Power  /  Dispatch

‘Unless Jesus Christ Was Running’: In MAGA Country, Post-Verdict Trump is Still the Answer

Eugene Debs ran for president from prison. His former bellwether county — and museum — both hold lessons for Trump’s campaign.

Eleven minutes after the Donald Trump verdict came in, the social media feed at the Eugene V. Debs Museum flickered to life.“Something something jailhouse campaign,” posted @DebsMuseum, the irreverent X account run by the museum here, to a little more than 11,000 followers.

In recent days Debs, the five-time former socialist candidate who hails from this town in Vigo County — population 106,000 — was on the lips of the chattering class everywhere, namechecked on CNN and Fox News and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” for mounting his presidential campaign from a jail cell 104 years ago.

“I think Eugene Debs, if I’m remembering this right, ran for president from prison, so it’s not unheard of in the United States to have people who are in custody who run for president,” Neil Cavuto said on Fox News.

Trump faces a maximum of four years in prison following his guilty verdict, but Judge Juan Merchan is not required to sentence him to prison, and could just as well subject him to a lighter punishment.

Here at the museum on Friday, amid yellowing campaign literature and sepia-toned photos of Debs’ life, you couldn’t find droves of red-capped MAGA supporters gathering. Nor were Trump campaign managers Chris LaCivita or Susie Wiles scouring its archives for pointers on how to run a presidential campaign from prison. But that didn’t stop a volunteer docent, who only gave their name as SM, from offering Trump some tips: “When you’re running for president from prison, you don’t need to put your name on your campaign stuff,” the docent said, citing Debs’ campaign buttons at the time that simply featured his photo encircled by “CONVICT NO. 9653 FOR PRESIDENT.”

“Just need your face and your name — and it works.”