Donald Trump’s arraignment: ‘Republicans are damaging themselves,’ professor says

Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Donald Trump’s arraignment, how the Republican Party will respond to these charges, and the outlook for presidential elections.

Video transcript

- All right. Well, as we mentioned there, Donald Trump is expected to surrender to authorities in Manhattan later today. The first ever charges against a former American President are now expected to weigh on the country and, more specifically, the 2024 presidential race.

Here to weigh in is distinguished professor at American University's Department of History Allan Lichtman. Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Allan. Obviously unprecedented times that we're in at the moment. Talk about what's going to happen in the next few hours and how important it is in terms of how the Republican Party responds right now?

ALLAN LICHTMAN: It's extremely important. I'm going to read you a quote to put this all in perspective. Quote, "We cannot have one law for the ruler and another for the ruled. If that understanding is lost, the American democratic experiment and the freedom it guarantees is in jeopardy." Pretty strong statement that there should be no special treatment for a president or a former president.

You may think that's some Democrat attacking Republicans today. It is not. It is a quotation from US Representative Henry Hyde back in the 1990s referring to crimes, allegations against then-President Bill Clinton. And now Republicans have pivoted 180 degrees and somehow suggested that because Donald Trump is a former President that he is entitled to special privilege.

And the truth is Donald Trump can huff and he can puff, but he's not going to blow the courthouse down. These charges-- and I agree with Rick, they may be far more serious than even mainstream commentators have indicated-- are going to rise and fall on the strength of the evidence, not on Donald Trump's bluster.

- I mean, we've still seen the campaign dollars continuing to pour in for Trump at the moment. But in terms of the charges themselves and some of the support that members of the GOP, how are they trying to position themselves here? Because, obviously, they don't want to risk-- obviously, don't want to risk the ire of Donald Trump here. But they're also looking ahead to the 2024 race.

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Yeah, they've forgotten nothing but learned nothing. Let's not forget that Donald-Trump-endorsed candidates, election deniers, were virtually wiped out in the 2022 midterms. Whining and complaining and trying to relitigate 2020 is a dead, losing strategy for Republicans.

And, most shamefully, not just Donald Trump, but an array of Republicans have reprised some of the oldest and worst anti-Semitic and racist stereotypes, charging that the Black DA, Bragg, who, by the way, is a Harvard Law graduate and a former assistant US attorney, is being manipulated by the Jewish financier George Soros. This is one of the worst and oldest stereotypes, that scheming Jews are unscrupulously trying to control the country and using unwitting Black people as their tools. How far, how far has the party of Lincoln sunk?

- So then what does this mean? How does this set us up for the 2024 election campaign season? And how should Democrats be responding to this as well?

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Well, I think, as Napoleon once said, never interrupt your enemy when they're making a mistake. I think Democrats and the president are very smart not jumping into the middle of this. Republicans are damaging themselves enough.

And if you look at Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and other potential Republican candidates, they have just sniveled at the feet of Donald Trump. They're supposed to represent the party of personal responsibility and personal morality. It has now become a joke. And the result is none of them have any viability right now in a Republican primary.

But it would be very different if Donald Trump got nominated and then had to face a general electorate. 60%, according to a CNN poll, approve of this indictment. And this is likely to be one of maybe the least serious indictments. He faces jeopardy for undermining our national security through classified documents, for inciting an insurrection to overturn our democracy, and for tampering with a free and fair election in Georgia. He has a lot on his plate. And let's not forget, here in New York, the Trump organization, which is Donald Trump, was found to be operating a criminal enterprise and had to pay the maximum New York State fine.

- And, Allan, I do just quickly want to get to this Keys to the White House, the 13 factors that you look at that have accurately predicted presidential election outcomes since, I believe, 1980. I believe there was a little bit of a glitch there with Al Gore there. Is anyone, then, well positioned in the GOP, based on these factors, that you think could really take the nomination if it's not Donald Trump?

ALLAN LICHTMAN: Well, the beauty of the Keys-- and they're very counterintuitive, but they've worked since 1984. And I can explain why I was right in 2000. But we're not going to get into that. Elections turn not on the identity of the challenger but on the strength and performance of the White House party. If the electorate thinks that the Biden administration has done a good enough job and their party is strong enough, they'll get another four years.

And I will give you a little bit of inside information. For all of the hue and cry that Biden is too old, shouldn't run again, the best chance for Democrats to win in the next election is for Biden to run again because he would secure 2 of my 13 keys that would otherwise be lost, the sitting president key and the internal party fight key.

- We'll certainly be keeping track of that and know we'll be checking back with you. We do appreciate you joining me this morning. American University's distinguished professor of history, Allan Lichtman, thank you so much for joining me on Yahoo Finance.

ALLAN LICHTMAN: My pleasure. Take care. You know where to find me.