You’re not supposed to admit this in this line of work, but most of what happens in politics on any given day ends up being of no consequence. But because the 24 hour news cycle demands that something of importance happen each day, the most mundane of developments get turned into things they aren’t. A politician says something strictly for the sake of posturing, or introduces a motion in Congress purely as a protest measure, and it gets widely mischaracterized as some huge earth-shifting thing. Then the next day it’s forgotten, as everyone moves on to overhyping the importance of the next mundane political development.
Now that so many corrupt politicians have committed so many crimes in the name of trying to take control of and/or overthrow the government, much of our daily “political” news is now coming from the court system. Donald Trump and about two dozen of his co-conspirators are in the process of standing trial in various criminal courts, and we even have politically connected civil trials playing out around the country. And so courtroom news becomes political news. This has prompted us to apply the same frantic “everything that happens is huge dramatic news” philosophy to what’s coming out of the courts. That’s leading to a lot of confusion, because most of what comes out of the courts each day is even more mundane and predictable than what comes out of politics each day.
Each time the courts institute a gag order against Donald Trump, or put a procedural stay on a gag order while Trump appeals it, or reinstate a gag order upon rejecting Trump’s appeal, it feels like big news. It isn’t. Each time Trump makes a nonsensical filing for a mistrial or some other doomed thing, and then the courts promptly strike it down, it feels like big news. It isn’t.
This is simply how the courts operate. There are all kinds of mundane procedural hoops and pointless filings. These developments make plenty of legal sense under the law, but they make no common sense to outside observers. It’s why legal proceedings aren’t meant to serve as spectator sports. It’s why fictional stories about legal proceedings, such as Law & Order, have to omit 95% of what really goes on with a criminal proceeding in order to make it watchable.
And yet because everything that happens each day in politics (and by extension politically connected court proceedings) has to be big news, there’s an inordinate amount of drama attached to a lot of court developments that just… aren’t anything.
As we move closer to Trump’s criminal trials, it’ll be even more important to keep in mind that most of what happens each day isn’t anything of lasting consequence. Trump is not within a million miles of making his criminal cases go away or pushing them past the election, and no minor win on any given day is going to magically make that happen for him. Nor are prosecutors anywhere close to magically sending Trump through an instant trap door. No matter how well things are going for them, it’s still going to be the totality of the case that finishes Trump off, not any given pretrial ruling or filing procedure.
When you ignore the daily hype and look at the big picture, most or all of Trump’s criminal trials will take place before the election. He will be convicted on numerous felony charges before the election. And that will greatly harm his viability. Whether or not Republicans decide to nominate a guy on his way to prison, given how badly he’d be likely to lose the general election under those conditions, is up to them. Joe Biden will be in a strong position to win reelection. But as is always the case, whether he wins (and whether he enters his second term with a Democratic Congress) will largely come down to how many of you decide to do a phone banking shift or retweet Democratic candidates running in competitive elections.
In the meantime, let’s treat these pretrial filings and pretrial rulings for what they are: mundane and largely predictable developments that don’t add up to a lot and don’t really move the needle in either side’s direction. What matters is that the legal proceedings are continuing to move forward. The reason a trial date is set months in advance is so that these mundane procedural things can all play out. The fate of the trial doesn’t hang on any of them.
As things stand, Trump is set to go on criminal trial in Washington DC this spring (which is a near guaranteed conviction), he’ll likely go on criminal trial in New York in the summer, then he’ll likely go on criminal trial in Fulton County in the fall just before the election, and his classified documents criminal trial will happen when it happens. The point is that Trump is going to be on criminal trial nonstop throughout 2024. That’s a devastating blow to someone who’s trying to sell themselves as a viable political candidate. If they want to give us the gift of nominating this guy under these circumstances, so be it.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report