.

Mr Trump has vehemently denied the affair and any sort of hush-money scheme to silence Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

So, it will now be up to a jury to decide if he is telling the truth. And this is where things get tricky.

Mr Trump boasted in 2016 that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose voter support.

But in the years since, liberal New York has rejected Mr Trump and his far-right worldview. In the 2020 election that Mr Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden, 75 per cent of people in Manhattan voted against him.

The Republican property tycoon, who built skyscrapers and hotels in New York, is now reviled by many in the liberal city, a fact he is keenly aware of as he prepares to face jurors.

"ELECTION INTERFERENCE, KANGAROO COURT!" Mr Trump posted on Truth Social, the platform he founded after he was banned from Twitter in the wake of the January 6, 2021 mob attack he helped inspire on the US Capitol.

He tried to get ahead of the indictment, claiming two weeks ago that he would be arrested for an "old and fully debunked ... fairytale", and he has described Mr Bragg, who is black, as a "racist" and an "animal".

He also claimed that Juan Manuel Marchal, the judge who could eventually hear the case, "hates me".

Because a Democratic state attorney general is prosecuting the case, and not the US Department of Justice, Mr Trump can argue that he is being politically persecuted. Two previous sets of prosecutors had looked at the case but declined to seek an indictment.

Republicans have rushed to their leader's defence. Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House of Representatives, said Mr Bragg has "irreparably damaged our country" in an attempt to interfere in the 2024 presidential election.

"As he routinely frees violent criminals to terrorise the public, he weaponised our sacred system of justice against president Donald Trump," Mr McCarthy wrote on Twitter.

Senator Ted Cruz described the case as "utter garbage".

The invective from Mr Trump and senior Republicans is being lapped up by the so-called Maga base. The "Make America Great Again" voters are already convinced the liberal establishment is out to get Mr Trump and question why he has been the target of so many probes, none of which have stuck.

While in office, Mr Trump faced two unsuccessful impeachment trials by the Democrats, once for allegedly pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate US President Joe Biden's son Hunter, and later for his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection.

He's also the subject of multiple criminal and civil investigations. Mr Trump's followers see the New York proceedings as just another chapter in the ongoing "witch hunt" and have reacted to the indictment with fury.

"The prosecutor in New York has done more to help Donald Trump get elected president than any single person in America today,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a former Trump opponent-turned-true believer.

Mr Trump, whose reality is shaped by the endless stream of sycophantic memes his Truth Social followers post and the uncritical echo chamber of conservative media, will probably see all this as proof that he will win the 2024 election.

But outside of his conservative base, any new support is hardly assured. A poll this week put Mr Biden, who remains unpopular, ahead of Mr Trump in a hypothetical 2024 match-up.

With Mr Biden as president, the news cycle has been less dominated by Mr Trump's style of grievance politics, in which he paints a depressing world view where immigrants and liberals are destroying America and anyone without Maga sympathies is an enemy of the people.

But just at the moment when some Republicans were growing weary of Mr Trump's stale politics, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis seemed capable of challenging his claim to be presumptive Republican nominee for 2024, the indictment has energised the former president.

A court case means he will perpetually be in the headlines, sucking oxygen away from all other would-be Republican contenders.

Mr Biden meanwhile will, in all likelihood, seek a second term and will be crisscrossing the country touting his administration's policies.

At the same time, Mr Trump will quite possibly be standing trial in a Manhattan courtroom, all but ensuring protests from supporters and opponents.

Whatever happens with Mr Trump's criminal case, it is likely that divides will only deepen in this split-screen, parallel universe that is America today.

The strange world of Truth Social – in pictures

Updated: April 02, 2023, 6:49 AM