A "mug shot" for posterity. Donald Trump hastened to disseminate as widely as possible, Thursday, August 24, the photo of judicial identification taken when he presented himself at the police station, as part of the investigation into suspicions of manipulation of the results of the 2020 election in the key state of Georgia.
This is the first time that a former US president – also a potential candidate for the 2024 presidential election – has been entitled to such a cliché. Without the shadow of a smile on his lips, furrowed eyebrows and gaze fixed halfway between anger and expression of defiance, this photo of the 45th president of the United States will "undoubtedly enter the history books", said in unison all the political experts of the United States interviewed by France 24.
Selling point for a fundraiser
Enough to feed the ego of a man who likes to emphasize that he is the first to everything and anything at the slightest opportunity. But it is not (only) out of vanity that Donald Trump published this portrait on X (formerly Twitter) to mark his comeback on this social network owned by Elon Musk.
He did not just use it on X. His campaign team has also started selling T-shirts featuring the photo, and more memorabilia are reportedly in the works, according to the New York Times.
The "mug shot" even serves as the centerpiece of a new appeal for funds, which candidate Donald Trump has launched. "It's the perfect tool to activate the most radical fringe of his electoral base, always ready to support him financially to deal with his legal problems," said Thomas Gift, director of the Center for the Study of Politics of the United States at University College London.
For this expert, the "mug shot" represents above all a selling point for the VRP Donald Trump who must pay his lawyer's bills.
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The ex-president also believes that this "mug shot" can serve his political strategy, even though this cliché recalls that we are dealing with a man "targeted by 91 charges, some of which are identical to those accused of the godfathers of the mafia in the 1930s," says Richard Hargy, a British specialist in American politics. "For any other politician, such a 'mug shot' would spell the end of a career. For Donald Trump it is a springboard, "says the American channel CNN.
In fact, in the case of the former president, "it is a gift that is given to him because it is the illustration of the narrative that he has constantly repeated to voters: he is the victim of a politically motivated witch hunt. This image serves to represent him as a martyr targeted by overzealous prosecutors," says Thomas Gift.
Carefully orchestrated anger
But a martyr ready to fight. "I'm sure he's repeated dozens of times in front of a mirror the pose he took for the photo. It's so worked," Richard Rugy wants to believe.
For this expert, Donald Trump seeks to project "the image of an intimidating man, which he has always put forward as a quality". The anger that also shines through is "a pose supposed to indicate that he is ready for confrontation and does not fear the enemy," adds Anurag Mishra, a specialist in US politics at the International Team for the Study of Security (ITSS) Verona.
This "mug shot" also strengthens "Donald Trump's credibility as an anti-system candidate in the eyes of his electoral base," said René Lindstädt, a specialist in American politics at the University of Birmingham. The latter, often fed on conspiracy, believe they are engaged in an unequal fight against the powerful and "they want a candidate who would be able to circumvent the rules imposed by the government," adds René Lindstädt.
The ex-president hopes that this photo will do his political business also beyond his most loyal voters. A presidential election is won, in fact, by casting a wider net than its traditional electoral base. "An interesting first test will be to know the effect of this 'mug shot' on more moderate Republican voters," said René Lindstädt.
This cliché may be one legal pan too many for some of them. But experts surveyed believe that the majority of moderate Republicans will join the anti-Trumpism bandwagon, only if other candidates in the Republican primary or conservative media use this photo to criticize Donald Trump. But, for now, this is not the case.
Dilemma for Democrats
The former president can also use this image to convince undecided Republicans by suggesting that it demonstrates that he "is the candidate on the right most attacked by the Democratic power because it is he who scares them the most," says Anurag Mishra.
What about independent voters – who often play a crucial role in the presidential election – if Donald Trump does indeed become the Republican Party's nominee? The risk is that some of them see in this photo "the relentlessness of a power against a man who represents the presidential office" to which a large number of Americans are attached, warns Anurag Mishra. Enough to make Donald Trump more sympathetic in their eyes.
But this mug-shot "should not have a really significant effect on independent voters," says Richard Hargy. It all depends on how the Democratic Party will use it in the event of a face-to-face with Donald Trump. The temptation to exploit it to the maximum can be strong because this 'mug shot' "is a constant reminder that Donald Trump is not only a politician but also a man accused of serious crimes," says Richard Hargy. In this regard, it can be an effective tool to mobilize Democratic voters tempted by abstention. But he can also convince some voters that the Democrats are indeed going after Donald Trump.
For the Republican Party this "mug shot" represents a new example of the "process of self-destruction undertaken by this movement," says René Lindstädt. Because if he designates and supports - as seems likely - Donald Trump as their candidate, "conservatives will be able to definitively write off the image of party of law and order that has been one of the main selling points of Republicans for decades," concludes this expert. Even if they all cry out in their hearts to the "witch hunt", the fact remains that their champion will have a "mug shot" in good place in his criminal record.
On August 24, Donald Trump and 18 others were indicted for their alleged unlawful attempts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election, won in this key state by current Democratic President Joe Biden. They are prosecuted under an organized crime law, which provides for prison sentences of five to twenty years.
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