Several Republican consultants and political experts expect the third indictment of former President Donald Trump to boost his campaign in the 2024 GOP primary.
Trump is being arraigned Thursday in Washington, D.C., where he is facing charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, including “Conspiracy to defraud the United States,” “Conspiracy to corruptly obstruct and impede the January 6 proceedings” and “A conspiracy against the right to vote and to have one’s vote counted.” GOP strategists and political experts told the DCNF that Trump’s mounting legal woes will only give him another boost in the Republican primary, citing the fallout from the previous two indictments.
“President Trump really benefited from the first indictment being the Alvin Bragg indictment in NY. That acted like a traditional vaccine: he got enough of a virus to inoculate him but not put him at serious risk. With those charges being seen as politically driven, Trump has been able to fight off increasingly serious charges,” Jon McHenry, GOP polling analyst, told the DCNF. “Plus, this charge coming on the heels of a judge questioning a plea deal for Hunter Biden, it is relatively easy for the former president and his allies to charge that the Department of Justice has one set of standards for President Biden’s family and another set for Donald Trump.”
Hunter Biden has been at the center of multiple DOJ investigations for years, and he most recently received a sweetheart deal for a federal gun charge with two tax misdemeanors by the Federal District of Delaware to avoid jail time. The plea deal briefly collapsed last week when the prosecution and defense disagreed with the scope of immunity Hunter Biden received; they came to a new agreement that the deal would pertain only to the tax and gun charges, leaving the door open for future charges brought by the DOJ.
“It’s almost like the Department of Justice is trying to see how disparate they can make it look, how different the treatment they can [give]: ‘We’re going to jail the chief political opponent of the president, and we’re going to turn away from the crimes committed by the president’s family members,’” Mike McKenna, GOP consultant and president of MWR Strategies said. “The more the government tries to suppress this guy, the more the voters and the Republican primaries refuse to play along.”
Since the former president was first indicted on March 30, the gap between he and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has dramatically grown, with Trump currently receiving 53.9% support compared to the governor’s 18.1%, according to the RealClearPolitics (RCP) average. In the two months preceding Trump’s first indictment, the former president and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were polling closest to each other, and on Feb. 25, Trump and DeSantis’ RCP average was 43.3% and 30.5%, respectively.
“It’s difficult to imagine what would stop that momentum — it won’t be this indictment, and it won’t be another two or three indictments,” Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist, told the DCNF.
The former president’s first indictment was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for allegedly falsifying business records when reimbursing former attorney Michael Cohen, who paid porn star actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged affair.
Trump announced on July 18 he had received a target letter from Smith, indicating that an indictment in the Jan. 6 probe was imminent. The former president was previously indicted by Smith in early June over alleged mishandling of classified documents.
Jay Williams, GOP consultant, told the DCNF that Republican primary voters will see the third indictment for what he believes is “a left-wing attack on the former president” and argued it will help Trump’s fundraising.
“It just makes him stronger,” said Williams. “He could get indicted ten times — it’s not going to change anything.”
Dr. Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia and an American Enterprise Institute fellow, told the DCNF this third indictment will likely help his chances in the primary but could hurt him in the general, hindering his ability to win over independents.
“At least in the short term, I wouldn’t expect Republican base voters to react to this indictment any differently than they have the first two,” Kyle Kondik, a nonpartisan polling analyst and managing editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told the DCNF. “Perhaps in the longer term, the weight of Trump’s legal problems lowers his level of support, but that’s all speculative at this point.”
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