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The State of New York, for example has an attorney general who said that there will be an investigation into Trump's activities. There are rumors that this type of action could eventually result in criminal charges and even prison time for the former president.

This has never happened before. The fact that this seems like such a case would be brought under state law means that we couldn't have, say Mike Pence or Ron DeSantis hand out a pardon like Gerald Ford did to Nixon. (And, New York is a heavily Democratic state, owing in large part to New York City's large population relative to the state).

The New York charges are centered around financial issues, which makes sense because that is where the state seems to have jurisdiction. If Trump was charged under New York financial law, what would be the political ramifications?

I know this sounds opinion based or an attack question, but there have been objective developments like the Mueller investigation (unrelated) and the Manhattan DA grand jury.

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  • Not necessarily Trump, but any president with probable cause. This is hypothetical, and I used Trump because he was being talked about it in actual legal circles Jun 3 at 11:36
  • "owing in large part to New York City's large population relative to the state": there are more active Democratic voter registrations outside New York City (2,840,418) than there are active Republican registrations in the entire state (2,745,827). Source: February 2021 data from elections.ny.gov/EnrollmentCounty.html
    – phoog
    Jun 4 at 1:36
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Because, as you say, this has never happened before, it's impossible to be certain. That disclaimer aside, we can expect one or more of the following:

  1. While a candidate who is facing criminal charges, or even has been convicted of them, or - for that matter - is even actually serving prison time for such a conviction, is not barred from running for, attaining, or executing political office - it does become rather a hard sell to voters unless there is nearly ubiquitous belief that the criminal justice system has been fully coopted as a vehicle of political reprisal. Without that belief being held as axiomatic by the electorate, the potential pool of voters that a candidate under the thumb of criminal prosecution shrinks by the portion that believes that the criminal justice system is fair. Winning office under scandal is difficulty enough without having swaths of the electorate automatically denied to your campaign.

  2. Those who do believe the criminal justice system has been co-opted hold a view of the current political status quo that limits their rationally-justifiable options for political action. If you are living in a country where the police are there to eliminate political opposition, then peaceful, political means of advancing your agenda are closed to you - leaving violent means alone. It is therefore reasonable to expect that what support such a candidate can gain will be characterized by extremes in the intensity of their support, and the measures to which they will go to resist what they perceive to be an oppressive, totalitarian regime. Political violence seems more likely, but the extent to which it becomes a problem depends on the degree of support that the former president still enjoys - and only if they do actually seek reelection.

  3. Because of the low chances of victory, and the likelihood of inspiring political violence, most good-faith politicians would not elect to run again, their political careers being essentially over. The only good-faith politicians who would continue to seek office are those who truly believed that the criminal charges against them were entirely political in nature, or those who believed that they enjoyed enough political support so as to make a successful revolution feasible.

  4. Political consequences also attach to the administration in charge of the prosecuting body. This is why it is unlikely that you will see the federal Department of Justice prosecute Trump - regardless of the factual merits of such a case, the appearances are so close to political reprisal that it would likely end Biden's political career if his AG went after Trump and he didn't fire the guy. For a state government, this is diluted somewhat - after all, Trump didn't run the state of New York, so it's harder to attribute these investigations (which began before he was President, and were widely known about during his presidency) to political skullduggery - though not impossible. It is likely that candidates for New York political office will cite these investigations as signs of corruption. The extent to which these narratives gain traction will depend in part on how well the prosecution does at making the public case against the defendant.

  5. Should the prosecution fail, there is very likely to be a Streisand Effect. Beating these charges in court will provide a degree of insulation for the candidate against further attacks based on presumed criminality - even outside the context within which the charges were brought.

Prosecuting a former political officer - outside the context of their having been removed from office via impeachment - is certainly not without costs. The particulars of each case will also vary based on the specific circumstances - not all crimes are equal in the eyes of voters. This question will be much easier to answer in 2025.

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  • This answer is too narrowly focused on the specific optics and wrigglings of recent politicians, but not about the broader question. (That is, suppose for the sake of argument a State were to prosecute a former President using as evidence his newly discovered secret video library recording his crimes of child molestation. Given obvious guilt, and zero public sympathy, what might the ramifications be then?)
    – agc
    Jun 4 at 4:14
  • @agc I'm not sure I understand your definition of "political" then... but the obvious ramification of the scenario you lay out, a conviction seems the obvious ramification? Jun 4 at 13:52
  • Conviction, if it occurred and wasn't somehow evaded, that would be a personal consequence, but not a specifically political ramification. In the US, there's a strong elitist taboo against punishing or even generally acknowledging guilty executives, particularly Chief Executives, alloyed with a rapidity of forgiveness usually granted only to small children. This taboo is a kind of political object. So if a US god demonstrably bleeds before worshippers who believe gods never bleed, that taboo or some other political object must either bend, bounce, or break.
    – agc
    Jun 5 at 22:34

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