Former President Trump officially became the first former commander-in-chief to be charged with a crime on Tuesday.
The global spotlight was on the courthouse in Lower Manhattan, where a 34-count indictment was unsealed.
All those counts relate to falsifying business records, though an accompanying “Statement of Facts” from prosecutors alleges this was done “to conceal criminal conduct that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”
Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Beyond those basic facts, here are the big takeaways.
The imagery was bad for Trump
Even though the former president’s arraignment had been anticipated for days, the actual footage packed a real punch.
A TV clip, lasting only a few seconds, of a grim-faced Trump walking into the courtroom was especially powerful — and bad for the former president.
The same goes for the still photos from within the courtroom — where live footage was banned by the judge — showing the president and his lawyers at the defendant’s table.
Even some Democrats acknowledge the underlying case is not the strongest, or most serious, of the legal probes with which Trump is faced.
But Tuesday was about a former president and current presidential candidate under arrest and criminally charged. That basic reality is a problem for Trump.
But the substance of the charges was underwhelming
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) is going into the history books one way or another.
But neither the indictment itself, nor the Statement of Facts, will quell nervousness among Trump critics about the flimsiness of his case.
There was no smoking gun here, nor were there any truly dramatic new details.
The indictment simply laid out the counts in bare-bones fashion, cataloging the dates and kind of financial paperwork that, Bragg alleges, falsely concealed payments to Trump’s erstwhile attorney and fixer Michael Cohen.
Those payments were, according to Cohen, intended to reimburse him for a $130,000 payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels, made in the closing days of the 2016 election campaign, to buy her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.
Trump had married his current wife, Melania, the previous year.
The statement of facts outlined details already known about those payments to Daniels — as well as a separate deal whereby a magazine publisher and Trump ally bought the rights to the story of a former Playboy model, Karen McDougal.
The only new detail was a tale of a former doorman who had allegedly been trying to sell a story that Trump had fathered a child with someone who was not his wife. But there appears to be huge doubts about the veracity of that tale.
Long story short, the legal documents unveiled on Tuesday were underwhelming — and that’s very good news for Trump.
It keeps Trump’s GOP rivals in a box
Politically, the biggest losers from Tuesday’s proceedings might have been Trump’s rivals for the 2024 GOP nomination.
Bragg’s failure to produce any stronger case will almost certainly intensify the rallying-around Trump from Republican voters. The former president has seen his poll ratings rise in several surveys since news broke of his indictment.
That keeps Trump’s challengers — declared and potential — in a box. They want to differentiate themselves from Trump, but they can’t afford to alienate his supporters.
Right now, they can’t breathe in the oxygen of publicity at all.
Trump went into Tuesday the clear front-runner for the GOP nomination — and that has not changed.
It’s still not good for Trump and women voters
The underlying alleged behavior on Trump’s part is still problematic, especially among female voters.
A case that may go on for months is built around sexual encounters while married, with a porn star and a Playboy model.
The lurid deals surely won’t endear Trump to women, whose lack of support was pivotal to the former president’s 2020 loss.
According to a voter analysis from The Associated Press and Fox News that year, President Biden bested Trump by 12 points among all women and 19 points among suburban women.
This case won’t make it any easier to win those voters back.
But in the end… what changes?
Trump’s poll ratings with the public at large change only within rather narrow parameters.
It’s almost eight years since Trump launched his first presidential campaign at Trump Tower. In the intervening time, public opinion about him, good and bad, has set in concrete.
Tuesday’s events were historically important and an epic media spectacle.
But it’s tough to see how they affect the nation’s political dynamics in any seismic way.