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Can a State or Federal Prisoner Run for President? Yes, and Here's Why.

How the Story of Eugene V. Debs Offers Strange Insight Into President Trump's Potential 2024 "Prison Cell" Re-Election Campaign.

Article Written by Jett James Pruitt

With the 2024 President Election less than 500 days away, America is starting to panic. The Republican and Democrat fields have emerged, with both former President Donald Trump and current President Joe Biden facing languid competition.

RealClearPolitics reports that as of today, Trump commands a comforting 46% support among Republican primary voters. At the same time, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis trails him with 22%, while former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and South Carolina Senator Tim Scott enjoy a mere 7%, 6%, and 4% support, respectively.

But as we all know, Trump's biggest competitor in the Republican Primary is State or Federal Prison.

On March 30th, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict the former President in relation to an alleged hush-money payment scheme prior to the 2016 election. One week later, Trump was arrested and faced an arraignment hearing at the Manhattan criminal courthouse, where he pled not guilty to 34 felony counts.

After receiving the state criminal charges, President Trump derided the March indictment on social media as “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” and accused Democrat politicians of “weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States.”

He further asserted “The Democrats have lied, cheated, and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable — indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant Election Interference.”

Then on June 8th, Trump was indicted again. This time, prosecutors alleged the former President willfully retained classified documents in violation of the Espionage Act, as well as deliberately made false statements and concealed documents from investigators. These documents reportedly contained sensitive national security information, including files about U.S. military plans and nuclear programs.

At the time, Special Counsel Jack Smith charged Trump with 37 federal felony counts; 31 pertain to holding classified records, while 6 relate to obstruction of justice. Now that number is well over 40.

In fact, NBC News has an ongoing "Trump update" sidebar on their website to keep up with emerging Trump indictments. Here is what it looked like as of this morning:


Source: NBC News, July 27, 2023:

• "A new indictment was filed today in connection with the ongoing prosecution by special counsel Jack Smith of Trump and a top aide, adding charges against the former president for his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

• The new, or superseding, indictment also charges Carlos De Oliveira, a maintenance worker at Mar-a-Lago who helped move boxes in of classified documents.

• Trump announced last week that he received a letter notifying him he is the target of a grand jury examining the Jan. 6 riot and efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the other probe being led by Smith.

• Members of the grand jury in the Jan. 6 investigation were spotted at the courthouse today. A court official said later in the day that no indictments had been returned and that none were expected. Members of the grand jury were seen leaving the courthouse around 4:30 p.m."


Gravely, each charge carries a maximum sentence between 5 to 20 years. Therefore, if President Trump is convicted, he could serve the rest of his life in prison. At this point, one may wonder how these investigations will impact Trump’s candidacy.

As explained by Dallas Morning News, “Legally, his multiple indictments, including federal charges related to classified documents that could lead to prison time, wouldn’t stop him.”

CBS News reaffirmed this assessment by commenting: “The three cases raise an intriguing question about his bid to retake the White House: Can he still become president if he’s convicted in New York or Florida…The short answer, from a legal perspective, is yes.”

In sum, Trump can still run for President while serving in prison thanks to a man by the name of Eugene V. Debs.

Eugene V. Debs Ran For President Five Times Including 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 and 1920.

If Trump continues his campaign while serving time, this would not be the first time in American history a prisoner would run for president.

In the 1920 general election, Eugene V. Debs ran as the Socialist Party Presidential Nominee while behind bars at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.

Debs was serving a 10-year sentence for violating the Sedition Act of 1918, a law enacted at the height of World War I prohibiting any U.S. citizen from criticizing the government or discouraging compliance with conscription or voluntary service into the military.

He was arrested after he derided the United States’ involvement in the war and asserted young American men were “fit for something better than for cannon fodder” in an address delivered in Cannon, Ohio.

Unlike Republican Nominee Warren G. Harding (who would ultimately win the election) and Democrat Candidate James M. Cox, Debs did not have an extensive fundraising network and was unable to travel on the campaign trail. However, he did utilize newsreel cameras to produce a carefully-choreographed event of him accepting the Socialist Party’s nomination, an event that was promulgated in motion-picture theaters across the country.

Prison Cell Politician, Eugene V. Debs

In the end, Debs received nearly 915,000 votes in the general election, or approximately 3.4% of the popular vote.

In comparison, Donald Trump continues to garner tremendous financial and emotional support from the Republican voter base and until a formidable contender emerges in the polls, there is nothing to stop his current momentum.

Only time will tell if Trump will eventually be convicted of any state or federal charges, but the future does not look legally uncomplicated for the former President. Either way, it appears that President Trump will still be a major contender in the 2024 Election — even if he is running his campaign from prison.

What are your thoughts? Please share this article with your comments.

Born in 2005, Jett James Pruitt is a Native American (Taino Arawak), Pulitzer Prize-nominated author of the book THROUGH THE EYES OF A YOUNG AMERICAN (2020). He is the founder and editor-in-chief of, and is a political strategist specializing in Generation Z voting trends. His next book THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE (2024) is due in bookstores this March.



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