Democrats are celebrating Trump’s impeachment but fearing national consequences

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Democrats are celebrating Trump’s impeachment but fearing national consequences

The satisfaction is almost universal, but it comes with a nasty flavor: Democrats are relishing the possibility that Donald J. Trump to finally get his payback. But when the mocking laughter dies down, a much more lasting unease remains in its place. What will this do to the state?

While President Biden and his top allies have largely remained silent on the indictment of Mr. Trump, rank-and-file Democrats have been far more eager to speak out, responding with a mixture of jubilation and deep concern about how the federal prosecution of the former president and current candidate for the White House could shake up American politics.

Interviews this week with more than 60 Democratic members of Congress, state lawmakers, liberal activists and party officials found near-universal agreement that Mr. Trump deserves to face federal charges over his handling of classified documents, but a notable split on that whether impeachment is good for the country or even for their party.

“I don’t want to see this machine of chaos do more damage to the country, hurt more people,” Greg Landsman of Ohio, a freshman moderate from Cincinnati, said in an interview Tuesday, referring to the former president. “Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone needs to get serious.”

For years, Democrats have debated the wisdom of prosecuting Mr. Trump for the various crimes they believe he has committed. Vice President Kamala Harris said during her presidential campaign that the Justice Department “would have no choice” but to prosecute Mr. Trump.

The indictment now serves as a political Rorschach test coming into the 2024 presidential campaign, in which many Democrats expect a rematch between Biden and Trump. Some Democrats are excited that the man who tormented them for seven years may finally be held accountable for his rule-breaking actions, but others fear that Mr. Trump will once again defy the political mainstream. gravity and that his supporters might respond to the charge with violence.

Most important to many Democrats is the possibility of another outbreak of civil unrest similar to the riot by Mr. Trump’s supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. While Mr. Trump’s first appearance in federal court on Tuesday went off without a hitch outside building, there is no shortage of Democrats predicting that at some point Mr. Trump’s candidacy will lead to even more chaos.

“I worry about what will happen in 2024,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. What we saw on January 6th, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of it.

David Walters, a former governor of Oklahoma, said that given the evidence in the documents case, the indictment should move forward – despite the possibility that Mr. Trump’s supporters were inciting violence.

“The long-term damage to the nation and our justice system from inaction far outweighs the political and safety risk,” Mr. Walters said. “There is an evil force in our midst that must be confronted.”

The tone was livelier last weekend at the Wisconsin Democratic Party’s annual convention in Green Bay. There, Congressman Mark Pocan peppered his speech with festive banter, comparing Mr. Trump’s legal travails to recent Democratic triumphs in the state.

His biggest cheers were: “Indictments, like impeachments, apparently come in pairs for crooked former presidents. Happy accusatory weekend, my friends.

In North Carolina, Shelia Huggins, a Durham attorney who sits on the Democratic National Committee, spent 50 minutes reading the indictment aloud on her YouTube live stream Monday. She stopped halfway. “I need a break,” she said. “That was a lot.”

The indictment itself served as a conversation starter for Democrats across the political spectrum. They have so many questions: Will allegations that Mr. Trump has misused national security secrets finally be the thing that separates him from his die-hard supporters? Does the indictment make Mr. Trump more or less likely to be the Republican presidential nominee? What if he was convicted and kept on the run for the next year?

“I can’t see putting a former president, along with his Secret Service team, in a penitentiary,” said Mary Moe, a former Montana state senator. “But there has to be some consequence. We’re in uncharted territory here.”

Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, predicted that the impeachment would be the final straw for Mr Trump’s political career – a statement that has surely been made by others many times over the past eight years.

“The political damage to Donald Trump’s chances for another shot at the presidency will outweigh his candidacy,” Mr. Jacobs said. “There are too many sane, patriotic Americans for this to be resolved any other way.”

Others worry about what will happen if Mr. Trump is acquitted.

“If it is proven in court and he is not convicted, it will be a hammer blow to the already terribly low trust in the government, the DOJ, the courts and the justice system as a whole,” said Liano Sharon, a progressive activist in Michigan.

And others feared that Mr. Trump’s conviction could backfire and hurt Mr. Biden’s re-election chances.

“The only political risk is if the impeachment and possible conviction of Trump causes him to lose the nomination and Biden has to run against someone else,” said William Owen, a member of the Democratic National Committee from Tennessee.

Biden’s presidential campaign, his closest allies and Democrats, who expect to face tough re-election battles next year, appear to have collectively decided it’s best to say as little as possible and avoid becoming part of any news cycle regarding the Trump impeachment.

The Democratic National Committee produced nine news releases for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during his CNN town hall event on Monday night, but released none on Mr. Trump on Tuesday.

Representative Mary Peltola of Alaska, when asked Tuesday about the allegation, did her best to release as soft a statement as possible. “I am aware of the latest allegation against former President Trump,” she said. “I will continue to focus on advocating for Alaskans.”

Some Democrats, who have been publicly skeptical of Mr. Trump’s prosecutions in the past, are beginning to whisper: Shut him down.

Matt Bennett, founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank, warned days after Jan. 6 of “killing” Mr. Trump (he later apologized). After Mr Trump was indicted in Manhattan this year, Mr Bennett questioned whether the prosecution was “worth it”.

But now he is finally sold on charging Mr. Trump.

“There’s just no way you can read this charge and think he should avoid a sentence for such egregious behaviour,” Mr Bennett said on Monday.

Not all Democrats were swayed by the accusation, however.

Bruce Ledewitz, a veteran of the Gary Hart and Al Gore presidential campaigns who is now a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, has written columns dating back to 2019 warning against taking Mr. Trump to court. He advised Democrats to follow the example of President Gerald Ford, who pardoned his predecessor, the recently resigned Richard Nixon, to spare the country the trauma of a judicial stay in office.

“No one asked Ford the question: Is this in the best interest of the country?” Mr. Ledewitz said. “Trump can be president and be in jail. I don’t know who thought this would be wise for the country. It just isn’t.”

Other Democrats remain concerned about what the prosecution of a former president could do to the country’s image abroad — especially in places with still-developing democracies.

“It’s not good for this country in terms of our standing in the world,” said Sheikh Rahman, a Georgia state senator who was born in Bangladesh. “Everybody’s looking at us, the whole world is looking at us, and they’re like, ‘How could this happen to the United States?’

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