Donald Trump is currently facing four criminal proceedings, and the beginning of his trial is highly indicative. Picula stated, "The American presidential elections set to happen next year will not be a choice between two candidates of the system, in my opinion, but rather between a representative of the system, the current President Joe Biden, and on the other side, a negator of that system, Donald Trump, who has already served as president once but is actually acting to challenge almost all the norms and values that characterize the American political system. There are numerous paradoxes associated with him. If he indeed secures the Republican nomination, as they have turned into his fan club, he will likely be the first American president to be in serious criminal proceedings while simultaneously campaigning for a return to the White House. I would like to make a joke, but it's a bitter one - he was recently in Atlanta, and he had to be weighed as an accused. His weight is around 97.5 kilograms, but his political weight is much, much greater." Picula added that at this point, we can only speculate about how the political situation in the United States will develop in the coming months.
Numerous trials and the precedent of police mugshots seem to generate sympathy among average Americans. Polls and campaign fundraising suggest this. "I think his popularity at this moment is obviously even higher among Republicans than it was when he lost the 2020 election. This speaks volumes about the deep crisis of the American political scene, as he has completely subjugated the Republican Party. At this moment, in their internal polls, he has between 50 and 67 percent support, depending on who measures, and he leads by more than 40 percent ahead of Florida Governor DeSantis," said Picula.
He noted that this indicates polarization in American society on a wide range of ideological, cultural, class, and political issues. "These four separate cases, involving 91 criminal complaints, actually suggest that a significant portion of Americans does not mind a political candidate from the Republican Party ending up in jail. It's much more of a reflection of how a good portion of Americans perceives their own political system, which is a source of concern not only for Americans but for all those who rely on American leadership," he emphasized.
Regarding the trial for attempted voter fraud in the previous elections that led to the attack on the Capitol, which is the holiest place of American democracy, the disturbing support this act received is noteworthy. Previously, any attack on symbols of democracy in America was strongly condemned, but this time, it seems that Americans are losing faith in their system. "I don't think this is just an American problem. We can only guess whether the 2024 elections will have a déjà vu effect - Trump versus Biden. Because even the Democratic camp is not capable of producing a candidate who would be a new face. However, there is one difference when it comes to age - Biden is considered too old for another term by Republicans, but Trump is not. This shows that they selectively view Trump's actions," he highlighted.
Picula also mentioned that global conditions have not improved after Trump's first term. "After the pandemic that marked the final part of his term, there was the war between Russia and Ukraine and a general strengthening of the influence of authoritarian regimes worldwide. However, there has also been an increase in so-called neutral actors who, perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, could have been seen as pillars of the West in certain parts of the world. All of this makes the prospect of Trump's success more likely," he said, emphasizing that this story is far from over.
An interesting theory is Viktor Orban's recent statement in an interview with Tucker Carlson, where he suggests that Trump can prevent the continuation of the war in Ukraine. This theory likely has support in conservative circles worldwide, especially in the current context where America seems somewhat tired of assisting Ukraine. "Certainly, there is a gradual erosion of support in the United States for Ukraine's war efforts, but it hasn't fallen below a certain critical level yet. Everything, of course, depends on how the military situation in Ukraine develops. If the Ukrainian army and political leadership in Kyiv achieve significant success in the near future, then the aid will undoubtedly continue to be directed towards Kyiv. However, if there is no progress, then the argument becomes more relevant, unfortunately, for many, that Kyiv should be forced into negotiations with Moscow to end the war sooner," he explained.
Picula added that it seems possible that the success of one candidate or another in the American elections will depend on the interpretation of the silent majority - to what extent the United States needs to be a key player in this conflict, as well as in resisting certain authoritarian tendencies, especially against Xi Jinping's China. "What unites both Republicans and Democrats at this moment is China, which has become a country that no longer follows international rules to secure its success but wants to change and impose those rules on others. Whether this will be enough for Joe Biden to convincingly defeat Trump, or whether the feeling of fatigue in the United States regarding its concern for all possible global issues will prevail, is unclear at the moment," Picula concluded.
There is a real possibility that Trump will be convicted. Depending on the timing of the verdict, two key scenarios emerge. If this happens before the nominations, Republicans might reconsider his nomination. The other, less likely scenario, assumes that Trump is elected and then convicted. "This will test not only American institutions but also the loyalty of Americans to their own Constitution and democratic values that have made the United States still the dominant political force not only in the West but in the whole world. However, obviously, Americans will have to make some changes within the United States to strengthen this kind of loyalty to their Constitution because there is a significant number of those who, through Trump or their admiration for his political actions, send a clear message that something is wrong within America," he emphasized.
"If Milorad Dodik in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be the president of a country he wants to destroy and openly says so, why wouldn't Donald Trump become the president again of a country whose democratic principles he persistently devalues, something he did both as a businessman and now as a politician," he pointed out.
While Trump's campaign is guided by the principle of "let them talk about me, even if it's good," other candidates are in the shadows. Who among them could be a viable opponent to Trump, and do they have a chance against him? "We saw after the so-called midterm elections last year that the sky suddenly lit up with the star of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. However, he started his campaign very poorly, trying to promote himself through Elon Musk, but it turned out to be a political and communication failure," he said.
Picula also analyzed whether the Democrats, besides Biden, have another candidate who could contend with Trump. "They probably do, but the fact that Democrats currently have a presidential candidate and a thin but still Senate majority and did not lose too much in the midterm elections in Congress somehow limits the maneuvering space for potential Democratic candidates because they expect to win against the Republicans, especially if it's Trump, and expecting that Biden has already defeated him once. This kind of loyalty among Democrats obviously has an impact on their expressions of support for potential candidates," he said. He added that if something were to happen to Biden, Democrats would find themselves in a situation where they would have to choose a candidate for the White House overnight, possibly someone not well-known to the entire American public, making it a risky position for the Democrats.
Picula believes that the outcome of the elections next year will be determined by non-partisan voters who, if there is a high voter turnout, will ultimately decide the winner. The top echelons of American politics are getting older. "The democratic system cannot be called into question solely because of the 'age issue,' but it is a clear indicator that something in the system needs to change. Unfortunately, according to all relevant research over the past decade, democracy as a political system is in decline, with about 40 countries ceasing to be democratic or semi-democratic. They have turned into authoritarian systems. The pandemic has intensified this trend, and Putin's war against Ukraine has highlighted some authoritarian global tendencies. At this moment, the United States has a president and a party candidate who are at a high age, but paradoxically, they may represent the most serious personal barrier to the victory of authoritarian and undemocratic tendencies," Picula concluded.