Former President Donald J. Trump is expected to attend the opening of the civil trial in the New York attorney general’s fraud case against him on Monday, as his political team tries to turn it into a rallying cry for his supporters.
The decision by Mr. Trump to appear voluntarily in court, who has already faced trial in four different criminal cases this year, underscores how deeply Mr. Trump feels personally hurt by the fraud allegations and also by his own confidence that his appearance will support his legal cause will help.
The move also shows how political norms in the Trump-era Republican Party have reversed: Accusing someone of wrongdoing could be politically beneficial, despite the very real legal danger.
In a political era in which candidates are defined as much by their critics and opponents as by their stance, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers see an opportunity in a case first filed by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James, even if the Accusations go to the core of his identity.
In a sense, the Trump campaign, whose supporters have been galvanized by the criminal charges filed against him, is trying to turn the civil case into a kind of fifth indictment — a moment to energize his base.
“Trump seems to be approaching his legal troubles like a hand of hearts – one or two charges hurt you politically, but if you collected them all you could shoot the moon to the sky,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican activist. “The sheer volume and variety obscures the individual cases and their fact patterns, reinforcing Trump’s argument that his opponents are trying to take him down using every means at their disposal.”
For Mr. Trump, his participation in the trial is far more personal than political, according to a person familiar with his thinking. The former president is angry about the fraud allegations and angry at both the judge and the attorney general. And Mr. Trump, a fan of control, believes the trials went badly for him when he wasn’t present and he hopes to influence the outcome this time, the person said.
The former president, for example, never attended the civil trial earlier this year in which writer E. Jean Carroll accused him of raping her in the 1990s, although he publicly considered appearing. Mr Trump was found guilty of sexually assaulting and defaming Ms Carroll.
Mr Trump announced his decision to attend the opening of his fraud trial on Truth Social on Sunday evening, saying he would fight for his “name and reputation” in court.
Over the weekend, Trump’s campaign openly tried to exploit the attention by sending out fundraising appeals provoking his possible participation and accusing Democrats of “trying to keep me away from the campaign.”
“After four bogus arrests, indictments and even a mugshot failed to break me, now a Democratic judge is trying to destroy my family business,” Trump wrote in a fundraising message on Saturday.
The push to highlight the process comes at a critical time for Mr. Trump’s primary challengers, as the window of time in which they have to show signs of life in a race that Mr. Trump threatened to run away with is growing ever narrower.
The details of the case can seem almost irrelevant. A New York judge, Arthur F. Engoron, issued a surprise pretrial ruling last week blaming Mr. Trump for overvaluing his properties. The ruling left his assets, including Trump Tower itself, vulnerable to seizure. The aim of the trial is to determine the amount of damages Mr Trump and his company must pay – up to $250 million. Mr. Trump and his lawyers have argued that the ruling was unlawful and inconsistent with the facts of the case.
Years ago, a decision like Judge Engoron’s would have been embarrassing for a candidate and could have been seen by that candidate’s supporters as a reason to support someone else.
But this is the new post-shame period of politics, as candidates observe over time that the mistake is to allow themselves to be thrown out of the ring. This sentiment cuts across both parties to some degree: A Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, was indicted on corruption charges and gold bars were found in his home. He pleaded not guilty and vowed to remain in the Senate.
But some of his colleagues have called for his resignation, in stark contrast to how the vast majority of Republican officials have remained cautious about Mr. Trump and continued to support him, repeating his repeated claims that he is a victim of political persecution.
According to the campaign, Mr. Trump recorded his highest fundraising day ever after his mugshot was released in his Georgia indictment accusing him of being part of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
Corry Bliss, a veteran Republican political strategist, said all previous indictments and legal cases have merged into a single image for most Republican primary voters of a former president being unfairly attacked.
“If anything, this reinforces the belief of a large portion of the base that Trump is being treated unfairly and that Democrats loathe him so much that they are willing to do whatever it takes to defeat him, whether in the election or in the election Justice system,” said Mr. Bliss. “The legal facts that most Republicans are interested in are the facts of Hunter Biden. Period. End of discussion.”
Any attention paid to the Trump case is also likely to deprive Trump’s rivals of the political oxygen they need to narrow the significant lead the former president has in the polls. None of his opponents, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have yet found a way to exploit Mr. Trump’s numerous legal troubles against him or shut down extensive media coverage.
“It’s starving them,” said Raheem Kassam, editor-in-chief of The National Pulse, a conservative news site, who interviewed Mr. Trump last week. “It makes them starve.”
For Mr. Trump, Mr. Kassam said, “every step it drags out only strengthens him,” in part because “fame at this point” is an advantage in itself. And that trend, he noted, doesn’t just affect Mr. Trump, citing Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, a Trump ally who was the subject of a sex trafficking investigation that was eventually dropped.
“If you look at what happened to Gaetz, it made his star rise,” Mr. Kassam said.
Mr. Trump’s family has specifically sought to portray the upcoming trial as an example of political persecution, using the same language as in his criminal cases. Mr. Trump has called Judge Engoron “deranged,” the same term he sought to apply to Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Donald Trump Jr. said in an interview on The Charlie Kirk Show last week. “This is kind of like the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution – we don’t like you, so we’re going to confiscate property.”
He added: “Hey, our last name is Trump, so we need to be punished.”