What now for US 2024?

A look at what Donald Trump’s next moves might be , and at the Democrats who think Joe Biden should not run for a second term in the White House

By Paul Hopkins

Were it all to come home to roost for Donald Trump – last week’s impeachment, the January 6 Inquiry, the Georgia state alleged rigged voting, and the classified documents saga – it still does not prevent him running for president in 2024.

The qualification to run for president is you have to be 35, to have been born in America, and resident for 14 years..

There are no other qualifications, even if you are a convicted criminal. Also, any outcomes in all three investigations are a long, long way off.

Republicans with Trump onboard did badly in the 2022 primaries and increasingly the majority centrist are distancing themselves from him, realising that, if they have any chance of winning in 2024, they don’t need his inciteful rhetoric out front.

His core base is shrinking. His indictment ultimately won’t help his campaign, the ‘martyr’ scenario notwithstanding. And, be assured, there is politics at play here.

Despite everything, Trump will continue to run and, indeed, could run for president from prison. It’s been done before. He could follow the journey of the one-time socialist troublemaker Eugene V. Debs who in 1920 received nearly a million votes while behind bars.

Also, if he were convicted of a federal crime, Trump could try to pardon himself immediately upon taking office.

The indictment and the other ongoing criminal investigations of Trump raise the real — if still remote — prospect that a leading contender for the 2024 presidential nomination could face prison time.

There are no legal obstacles to running for president as a convicted felon or even from behind bars. And if Trump finds himself in that predicament, he’ll be merely following in the footsteps of Debs.

Debs is far from the only person who has sought the highest office in the land while in prison, but he was the most successful. In 1920, he became the Socialist Party nominee while serving a 10-year federal sentence for urging people to resist the World War I draft.

He received 3% of the popular vote, a respectable return foror an incarcerated socialist, but nowhere near enough to force the American people to seriously consider an improbable constitutional question: What happens if an imprisoned candidate actually wins?

Trump’s escalating legal troubles raise that question. He has been indicted in New York for falsifying business records, a state crime that carries a maximum four years in prison when charged as a felony, though some observers say a judge is unlikely to issue a jail sentence for a first offence.

Three other ongoing criminal investigations of Trump — the one in Georgia for election interference and two from special counsel Jack Smith in Washington — could trigger more serious felony charges and carry a higher risk of prison.

A Trump electoral victory from behind bars would open a constitutional can of worms, but the general view among legal scholars is that the need for a duly elected president to carry out the duties of office would override a criminal conviction and require the sentence to at least be put on hold. And if Trump were convicted of a federal crime, he could even try to pardon himself immediately upon taking office — a manoeuvre that Debs himself promised to undertake if he won.

Indeed, some of the memes of Trump circulating on social media — including a mock-up of a Trump booking mugshot that was never taken — look much like lapel buttons that circulated during Debs’ 1920 campaign showing photos of him along with his federal prisoner number. ‘For President: Convict No. 9653,’ the buttons said.

Trump — who famously said he could shoot someone on New York City’s Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote — is already trying to convince his supporters that they’re the ones under attack. “In reality, they’re not after me, they’re after you. And I just happen to be the person that’s in the way,” he said at a recent rally in Texas.

Conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche ran for the White House eight times, with one of those bids — in 1992 — coming as he served a 15-year sentence for mail fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion. He was released in 1994 and died in 2019.

There’s already one candidate running from prison in the 2024 contest: Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as Joe Exotic. The star of the Netflix Tiger King series is running as a Libertarian after filing candidacy papers last February.

Maldonado-Passage is mounting his presidential bid from a medical centre for federal inmates in Fort Worth, Texas, where he’s serving a 21-year sentence for a slew of animal trafficking and abuse offences as well as attempting to arrange the murder-for-hire of a rival private zoo owner, Carole Baskin.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have indicated in court filings that they’re investigating the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Mar- a-Lago estate in Florida as a potential violation of another Espionage Act provision barring “willful retention” of national defence information after a request to return it.

As I write, no charges have been filed, and Donald Trump has denied he did any wrong.

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