IT will be an indelible moment in US political history. As Donald Trump makes his appearance on the 15th floor of the courthouse in lower Manhattan on Tuesday he will be arraigned before a judge in the same courtroom that saw the conviction of film executive Harvey Weinstein on rape and sexual assault charges in February 2020.

That moment in itself was one that gripped America, but Trump’s day in court is in an altogether different league as he becomes the first former US ­president to face criminal charges.

The background to the grand jury’s ­indictment of Trump is well known. It was seven years ago now in the waning days of the 2016 election campaign that Trump is said to have paid $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels as hush money after she claimed to have had a sexual ­encounter with him.

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While the charges he now faces are not yet entirely clear, legal experts say Trump will most likely be prosecuted for ­falsifying business records on charges of hiding the true nature of the payments and violating campaign finance laws.

Legal challenges

Trump’s hush money indictment is not the only legal challenge he faces of course. Already under way is a federal probe ­examining his handling of ­classified ­documents and then there is possible ­liability for the January 6, 2021, attack on Capitol Hill, while another ­investigation is taking place in Georgia related to the former president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.

All of these legal challenges and Trump’s reactions to them as well as that of fellow Republicans and rival ­Democrats will now shape the ­contours of the 2024 ­presidential election ­campaign. So just how is all this likely to play out in Trump’s bid for the Republican ­nomination and ­another possible term in the White House?

The first thing legal experts point out is that even if Trump is convicted following his appearance on Tuesday, the charges against him won’t disqualify him from the presidency.

“There is no constitutional bar on a felon running for office,” says ­Richard Hasen, an election law professor at UCLA Law School. “And given that the US ­Constitution sets ­presidential ­qualifications, it is not clear that states could add to them, such as by ­barring felons from running,” he told Time magazine.

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Other legal experts concur saying there is no legal impediment to Trump ­continuing his presidential campaign while facing criminal charges, even if he were jailed.

Just as legal specialists appear of one mind on this issue, political analysts meanwhile are left speculating over how the charges might impact on Trump’s bond with republican voters and other senior officials in the GOP.

What are pundits and politicians saying?

The conclusion of many ­political ­pundits is that the hush money ­indictment would not hurt Trump in the eyes of his supporters. If anything, it will likely only fuel the belief within their ranks that he is the subject of a political witch hunt, a notion Trump is evidently keen to ­encourage. Political pundits point out that Trump’s supporters in the past have been more than willing to look the ­other way over his misdemeanours so why would they change now?

As for senior Republicans, many ­– including Florida governor Ron ­DeSantis, a potential key rival for the Republican nomination who has borne the brunt of Trump’s wrath of late – have leapt to the ­former president’s defence.

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“The weaponisation of the legal ­system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” DeSantis ­tweeted last Thursday, calling Manhattan ­prosecutor Alvin Bragg a “Soros-backed district attorney” who was “stretching the law to target a political opponent”. DeSantis’s reference was to George ­Soros who has become the stock Jewish ­financier of every conspiracy theorist.

Other prominent republicans have ­similarly fallen in behind Trump. ­Former vice-president Mike Pence, who fell out with his boss over the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, called the ­indictment an “outrage” that “appears to millions of Americans to be nothing more than political prosecution”.

In a press release, Trump himself has repeated his claim that he is the victim of a political witch-hunt along with ­another claim of having raised $4m in the 24 hours after the news of his indictment. Analysts point to the fact that based on past form Trump will squeeze every last drop he can from his narrative of a sinister deep state out to get him.

That much was evident as early as March 18 when he posted a message on his social media network Truth Social.

“The far and away leading Republican candidate and former president of the United States of America will be arrested on Tuesday of next week. Protest, take our nation back!” Trump signalled.

Is the indictment a help or hindrance?

Writing recently in The New Yorker magazine, political columnist Susan B Glasser in an article headlined “2024 Trump Is Even Scarier Than 2020 Trump” highlighted the extent to which Trump in his campaign uses conspiracy and the deep state as clarion calls at his rallies.

“Speaking for more than an hour and a half in front of a crowd that repeatedly cheered his definition of the Presidency as a platform for personalised vengeance, he spoke ominously of “enemies”, and promised to “totally obliterate the ‘deep state’, among other demons, once ­victory was attained”, Glasser wrote of one ­recent campaign speech.

In short, Trump already knows how he can turn the indictment to his advantage creating the image of a near martyr for his supporters.

Speaking on the right-wing cable news platform Newsmax, Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, observed that any mugshot of Trump taken after this ­Tuesday’s arraignment could effectively serve as a campaign poster.

“He will be mugshot and ­fingerprinted. There’s really no way around that,” ­Dershowitz said, alluding to the ­ publicity value Trump could glean from such ­moments.

If Republicans have rallied round their man in his time of legal need then rival Democrats have responded with what The New York Times (NYT) described as “Joy, vindication and anxiety”.

“They are going to treat him as if he is Jesus Christ himself on a cross being persecuted,” the NYT ­quoted ­Representative Jasmine Crockett, a ­Democrat from Dallas who worked as a criminal defence lawyer before she was elected to Congress last year, as saying.

Crockett also blasted ­Republican ­arguments that the charges were ­politically motivated, saying: “We knew the type of person Trump was when he got elected the first time.”

The newspaper also cited Matt ­Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organisation as saying that “Trump isn’t above the law and anyone who suggests otherwise is un-American ... the question is, is it worth it for this crime?”.

The National: Could Trump uses his indictment to his advantage?Could Trump uses his indictment to his advantage?

This appears to be a common refrain among some Democrats who fear that the hush money indictment will bring them more problems as a result of Trump’s political manipulation of the charges brought against him.

The NYT and other US media also ­suggest that there is a broad ­consensus in the Democratic party, supported by ample polling, that Trump would be the easiest Republican rival for President Joe Biden to face next year, if he runs as expected.

So far Biden has declined to weigh in on the indictment, telling reporters ­gathered on the South Lawn of the White House last Friday: “I have no comment.”

Recent polls conducted shortly ­before the news that a New York grand jury ­voted to indict Trump show deep ­political ­divisions about the investigations he is facing.

Majorities, or near majorities, of ­Americans polled recently by both ­Quinnipiac University and NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist support investigations into Trump or are sceptical of the former president’s conduct.

The National: Joe Biden has refused to comment on the indictment thus farJoe Biden has refused to comment on the indictment thus far

In the Quinnipiac poll ­conducted March 23-27 57% of respondents ­believe the charges against Trump should ­disqualify him from running for president again The same poll found that in a hypothetical match between Trump and Biden, the incumbent received 48% of the vote, ­compared to 46% for Trump.

However, the poll also pointed to ­potential weaknesses for Biden, namely if he were to face a Republican other than Trump. The survey showed that in a head-to-head match between Biden and ­DeSantis, the Florida governor would beat the current president, 48% to 46%.

Other multiple polls taken in recent days have also shown Trump increasing his standing among Republicans for the 2024 presidential nomination, further widening his lead over DeSantis.

Half of GOP voters support Trump in 2024, a Harvard CAPS/Harris poll found, up four points from February, while Trump’s lead over DeSantis had doubled since February, going up from 43% ­support to 54% support, a recent Fox News poll found.

Meanwhile, all attention this week will focus on that courtroom in New York. Already Manhattan prosecutors have confirmed they have been co-ordinating Trump’s “surrender” with his legal team.

“The president will not be put in ­handcuffs  … he is not going to hole up in Mar-a-Lago,” Trump’s defence ­lawyer Joe Tacopina told US television news, ­referring to the former president’s Florida estate.

Trump will travel to New York ­tomorrow and fly on to Manhattan by ­helicopter. He’ll stay at his apartment in the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, where security has been enhanced in recent days.

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There will also be tight security at the courthouse around Trump’s ­appearance, where he will be escorted by secret ­service agents, charged with the ongoing protection of a former president.

As the drama of Trump’s eventual ­surrender to law enforcement in New York City unfolds all 35,000 New York Police Department officers have been told to wear their uniform “as a precautionary measure” in the wake of the indictment announcement.

As of last Friday, at Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan and the downtown courthouses, protesters and Trump ­supporters are said to be scarce, and ­heavily outnumbered by city police, ­curious tourists and the media.

TRUMP is generally not liked in his hometown New York. Last Friday there were reports of a small group of anti-Trump demonstrators from a group called Rise and Resist gathered outside the former president’s iconic Fifth Avenue tower. They held placards featuring headshots of the former president and the phrases: “Tick tock, time’s up” and “Perjury, Extortion, Treason.”

As Tuesday approaches such anti- and pro-Trump gatherings might yet grow. Two years on from the January 6 Capitol riots and following recent similar calls to action from Trump there remains a fear that crowds of his supporters might yet swarm the streets of New York.

Many within the US government and corridors of power still believe that Trump and his allies pose a clear and present danger to American democracy. As political observers have noted, Trump has weaponised the mob before and if his recent campaign rallies are anything to go by, he’s more than willing and capable of mobilising them again.

Only a few months ago, Republican ­congressman Adam Kinzinger who sat on the House select committee ­investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol attacks said he “fears for the future” if Trump is not charged over the attack. His fears are shared by many Americans amidst the political divisions that continue to wrack their country.

How Tuesday’s court appearance when the precise indictment against Trump is revealed plays into those fears, if at all, remains to be seen. But a watershed and indelible moment in US political history it is sure to be.