HERE’S a fact worth pondering. To date, Donald Trump has used at least $40 million in election campaign donations to pay his legal fees for the numerous indictments brought against him.

Here’s another point worth considering alongside that fact. Right now, opinion polls show Trump close to 30% ahead of nearest rival Ron DeSantis in the race for the Republican nomination for next year’s presidential election.

In other words, the more the indictments and court dates pile up, so too it seems does Trump’s chance of leading the Republican bid for the White House.

To say that such a prospect troubles many ordinary Americans, not to mention rival Democrats including US president Joe Biden and indeed even some Republicans, would be a gross understatement. But still the Trump election campaign bandwagon relentlessly rolls on.

As Nate Cohen, chief political analyst at The New York Times, wrote early last week: “The MAGA – Make America Great Again – base doesn’t support Trump in spite of his flaws. It supports him because it doesn’t seem to believe he has flaws.”

Such a rose-tinted view, however, flies in the face of the facts as last week Trump for the third time in four months stood before a judge and pleaded “not guilty”, this time in the case named “United States of America v Donald Trump”.

It was last Tuesday that a grand jury in Washington DC indicted the former president on four charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, conspiracy against rights and obstruction of, and attempt to obstruct, an official proceeding.

All the charges relate to Trump’s alleged role in efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat. They hark back to that moment when in plain sight of the American people and the world, Trump told an angry mob at a rally that they must “fight like hell” or they “won’t have a country anymore”, then directed them to go the Capitol and “stop the steal”.

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Already some notable observers have said that last Tuesday’s indictment was a pivotal moment and one that reflects America’s political system in good standing.

In an opinion piece in Friday’s Financial Times, Donald Ayer, US deputy attorney-general under George HW Bush, called it a “turning point of enormous importance for the US – and for the global community of democracies”. The indictment, attests Ayer, “is the greatest demonstration yet that our system is, after all, up to the task”.

Going on to quote from the indictment document, Ayer said that in its 45 pages, it tells one story in a very readable way – the story of how Trump “despite having lost … was determined to remain in power”.

But reassuring as America’s system of checks and balances is to those breathing a sigh of relief that Trump has been brought to account, the fact is that no conviction has yet been delivered and Trump himself maintains that he would run for president from prison in 2024 even if he was convicted on any of the criminal charges he faces.

Addressing the thorny issue of whether Trump could do just that, The New York Times journalist Maggie Astor, in the wake of last week’s indictment, outlined how the US Constitution and American law have clear answers for only some of the complicated questions that would arise. It would, she wrote, bring the country into truly uncharted legal and political territory, with huge decisions resting in the hands of federal judges.

“Not since Eugene V Debs campaigned from a prison cell more than a century ago has the United States experienced what might now happen: a prominent candidate with a felony conviction running for president. And never before has that candidate been someone with a real chance of winning,” was how Astor summed up the complexities involved.

The National: Trump's popularity amongst his base has largely remained strong despite his legal troublesTrump's popularity amongst his base has largely remained strong despite his legal troubles (Image: Brian Lawless)

The historic case Astor cites is, rather ironically, that of the American socialist and trade unionist Eugene Victor Debs, a man about as far removed from Trump’s right-wing views as it’s possible to imagine. Debs was one of the founding members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and five-time candidate of the Socialist Party of America for president of the United States.

Some argue, of course, that it is precisely in the hope of staying out of prison that Trump is running. Fellow Republican and long-shot presidential contender Will Hurd unequivocally made that point recently at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln fundraiser dinner in Iowa.

“Donald Trump is not running for president to make America great again. Donald Trump is not even running to represent the people that voted for him in 2016 and in 2020. Donald Trump is running for president to stay out of prison,” Hurd, a former CIA man, alleged, only to be booed and heckled from many in attendance.

And there’s the rub, for Trump has his allies and supporters not only among grassroots Republicans but within its top influential tier. From within these ranks, key figures last week directed their wrath over the latest indictment towards Tanya Chutkan – the Washington DC district judge – and the DC court itself, arguing it would be impossible for the former president to get a fair trial in the nation’s capital city.

It was two years ago in a legal dispute over handing over his presidential records to House investigators that Judge Chutkan ruled against Trump. This and the tough sentences the Barack Obama appointee handed down to defendants of the January 6, 2020, riots at the Capitol are drawing scrutiny and criticism from Trump’s allies. Some argue that so stacked are the odds against Trump that a guilty verdict over the latest indictment would lack legitimacy.

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“I don’t think any Republican, much less any America-first type Republican, could ever expect to have a fair trial in a DC setting with a DC judge and DC jury. It’s all meant to rubberstamp what they already want to see happen,” said Ned Ryun, the founder and CEO of American Majority, a national grassroots conservative group speaking to the online US political newspaper The Hill.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went even further, accusing Chutkan of having “a reputation for being far left, even by DC District Court standards”.

Even Trump’s key Republican rival, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, came to his defence, posting on Twitter that “Washington DC is a ‘swamp’ and it is unfair to have to stand trial before a jury that is reflective of the swamp mentality”.

But despite such high-level voices of support, evidence on far-right social media platforms suggests that some of the former president’s more grassroots supporters appear less enthusiastic about coming to his aid.

Eric Curwin is chief technology officer of Pyrra Technology, a company that monitors those social media platforms that Trump supporters flocked to after Facebook, Twitter and others suspended Trump and some of his followers after January 6. Among them are Truth Social, Gab, Kiwi Farms and BitChute.

Speaking to America’s National Public Radio (NPR), Curwin said that on such sites these days, there is nothing like the sort of supportive fervour seen before.

“There’s not as much talk about ‘we’ve got to stop this’; there’s not as much talk about ‘we should do something’,” Curwin told NPR.

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DESPITE such evidence, many Trump opponents remain worried about the almost unprecedented pressure and duress that the perfect storm of the numerous criminal trials and a presidential election will place on America’s political system in the coming months in the run up to next November’s election.

As Ronald Bronstein, senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, observed last week, the central concern is that “the germ of election denialism that Trump injected into the American political system has spread so far throughout the Republican Party that it is virtually certain to survive whatever legal accountability the former president faces”.

For the moment, some observers believe that all Trump can do is stick to his tried and tested “lies” and “warping” of the truth. Trump is a past master at selling gimcrack products and the conspiracy he claims is working against him right now is just another.

It’s a fair bet that the Trump trials will become inseparable from his campaign strategy in 2024 should he win the nomination as looks likely. Once again, say critics, it will all be about him and how only he is the man who can lead America to a “better place”.

Standing in his way is an equally formidable if very different kind of operator in the shape of Jack Smith, the Justice Department special counsel. Not only has Smith an impressive record as a federal prosecutor in the US who has taken down mob bosses in Manhattan, but he has used his expertise as an international war crimes prosecutor at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. It was there that he indicted former Kosovo president Hashim Thaci, who since had pled not guilty.

In other words, Smith, the man appointed by US attorney-general Merrick Garland to oversee investigations, is no stranger in dealing with the sorts of autocrats and despots tried or indicted at The Hague alongside which some might argue Trump would sit appropriately were he given carte blanche as a world leader.

Speaking to The Financial Times this weekend, Ryan Goodman, a professor at New York University’s law school, said Smith “appears to be the right person for the moment”.

“It shows the kind of intrepid prosecutor who is basically going to apply the law to the facts and not worry about political considerations,” Goodman asserted.

But many legal experts say there will be no escaping the political considerations given that Trump’s White House bid is almost certainly set to become a courtroom campaign. For their part, Trump’s allies insist that what is happening here is nothing more than cynical moves by a politically “weaponised” US Justice Department aimed specifically at thwarting the former president’s prospects in the 2024 election.

Trump himself has taken direct aim at special counsel Smith, labelling him a “deranged lunatic” and “psycho”, while criticising his wife, who produced a documentary about Michelle Obama and donated to President Joe Biden.

The legal team prosecuting Trump will be determined to offset his inevitable efforts in court to air his grievances and gain political capital by setting himself up as a martyr with all the combustible potential that has among his base of Republican supporters.

In an early example of the manipulation Trump and his allies could bring to bear, US prosecutors flagged a threatening social media post from Trump in a late-night court filing on Friday arguing that it suggests he might intimidate witnesses by improperly disclosing confidential evidence received from the government.

On his Truth Social site on Friday afternoon, the former president wrote, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”, a day after pleading not guilty to the latest indictment of defrauding America.

As Reuters news agency reported, in the filing in the Washington federal court, the office of special counsel Jack Smith said Trump’s post raised concerns that he might publicly reveal secret material, such as grand jury transcripts, obtained from prosecutors. Under the process known as discovery, prosecutors are required to provide defendants with the evidence against them so they can prepare their defence.

“It could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case,” prosecutors wrote, noting that Trump has a history of attacking judges, attorneys and witnesses in other cases against him.

These, say legal experts, are just early salvoes in what is sure to develop into an increasingly bitter battle in which prosecutors will have their work cut out to contain Trump’s efforts to usurp the trials he faces.

“I can’t conceive of another prosecutor who has come close to the enormity of the challenges that Smith faces in a country that can’t even agree on certain facts and that came so close to the precipice of a violent interruption in the transfer of power as a democracy,” was how New York University law school professor Ryan Goodman summed up what lies ahead.

It seems then that the courtroom drama that will be the epicentre of the next US presidential election is only just beginning.