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Why an indictment can help Trump — and threaten the GOP

Sensing an opening, the Trump campaign started shooting the impending indictment in a litmus test for the rest of the field: either defend the ex-president, they warned, or be branded a leftist sympathizer.

Even Trump’s GOP critics have begun to see the writing on the wall.

“He’s become the new chairman of Teflon,” said Michael Brodkorb, a former Minnesota Republican Party vice chairman and longtime Trump critic. “He’s someone who built his entire political empire by being the victim all the time, and being the martyr, and that’s just another example.”

Throughout the Trump era, Trump has sought to turn one seemingly disqualifying scandal after another to his advantage. Sometimes he succeeded (the Access Hollywood tape wasn’t the dagger everyone expected), sometimes he struggled (the aftermath of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021 remains largely nasty). In each case, he survived.

The expected and upcoming indictment will test this once again; although, until now, the timing could hardly be better for him. If he is arrested this week, it will once again frame the early stages of the presidential primary around him, just as Pence, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and several other top Republicans plan to launch their own campaigns.

“It seems very obvious that the left is trying everything they can to discredit former President Donald Trump,” said Bruce Cherry, chairman of the Republican Executive Committee for Seminole County in Florida, who said the “best ticket possible that this country could have” would be Trump. as a presidential candidate alongside DeSantis, as a running mate. “The indictment, I think, means nothing.”

On the contrary, Republicans say, Trump will enjoy a short-term wave of support, just as he did after the FBI seized documents from his Mar-a-Lago estate last year. It may not show up in national polls — where independent and Democratic voters will remember the drama and scandals that seem to perpetually follow Trump. But a national GOP strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the political fallout, said the ex-president would likely get an immediate fundraising boost in an otherwise hostile political environment.

“Small donors are down,” this person said. “It will motivate them. This proves that there is a witch hunt.

On right-wing social media channels over the weekend, some Trump supporters debated the merits of a violent protest versus a nonviolent one, vaguely contemplating a truckers’ strike or a bank run while d Others warned of a Deep State “trap”. Unlike the legal challenges Trump is facing in Fulton County, Georgia, and under special counsel investigation around Jan. 6, the case in New York comes from a Manhattan district attorney, seen by many Republicans as the epicenter of leftist excesses. .

“In that case, I think the Republicans will go with Trump initially,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “In the long term, it depends on what happens with this case, as well as other criminal investigations.”

If Trump ends up facing multiple indictments, Ayres said, it’s possible that primary voters who are at least open to other Republican presidential candidates will see him as having too much “baggage.” But, he warned, no one can fully understand how it will all play out. After all, it’s never happened before.

“I’ve never studied the indictment of a former president and presidential candidate,” Ayres said, “and I’ve never done a poll on the indictment of a former president. president and presidential candidate.

A nagging fear of some Trump critics is that the case against him may prove weak and defeating him may further embolden him. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, the Michigan Republican who lost his primary last year after voting to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 riot, said “the bullshit of the Democratic crusades helps Trump in his primary, which, if he wins, helps Democrats by bringing the weakest GOP nominee to the overall.

Trump’s most prominent critic for the 2024 GOP, Pence, refused to twist the knife on Saturday. Campaigning in Iowa at a foreign policy forum hosted by the Bastion Institute, he told reporters, “No one is above the law. I am confident that President Trump can take care of himself.

But privately, Pence’s allies have argued that Trump is likely to face more indictments related to his efforts to void the 2020 election.

“He’s trying to walk a pretty narrow fence,” Mike Murphy, a former Republican Indiana state lawmaker close to Pence, said of the former vice president’s comments. “He’s trying to keep Trump at bay. But at the same time, he knows the Republican base is going to go nuts if that happens on Tuesday. He must be empathetic to their concerns, without being empathetic to Trump. The most serious potential indictment is in Atlanta. It will be clear on this one that good is good and evil is evil.

It’s possible Trump is overstating his hand, with his call to “Protest, Take Back Our Nation!” and with a Saturday rally in Waco, Texas, the first of his 2024 campaign. If protests don’t materialize — or if crowd sizes are paltry — “it will show that the Trump movement is sputtering,” a said a longtime Republican strategist who was granted anonymity to discuss the dynamics of the 2024 campaign.

It’s also possible that eligibility-obsessed Republicans, after Trump’s 2020 defeat and a disappointing midterm, will see Trump’s indictment as untenable in a general election.

“At some point, some of his supporters will see that the cumulative effect of these lawsuits directly affects his ability to win a general election,” said Dick Wadhams, former Colorado Republican Party chairman and longtime GPR strategist. left. “There’s a reality that could start to sink in that he’s going to be hijacked by these legal actions throughout the campaign, probably.”

Some Republicans’ biggest fear, however, is that an impeachment could really hurt Trump and the GOP just when the party needs to win back the independents and moderate Republicans who shunned them in 2020. Images of a former indicted president or protests that could trigger painful reminders of his tenure.

“It helps him in the Republican primary, but he was going to win the Republican primary, anyway,” said Mike Madrid, the Republican strategist who was a co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

The problem for the GOP, he said, is that even if an indictment further escalates Trump’s base, it will do nothing for the party in the general election.

“The intensity of a shrinking base is not a sign of growing movement,” Madrid said. “It’s a sign of an imploding dwarf star.”

Natalie Allison contributed to this report.

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