GOP messaging guru Frank Luntz has a warning for Alvin Bragg over Trump indictment
A top political messaging expert says Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is already giving up significant ground to former president Donald Trump by not adequately explaining the decision to seek charges against the former president and letting Mr Trump’s message of persecution go unanswered before the ex-president makes his first appearance in a New York City courtroom on Tuesday.
Frank Luntz, the veteran pollster who rose to prominence in the 1990s after helping the Newt Gingrich-led House Republican Conference regain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades, says Mr Bragg’s decision to abide by longstanding legal norms which call for prosecutors to not speak publicly about cases before they are unveiled in open court could be a huge mistake that will advantage the ex-president.
“By the prosecutor staying silent. Trump can redefine what this is all about over the next 96 hours. And then the prosecutors are going to be on defense every single day for what follows,” Mr Luntz said Friday while speaking to The Independent and representatives from other UK-based news outlets as part of a discussion with a group of students at his Washington, DC home.
The twice-impeached, indicted ex-president has spent the day since news of his newfound status as a criminal defendant became public lashing out at Mr Bragg on social media and in statements released by his presidential campaign.
He first reacted to the new case against him in a poorly-spelled post on his Truth Social website, writing: “These Thugs and Radical Left Monsters have just INDICATED the 45th President of the United States of America, and the leading Republican Candidate, by far, for the 2024 Nomination for President”.
Switching to all uppercase letters, he added: “THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE. IT IS LIKEWISE A CONTINUING ATTACK ON OUR ONCE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS. THE USA IS NOW A THIRD WORLD NATION, A NATION IN SERIOUS DECLINE. SO SAD!”
Mr Trump continued hitting out at the Manhattan prosecutor on his Truth Social page all day on Friday, even going so far as to attack Mr Bragg’s wife in one post.
His allies in Congress have also rallied to his side and are threatening to launch a full-blown congressional probe into New York City’s top elected prosecutor.
To Mr Luntz, this one-sided public relations battle — with Mr Trump attacking and Mr Bragg saying nothing in response save for a brief statement acknowledging talks with Mr Trump’s lawyers over a date for his surrender — only hurts the district attorney’s efforts because it plays to Mr Trump’s strengths.
He said Mr Bragg is making the same mistake Attorney General Merrick Garland made when he let days go by without publicly addressing the 8 August FBI search of the ex-president’s Palm Beach, Florida home and office.
By “punishing Donald Trump without explaining the crime” and “being seen as using the power of the government against a single individual without setting the context,” Mr Bragg is helping Mr Trump consolidate his support among Republicans and clearing a path for him to win the GOP nomination in next year’s presidential election, he said.
Continuing, Mr Luntz said Mr Bragg should have gotten out in front of Mr Trump’s cries of victimhood and persecution as soon as it became known that a Manhattan grand jury had voted to indict Mr Trump on charges that he’d falsified business records to conceal a years-old hush-money scheme meant to prevent an affair with an adult film star from becoming public before the 2016 election.
He stressed that Mr Bragg’s adherence to the “traditional rules” will not suffice in a case against Mr Trump because the 46th president is “not a traditional politician,” which means the district attorney “cannot engage people in a traditional way” when it comes to prosecuting him.
“If you don't want to have the circus of a press conference, at a minimum you put out a two page document that says ... what he will be charged with,” he said. “You have to illustrate it”.
Mr Luntz pointed out that in the absence of any explanation from New York authorities, Mr Trump’s allies have flooded the zone with public appearances to echo the former president’s claims of persecution, with some — such as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham — going so far as to beg television viewers to donate to Mr Trump’s campaign.
He said Mr Bragg’s silence is letting the GOP define the playing field long before the indictment against Mr Trump gets unsealed on Tuesday, and described himself as “hostile” to how the justice system is handling Mr Trump “because they haven't figured this s*** out yet”.
“By the prosecutor staying silent, Trump can redefine what this is all about over the next 96 hours. And then the prosecutors are going to be on defence every single day for what follows,” he said.
He added that the prosecutors looking into Mr Trump, including Mr Bragg, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, and Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith, need to take heed of writer Ralph Waldo Emerson’s observation that if you “strike at a king, you must kill him”.
“If you prosecute Donald Trump, and he is found innocent, there'll be no stopping him. If he is found guilty, there'll be no calming down of his most fervent supporters, Either way, it’s bad for American democracy. They cannot f*** this up, because if they do, the consequences are huge,” he said. “They have the right to prosecute him now, but they have to prosecute him effectively.”