Donald Trump’s latest scandal, the ongoing DOJ investigation into his handling of classified documents, could have an effect on the 2024 presidential election. The investigation presents a unique question: if Trump becomes the first ex-president ever indicted, how will that affect his support amongst the GOP?
In President Joe Biden’s fiery speech last week, the incumbent described a bifurcated GOP, with a “mainstream” wing and a “MAGA” wing. The breakdown is crude – and neglects to acknowledge that Trump has enjoyed mainstream conservative support for nearly a decade or that mainstream players have fully supported Trump’s agenda – but culturally speaking, the mainstream v. MAGA framework seems logical. And for my purposes, exploring a Republican reaction to a Trump indictment, the framework fits well enough.
If Trump is indicted, the MAGA-wing will undoubtedly rally behind their leader. Trump is an icon and a hero to a significant portion of the population. An indictment wouldn’t dissuade these loyal constituents from supporting the former president further.
Quite the contrary. An indictment would validate the persecution-complex thing that Trump, and MAGA-world, have been subscribed to for years. And frankly, it’s not just pure paranoia; Trump has been in the cross-hairs, targeted consistently in criminal investigations for behaviors that are deplorable – but not criminal. After Russiagate and the January 6th commission, Trump’s base is already on edge. An indictment would whip them into a proper frenzy, as their reaction to the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid suggests.
The “mainstream” GOP branch’s reaction to a Trump indictment would be more difficult to predict. But polling data suggests the mainstream will stick with Trump. In all likelihood, the political establishment’s reaction will derive from simple political calculus: if the Donald is still the most viable political candidate, the GOP will rally around him; if Trump has been eclipsed as the GOP standard-bearer by, say, Ron DeSantis, then the GOP will use the indictment as a convenient moment to transition out of the Trump era. Actually, conservatives are actively exploring the potential for moving past Trump right now, indictment or not.
“Club for Growth – which had been a top supporter of President Donald Trump – is taking steps to back other potential White House Contenders, including Florida’s governor [Ron DeSantis],” POLITICO reported. “It’s another reminder that DeSantis, who continues to say he’s only focused on reelection, is not the frontrunner among potential 2024 GOP contenders not named Donald.”
Asked for comment, Club for Growth president David McIntosh, said, “the Republican bullpen of leadership is strong, and Club for Growth is engaging these conservative champions with grassroots activists on the issues that matter, especially school choice.”
The GOP establishment is going to back whoever offers the best chance to retain and augment power. If that person is a Harvard-educated Reaganite, so be it. If that person is a bar-owning election denier, that is also acceptable. And if that person is a disgruntled former president who has recently been indicted, that will be fine, too. Whoever the establishment gauges conservative voters are willing to vote for, which still, despite the DOJ investigation, looks like Donald Trump.
The Club for Growth “polling showed Trump ahead,” POLITICO reported, “although the gap tightened over the summer as the congressional hearings into the Jan.6 riots were going on.” Here’s the most interesting bit of polling data: “Trump, however, got a bump following the FBI search for classified documents on Mar-a-Lago.” While MAGA world conservatives are undoubtedly going to rally behind an indicted Trump, polling suggests mainstream conservatives may do the same.
Clearly, Democrats still hoping to “catch” the Donald are playing a dangerous game. In continuing to pursue Trump, who voters voted out of office two years ago, Democrats appear to be elevating the ex-president’s profile. While it seems unlikely that Trump would allow himself to just fade away into obscurity, the ongoing pursuit of Trump may guarantee he runs again in 2024 while simultaneously bolstering the support he receives while doing so.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.