The D.C. conspiracy case brought by Jack Smith is currently scheduled to start on March 4, 2024. That could change, but Judge Tanya Chutkan is famous for her rocket docket and seems unlikely to move the case unless she and Georgia Judge Scott McAfee decide together to let the RICO case start then. In either case, a trial is likely to start on March 4, 2024. The D.C. trial is expected to last at least 6 weeks, maybe a week or two longer. The RICO case could go on for months.
Meanwhile, the caucuses and primaries are starting Jan. 15, 2024, kicking off with Iowa. In fact, all four early states will be finished by March 4. How will the trial and the primaries interact? The New York Times has produced this bar chart showing the delegate allocation in relation to a 6-week trial starting March 4:
The obvious conclusion is that at least 65% and possibly more of the delegates to the Republican National Convention will have been chosen before there is a verdict. Even if the D.C. Court of Appeals acts with lightning speed, it is likely that 80-90% of the delegates will be chosen before it rules. That means there is a pretty good chance that Donald Trump will be a convicted felon and his appeal will be turned down by the July 15 starting bell for the Republican National Convention. Of course, Trump will appeal an unfavorable verdict to the Supreme Court (the government cannot appeal an acquittal). By late June, some of the justices will be giving lectures around the world, some will be hanging out on a beach somewhere, and others will be taking all-expenses paid exotic vacations with Republican megadonors. It seems unlikely the Court would even hear the case before September, let alone rule on it. But these are such uncharted waters, no one knows how it will go. However, the chance that Trump has way more than 50% of the bound delegates and is also a convicted felon by July 15 is probably at least 50%. It should make for an interesting convention.
To clear up matters, on March 5, 2024 (Super Tuesday), 15 states with about 35% of the delegates will vote. By the time the voting has started, the voir dire might not even be finished. In federal cases, it is done by the judge, not the lawyers, but the judge asks the lawyers for possible questions to ask the potential jurors. Even if Chutkan does the voir dire the week before March 4, the first day of the trial will just consist of Jack Smith outlining his case, the broad strokes of which are already well known (Trump conspired with six other people to overturn an election he lost). It is very unlikely the first day of the trial will change any voter's mind.
If one or more other candidates are still in the race and viable, those candidates could certainly capitalize on the trial. Their argument will be "I'll give you the same policies Trump would, and I'm not going to be in prison in the fall, so I am a safer bet."
Many right-wing media outlets have claimed that the date was set to hurt Trump in the primaries. But as you can see from the chart above, by the time the trial is over, most of the delegates will already have been chosen. That is certainly true if the jury deliberation takes a couple of weeks. By the time the appeal is finished, all of them will have been chosen. If you are looking for a good source on primary dates, try this one. Besides the 15 states that will vote on March 5, a key day will come 2 weeks later, on March 19, when Florida and Ohio will hold winner-take-all primaries. If Trump does well on March 5 and then wins Florida and Ohio, he will be unstoppable.
One other matter could affect the primaries: Trump's presence. Generally speaking, defendants are required to be present during their trials. If Judge Chutkan insists that he be there (possibly by revoking his bail if he doesn't cooperate) he won't be able to campaign in March and at best 2 weeks in April, maybe less if the trial runs longer than 6 weeks. He's not going to like being taken off the campaign trail for roughly 2 months. He might try to make up for it by sending out 20, 30, or even 50 tweets every night, some of which could land him in legal trouble.
The state parties have to submit their primary plans to the RNC by Oct. 1. Might they leave themselves some wiggle room by saying, for example, that if a majority of the delegation votes to unbind themselves from the primary winner, they are thus unbound? That seems unlikely because Trumpists now control many state parties, something that was not true in 2016, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) instigated a fight within the rules committee. Trump himself now understands how the delegate selection process works on the ground, and is actively down in the weeds making sure all the rules favor him.
Some of the candidates who are not really viable may stay in the race until the bitter end in the hopes that the magic unicorn—a brokered convention— shows up in Milwaukee when hundreds of delegates refuse to vote for a convicted felon. Then the rogue delegates could choose them. Of course, the convention could also pick someone not in the race at all, like Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). The risk here is that Trump would either run as an independent or actively encourage his supporters to write him in, at least in states where write-in votes are counted. In short, we are in for interesting times. (V)