Donald Trump’s indictment is again bringing to the fore his charged base in a politically partisan America. Irrespective of the outcome of the lawsuit and possible charges, they remain loyal as they were seven years back when he famously bragged about his ‘incredible’ supporters who would vote for him even if he were to commit a capital crime.
In January 2016, at an Iowa campaign event, he had spoken, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?"
The reactions to his indictment now follow the familiar pattern that his brash line brought then – his audiences love him, and his opponents want to use it to quash him.
The Trump-Daniels Scandal
A New York grand jury voted to indict the former president on Thursday for his alleged role in organising a hush money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign.
The case revolves around the $130,000 that Trump paid to Daniels via his former lawyer Michael Cohen, in exchange for her silence about an alleged affair with Trump a decade prior.
He continuously denied having an affair with Daniels but reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 checks, which were noted as legal expenses. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal tax evasion and campaign finance violation charges. Trump maintains that he did nothing illegal. He is now the first current or former US president to face criminal charges.Expand
Prominent Indian American political organisers are divided along party lines on his indictment. The Republicans among them have rallied to Trump’s side. Florida-based longtime Republican Danny Gaekwad, who has supported both Trump and Governor Ron DeSantis in their electoral pursuits, says that a former president being ‘treated like a common criminal’ is ‘unacceptable’ as it ‘tints the position of the US president’.
“He is a world leader, and they put him in the category of common criminals while rapists and murderers are roaming free – this is nothing but shame. Ron DeSantis is correct and we will stand by him,” he says referring to a tweet from Florida’s governor, which called the charges ‘un-American’.
DeSantis made it clear that Florida will not ‘assist in any extradition request’ of Trump. Trump lives at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and is expected to appear in New York court to answer criminal charges.
Dr Sampat Shivangi, a well-known Republican party supporter and fund-raiser agrees, “This hasn’t’ happened to any President for 200 years and that too to bring this up after 7 years, it seems unfair.”
Indian Americans who have announced their own 2024 presidential bids have also been vocal in defending Trump. In a campaign statement, Vivek Ramaswamy called it a “flagrant assault on the First Amendment’. On Fox News, Nikki Haley accused the prosecution to be ‘more about revenge than it is about justice’.
But Indian Americans on the other side of the political divide strongly believe that ‘nobody is above the law’. Democrat Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Victory Fund, says that a US President is granted ‘unprecedented immunities by the law while in office’ but becomes an ‘ordinary person after leaving office’.
He says, “The fact that this has not happened before is because there has never been anyone elected as president as corrupt and untruthful as Donald Trump”.
Ajay Bhutoria, a Democratic party national finance committee member, calls it a ‘significant step towards accountability’ as Trump has ‘repeatedly demonstrated a disregard for the law and the constitution’. He says, “This is not about politics, but about upholding the rule of law.”
But Gaekwad says that the ‘unfortunate’ lawsuit is completely politically motivated. “He (Trump) wrote his own personal check, not a check from the White House. President Biden will go as low as possible, setting a bad precedent.”
Donald Trump announced his third bid to run for president in November 2022. He is the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 nomination even though it is early days. The party, which has seemed fractured in their support of Trump following the January 6th attack on the US Capitol in 2020, is full-throated in adhering to him on this.
Across the aisle, Democrats are rallying behind the grand jury’s decision calling the proceedings constitutional and not politically targeted. The matter is being ‘decided by the courts’ stresses Rajiv Bhateja, the Co-Founder of They See Blue, an organisation focused on Democratic South Asian voter turnout.
“It's important to note that the indictment was handed down by a grand jury, not Alvin Bragg,” says Bhateja.
Alvin Bragg is a Manhattan District Attorney leading the probe in Trump’s hush money scheme. The years-long investigation led to the grand jury vote to indict the former president. The Democratic prosecutor has pursued Trump and other progressive priorities in his tenure. Numerous Republican politicians have attacked him after the indictment.
Trump lashed out in a statement saying it was “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.” The timing of the lawsuit, with Presidential elections due next year, is creating a perception among his supporters that this is a political prosecution. Democrats are of the opinion that Trump will use the proceedings as a canvassing tool.
Narasimhan says it ‘probably helps’ Donald Trump in the short-term with his base. “It helps him raise money and see who the true loyalists and sycophants are in the Republican party”, says the democrat. Trump’s campaign reported a surge in fundraising - $4 million within 24 hours of the indictment becoming news. Even political opponents agree with that. Republican Gaekwad believes that Trump will ‘get more votes now’.
With the indictment under seal until Tuesday, when Trump is scheduled to appear at the New York court, it is still unclear (on Sunday) what charges he is facing. However, it is expected that they include falsification of business records, among others. The former president has confirmed via Truth Social that he will be at the court on Tuesday.
According to an ABC News-Ipsos poll, 45% of Americans think Trump should have been charged with a crime in this case, whereas 32% believe otherwise. 88% of Democrats say Trump should have been charged, while 62% of Republicans oppose it.
Americans, including Indian Americans are clearly divided in support or against Trump’s arraignment based on their political affiliations. But win or lose, the one thought they have in common is– it’s a sad day for America.
(Savita Patel is a San Francisco Bay Area-based journalist and producer. She reports on Indian diaspora, India-US ties, geopolitics, technology, public health, and environment. She tweets at @SsavitaPatel.)