- Trump was indicted for the third time on Tuesday, again making history.
- But as the arraignment played out on Thursday, it felt like we had all been there before.
- The lack of spectacle didn’t match the significance of the moment.
If you didn’t realize former President Donald Trump was indicted for the third time on Tuesday and arraigned on Thursday, I wouldn’t blame you.
Despite making history as the first former US president to ever be charged with a crime, let alone in three different indictments, it’s hard to gauge if Americans registered the magnitude of this particular indictment — or if Trump being in court has just become routine.
Trump was arraigned on Thursday over charges related to efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The charges came after two previous indictments. In March, Trump was indicted on charges of falsifying business records. In June, he was charged over his handling of classified records after leaving the White House. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.
When the news broke this week of Trump’s latest indictment, it felt like we’d been here before — even though this time it involved something the public may have been more likely to care about given the deadly riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The new charges against Trump are serious, including conspiracy to defraud the US and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and could carry a sentence of decades in prison.
The first indictment that took place in Manhattan in April felt like much more of a spectacle — despite the fact that it may be the weakest of the cases brought against Trump. Maybe this was due in part to the NYPD presence, photographers in the courtroom, and a very public entrance and exit from the court.
But compared to his two impeachments and the made-for-TV Capitol riot hearings — all of which accused Trump of serious wrongdoing — the most recent indictment and arraignment felt largely humdrum.
And that’s because, in large part, it was. Trump was treated as any other defendant charged with a crime. He went to court, was read his rights, entered his plea, and was talked to by the judge.
But in this case, he’s a former president charged with trying to change the outcome of an unfavorable election.
Trump may have been hoping for a spectacle. He could have appeared virtually, his attorney John Lauro told CNN earlier this week, but he appeared in person in court. However, CNN reported that the group of supporters on the ground at the DC courthouse was smaller than in other instances.
But even Trump’s usual flash was absent. As with the prior indictments, he railed against the charges on Truth Social and accused the Biden administration of weaponizing the Justice Department against him. But, he went in and out of the courthouse unseen and, unlike in the first two indictments, he treated his latest arraignment with much less fanfare.
After both arraignments earlier this year, Trump held events for some of his supporters and members of the media, during which he delivered angry speeches criticizing the charges. This time, Trump held no such event, opting instead to briefly address reporters while standing in the rain on a tarmac without taking questions.
While the news led major outlets like The New York Times, CNN, and Fox News, there was an acknowledgment that the procedure of the arraignment itself was largely uneventful.
In The New York Times live coverage of the arraignment, reporter Charlie Savage wrote an update that included banal details, like Trump’s lawyer yawning and Trump picking up a piece of paper to discuss with his counsel. “A reporter tries to come up with yet another descriptive way to convey that nothing is happening yet,” he wrote of his own update.
Meanwhile, Fox News reporters homed in on the fact that this was the third time this year the historic scene had played out. “It is pretty striking that, I think, Americans have become sort of inured to watching the former president go through this process,” host Martha MacCallum said. “I didn’t think I would ever see that.”
Fox News legal commentator Andrew McCarthy noted the arraignment was “historic” but added, “We’re becoming inured to it because it’s the third time we’ve been through this now, so it’s almost gotten to be rote.”
Even CNN’s live TV coverage struggled to make the arraignment seem exciting, noting several times how “mundane” it all felt — except for the fact that CNN commentators noted it was a former president being charged.
As for the GOP base who may be voting for or against Trump in the presidential primary next year, polling done before the latest indictment suggests they wouldn’t care much about it either. When asked in a poll conducted by Monmouth University in July how concerned they were that the indictments against Trump would hurt his chances in the general election against President Joe Biden, 72% of registered Republicans said they were not concerned.
And as routine as this may have become for some, it may not be the last indictment. A grand jury will decide whether to charge Trump in Georgia, related to the 2020 election. And if they don’t we still have three trials ahead of us.