Apotential indictment and arrest of Donald Trump looms. As a result, some pundits have suggested that Trump should hide out in Florida at Mar-A-Lago. The thinking goes that Governor Ron DeSantis will refuse any request to arrest and extradite him to New York. Then, New York would have to sue, potentially tying up the case for years or even resulting in a favorable court ruling saying DeSantis has no legal duty to extradite Trump. But this plan is unlikely to work.
First, the plan is unlikely to succeed from a legal perspective. And second, it would be impossible for Trump to pull off without killing his presidential campaign.
For starters, it’s important to recognize that any chance Trump has at staying in Florida relies on Ron DeSantis. If he decides to arrest and extradite him, then the Florida police arrest him and he goes to New York. Trump cannot sue to stop DeSantis from extraditing him. Trump could sue to void the underlying indictment, but that case is unlikely to succeed for various reasons
Trump’s first and biggest legal issue is that DeSantis has no grounds to refuse extradition. Article IV, Section II of the U.S. Constitution provides, “A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up. . .”
If DeSantis did fight the extradition request, then New York could sue to force him to extradite Trump. DeSantis’s claim would have almost no legal footing. In 1981, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Iowa could not refuse to extradite a fugitive to Puerto Rico. Even though the governor asserted the defendant would not get a fair trial. The Court stressed that the Extradition Clause is “clear and explicit.” And that its “commands. . . are mandatory, and afford no discretion to the executive officers or courts of the asylum State.”
A favorable court ruling would also leave Trump free from extradition but fail to solve his other problems. Even if a court ruled that Florida had no duty to extradite Trump, any state would still be free to do so voluntarily. And governors control their state’s police forces. So, Trump would be effectively travel-banned from any state with a Democratic governor, or any state with a Republican governor who would order his arrest.
At first glance, that means he could not travel to almost any major swing state and multiple important primary states. He’d be stuck in Florida plus any other states that promise not to extradite him. That’s a problem for somebody who wants to run a national presidential campaign.
A strategy that tries to drag out the case for years has the same problems. Maybe he could sue, then have DeSantis force New York to sue, then sue New York, etc. These legal maneuvers, while potentially frivolous, could make his case go on for months or years.
But at the end of the day, Trump’s basic issue is that the underlying indictment won’t magically expire. He could drag out his case for years. He could win a complete and total victory at the Supreme Court. But all that would do is allow Ron DeSantis to not extradite him. He would still face extradition if he travelled to any state willing to arrest him.
A Trump confined to Florida is a Trump that cannot run a presidential campaign. Sure, retail politics matters less than it used to, but Trump has made rallies a huge part of his identity as a candidate. He won’t be able to get his message out in important states if his only campaign tools are posts on Truth Social, rallies in safely Republican states, and TV ads.
And even if Trump could run most of his campaign remotely, the optics would be awful. A Trump that is reliant on the generosity of various governors to avoid arrest is a Trump that looks beleaguered and weak. Republicans could argue that the indictment is political, but Americans still express high levels of confidence in police and the criminal justice. And voters might feel uneasy electing a president who may be arrested or who cannot travel to large swaths of the country.
Still, Trump may try to fight extradition. A perp walk and a mug shot would be arguably just as bad, if not worse for his campaign optics-wise. But even if he does fight, the strategy backs him into a corner. Instead of ripping the arrest band-aid off, fighting extradition could leave him in a very complicated legal and political situation. In many ways, this situation, even if his legal gambit succeeds, could be worse politically for him than just agreeing to an arrest.