Editor's note:CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public relations at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 25 books, including the New York Times bestseller:Mythical America: Historians Confront the Biggest Lies and Legends of Our Past(Basic books). Follow him on Twitter@julianzelizer. The views expressed in this comment are his own. Viewmore opinionsw CNN-u.
On Thursday night, Donald J. Trump had hisa picture of a mugbecause he was booked into the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta. Sheriff's Office records describe the former president as "white, 6 feet 3 inches, 215 pounds," with blonde or strawberry blonde hair and "blue" eyes.
Indicted for the fourth time earlier this month, Trump faces more than a dozen charges under Georgia's version of the RICO statute — originally used to prosecute organized crime syndicates — along with 18 co-defendants for their alleged attempts to overturn the state's 2020 election results.
At any other time in American history, the news that a former President of the United States had been imprisoned while trying to retake the White House would have been absolutely shocking. The pivotal moment will end any nomination and secure its place in future history books.
But that's not necessarily the reaction we see today. With Trump facing a litany of legal problems, the breaking news is just another mistake on another day for many Americans, another example of Trump being Trump.
It is extremely dangerous for Americans to be immune from accusations of misconduct by our politicians. Many obstacles in our political system require politicians to understand that the public has limits on the rhetoric and behavior they will accept from our elected officials.
In the past, public sentiment played a large role in the downfall of politicians who abused their power. When they are Republicansfinally lockedAugust 1974 and three leading party figures - one senator. Barry Goldwater, Senator Hugh Scott, and Senator John Rhodes - went to the Oval Office to warn President Richard Nixon that his colleagues would not support him if the articles of impeachment were submitted to the Senate. They made political calculations and also reacted to a growing sense of social discontent.
In recent decades, we have witnessed the erosion of norms about what politicians can say and do. Some of the most dramatic elements of Trump's presidency have come from his secondary concern with breaking rules and norms. When the whistleblower revealed he was TrumppressedAfter Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found dirt on Hunter Biden, Trump didn't deny what he did, but insisted he didthe "perfect" phone. Even as violence broke out in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and efforts to nullify the 2020 election failed.doubleddue to his electoral refusal. He attacked investigators with his public rhetoric, refused to follow traditional customs and seemed to say whatever he wanted.
But despite his brash rhetoric and legal troubles, Trump remains the front-runner in the GOP primary in 2024. Even some of his opponentshe defended him. It is not clear whether the charges - even possible convictions - will be enough to oust him from politics. Trump, who has survived two impeachments thanks to the strong loyalty of Republicans on Capitol Hill, has reason to believe he could defy the allegations no matter what.
In the most telling moment of the first Republican primary debate on Wednesday night, most of the candidates raised their hands when asked whether they would support Trump if he wins the nomination and is convicted of a felony.
Vivek Ramaswamy raised his hand faster than Tracy Flick in 1999's The Election.Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Sen. Tim Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum followed suit, although they appeared to do so with more reluctance. Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis acted like a swing politician, looking at candidates on both sides before raising his hand.Even Pence raised his hand. With everything Pence said about choosing the Constitution over Trump and presenting himself as someone who was on the right side of history, he showed that it's entirely possible for Trump to gain support from both critics and arch-rivals.
Among voters, Trump still holds a clear lead in the GOP primaries in 2024. Many Democrats may be numb to the accusations, accusations and scandals.
Basically, Trump may be right to think he still has a shot at becoming president. Some of the reasons why shock is increasingly fleeting in our public culture go beyond this. Constantlygrowing distrust towards the governmentsince the 1960s, the expectations of our leaders have been lowered. A fast-paced media cycle can jump from one topic to another within hours, undermining the ability to focus national conversations on a single issue. And in a highly polarized world, issues and scandals don't affect people as much when party lines are involved.
Although other politicians used similar strategies, Nixon also reportedly called the Watergate hearings "witch hunt"Nobody has attacked decency like Trump. He was aware of his controversial statements on many occasions, spoke openly about breaking the rules and acted impeccably when criticized for his blatant behavior. Often he simply turns things around by questioning the legitimacy of his accusers, vilifying those who dare question his comments and behavior, warning that attacks on him are actually attacks on his supporters.
As a result, when many Americans see a police photo like this, the photo hardly stirs excitement.
Regardless of position, the former President of the United States' guilty plea to charges stemming from his efforts to subvert the democratic will of the American people should be remembered as a historic moment in the United States.
The legal system is already working, holding Trump accountable in many cases where the political world has failed to take meaningful action. However, without a major shift in public opinion, Trump might just discover that you can do almost anything and still retain enormous political influence.