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Indictment as a Trump Card: What Resurgence of Donald Trump in US Politics Means

Trumpism came to mean populism, nationalism, isolationism, as well as anti-free trade and anti-immigrant stances.

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Come January 2025, Donald J Trump could well either be in prison, or in the Oval Office at the White House.

The sheer range of this possibility is mind-boggling. But the surging support he is getting from his Republican Party in his quest for a second Presidential term is already shaping attitudes in the United States and around the world.

Trump Challenge in 2024 Elections

The Washington Post has just reported on a meeting in the White House in June when former President Barack Obama advised the incumbent Joe Biden to take the Trump challenge seriously.

The issue was not Biden’s qualities, but Trump’s strengths—his intensely loyal base, a friendly conservative media, a polarised country, and his iron grip on the Republican Party.

Trump was, after all, the President who took the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Iran nuclear deal. His “America First” rhetoric shook up allies and his fondness for dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un baffled his Republican base.

Snapshot
  • The surging support Trump is getting from his Republican Party in his quest for a second Presidential term is already shaping attitudes in the United States and around the world.

  • Trump has successfully made the indictments the major focus of his campaign till now, depicting him as the target of a sinister effort by the so-called “Deep State” to use the US justice system to defeat him.

  • By now it should be clear that despite his 2020 defeat and numerous legal troubles, Trump could very well emerge as the winner in 2024, something which will upend American politics as nothing else can.

  • Observers say that the very possibility of a Trump return is likely to encourage the Russians to hold out against any peace move where they have to return Ukrainian territory they have captured.

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Indictment Maybe an Advantage

Trump has successfully made the indictments the major focus of his campaign till now, depicting him as the target of a sinister effort by the so-called “Deep State” to use the US justice system to defeat him.

Almost everyone is agreed now that former President Donald Trump’s latest indictment—for his role in efforts to overthrow his 2020 election defeat—will only provide more fuel to his march towards the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination as the candidate for the upcoming presidential elections.

Indeed, some believe that all the indictments—there are four till now—will propel him to victory in the election itself in November 2024.

The latest is perhaps, the most serious, considering that it is charging a man who is running for president with attempting to subvert the rule of law in the US.
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What the Polls Reveal

Just how evenly poised the campaign is becomes evident from the latest Reuters-Ipsos poll which shows Biden leading Trump 37%-35%. '

Indeed, a New York Times/ Siena College poll noted that in recent weeks while President Biden has strengthened his position somewhat but in “a hypothetical rematch” in 2024, Biden and Trump are tied at 43 per cent each.

By now it should be clear that despite his 2020 defeat and numerous legal troubles, Trump could very well emerge as the winner in 2024, something which will upend American politics as nothing else can.
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Trump’s candidacy now rests on the false assertion that he won the 2020 election which he actually lost to Joe Biden by 7 million votes. But large numbers of Republicans believe Trump. A CNN poll some months ago revealed that as many as 63 % of Republicans think that the 2020 vote was illegitimate.

What Trump’s Comeback Could Mean

Trump’s victory in 2016 against Hillary Clinton was unexpected. Not surprisingly it led to a presidency which was marked by a degree of chaos and confusion. The President often made policy through Twitter threads and left his staff and Cabinet to catch up.

Trumpism came to mean populism, nationalism, isolationism, as well as anti-free trade and anti-immigrant stances.
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But despite his radical approach, the Presidency was fairly normal. Despite criticising allies in NATO and East Asia, Trump did not quite abandon them. Indeed, the US took sharper positions towards Russia and China and its National Security Strategy identified them as 'strategic rivals'. He also helped revive the Quadrilateral Dialogue and renamed the Asia-Pacific as the Indo-Pacific.

A new Trump Presidency could be quite different. He has spoken of ending the Ukraine war "in 24 hours”, something that could only happen at the cost of Ukraine. He has not been supportive of the US position and could wind down American aid which is so vital for Ukraine’s continuing ability to defend itself.

Observers say that the very possibility of a Trump return is likely to encourage the Russians to hold out against any peace move where they have to return Ukrainian territory they have captured.
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Trump will not go easy on China. Recall that he had initiated the trade war which morphed into a wider American policy of technology denial to Beijing. But where the Biden Administration has patiently built up and strengthened a coalition of countries– South Korea, Japan, Australia, India, and the Philippines– to work together, the Trump approach could be selective and uneven.

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Implications for India

As for Europe, the Ukraine war has helped the US to solidify its alliance with NATO and re-establish its leadership. Recall that Trump had publicly questioned the relevance of NATO. So many Europeans also believe that they must strengthen their own defence capabilities. 56 per cent of the respondents in a recent poll in Europe have said that the NATO alliance would be weakened with the return of Trump.

India is likely to remain in a sweet spot, whether or not Trump returns in November 2024. Despite some issues relating to differences in trade, New Delhi got along well with Trump.

India has excellent relations with the US in the Biden Administration as evidenced by Modi’s recent visit to Washington. But this is a practical geopolitical alignment, lacking the personal touch evident in the Modi-Trump interaction.
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Indeed, the “Howdy Modi” rally in Houston in 2019 and the “Namaste Trump” event in Ahmedabad in 2020 pointed to the warm relations between Prime Minister Modi and Donald Trump.

How this will play out in terms of the policy is not clear, but recall that it was in the Trump Administration that India-US ties took some key steps, including the signing of two foundational agreements COMCASA and BECA, and the initiation of the “2+2” strategic dialogue between their respective foreign and defence ministers of the two countries.

But the real stamp of a putative second Trump administration will be within the US. After his experience of being indicted, Trump is likely to double down on ways and means to purge the Department of Justice of his perceived enemies and "Marxist prosecutors”.

This purge is likely to extend to other departments as well. He intends to strengthen the power of the federal government greatly and centralise it in the office of the President.

Washington in his view is a "swamp” and he intends to drain it.
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He intends to use the federal agencies to go after his perceived enemies and also create an audit system to monitor US intelligence agencies which he mistrusts. You can be sure of one thing, a second Trump term will have major consequences for the US itself and the world.

(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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Topics:   United States   Joe Biden   donald trump 

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