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Week in politics: After the indictment, independent voters will hold the key

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Nobody I want to hear more from about this than NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: What did you note most in reading through this indictment?

ELVING: Seriously, Scott, where to begin? There is the weight of the indictment itself, seven charges broken down into nearly 40 counts in all, then the volume of evidence the prosecutors have amassed over the past 10 months, the detail describing Trump's efforts to conceal all this - how he had insisted all these national defense documents were simply his stuff to do with as he pleased - and that lawyers, including his own, could be lied to or ignored or blithely dismissed. It is a truly breathtaking landscape, Scott.

SIMON: The photos in the indictment include boxes of classified documents in a bathroom, in bathrooms, in a shower, in an unguarded ballroom. Pretty extraordinary, isn't it?

ELVING: Yes. There was apparently no shortage of available bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago. There were boxes of docs piled high and hither and yon around the building. The overarching attitude here is total ownership. These docs are mine. I can move them around to avoid detection. I can show them to guests at Mar-a-Lago and possibly share them even more widely. We're going to be waiting to see how much the prosecutors may have on that particular score.

SIMON: Most political candidates wouldn't want to be indicted in the middle of a campaign. But is this somehow different for Donald Trump?

ELVING: There's been a perception that Trump somehow benefits from being prosecuted, that his voters see him as a victim of persecution, and they rally around. And some of that's based on what happened in March, when after his New York indictment, his polling numbers actually went up. But we should wait and see whether these indictments, with national security implications and far more serious consequences, may have a different effect.

SIMON: Ron, how does a democracy handle an election in which one of the candidates might be on trial at the very same time they're on the ballot? I mean, I don't think I've - you and I have seen anything quite like that even in a Chicago aldermanic race?

ELVING: And we thought we'd seen it all.

SIMON: Yeah.

ELVING: The plain fact in the Trump case is we just don't know how this will play, and we won't know for some while. We've never seen a president or a former president standing in the dock in a criminal case. We don't know how all this plays in the age of social media. And we have to ask, how long will a national major political party continue to bet its future against this kind of evidence and this kind of charges? Many people have been wondering, how long will independent voters go along with Trump's attitude toward the law? Early indications are Trump is not reaching independence especially not on issues of his personal culpability the way he has in the past. But elections come down to binary choices, Scott - this one or that one, who do I vote for? And we simply do not know whether Trump will be one of the choices in 2024 or who the other choice will be.

SIMON: The Supreme Court delivered what a lot of people consider to be a surprising decision this week. Chief Justice John Roberts joined with liberal justices to strike down - I believe Justice Kavanaugh, too, both of them - to strike down an electoral map drawn by Alabama legislators. The chief justice has talked about trying to restore public confidence in the court. Was this a move in that direction?

ELVING: Chief Justice Roberts would dispute that last notion. But it is hard to deny the court has plummeted in the public's estimation and hard to deny there's a perception that the Roberts' court has been dismantling the monuments of the Supreme Court on civil rights and other issues for years as a kind of mission. So in this case, the court had a chance to wipe out a key element of voting rights for African Americans in Alabama, and the court did not do that. And that sets another good precedent. And that was a surprise. So not a signal of a new trend in the court perhaps, not a hint as to what the court will rule in the pending affirmative action case, but perhaps a sign that the court knows how far it's already gone.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.