One of the most forgotten aspects of the 2024 GOP primary season is what happens to Donald Trump if he gets charged with something in the next few months. And considering the fact that there are so many investigations against Trump at the moment, I am going to guess charges are coming.
What happens after he gets charged?
While there have been countless articles speculating on the charges and cases that Donald Trump is now facing, there is very little analysis of what the GOP party machinery and insider reaction will be as well as from the MAGA base that supports Trump if charges come.
My gut instinct from watching GOP politics and insiders from my perch here in DC for roughly a decade is if Trump is charged it will be a total mess.
Not only will it mean his likely political demise, but a war will begin inside the GOP on what to do with him.
And it could be historic.
First, let me break down why I think he would be doomed.
While Donald Trump would still retain a massive MAGA following, he would lose some of that following if he is charged with a crime. While some support will drop off, it won’t be enough to deny him the GOP nomination but his political fortunes in a general election could be mortally wounded. A path for a Trump general election victory is already going to be hard slog – he can’t afford to lose any voters. 2020 proved that to be true.
All of that means Joe Biden would have no issue beating Trump. To be clear, there is no way Donald Trump can win an electoral college victory if he is in court fighting to stay out of jail – I just can’t see him getting the votes needed to make it happen.
Would you vote for someone who is facing jail time for president? The optics make no sense. It doesn’t pass any sort of common sense sniff test.
But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Trump getting charged is what happens inside the machinery of the GOP itself that runs the party day to day and what GOP insiders think.
When Donald Trump won in 2016, the vast majority of the RNC/GOP/Evangelicals that had issues with Trump just buried their feelings deep down – they wanted to get their Supreme Court justices installed and did what they could and stacked the Trump Administration with conservatives that could shape his presidency – and that largely worked.
When I worked at Heritage during the GOP primary, I can tell you there was a deep divide on how to feel about Trump and whether to support him or not. The debates in the building got pretty heated – but as they say, winning papers over any problems.
Here is where things get interesting. You can already see cracks in support for Donald Trump already in the GOP establishment – Nikki Haley would not be out of the gate running already if she did not think she could win (despite what I think, ha).
The second he gets charged – if he does get charged – you will start to see the GOP start to turn on Trump. And if those allegations are serious, it could be a pretty significant group of GOP insiders who will do all they can to try and deny him the nomination – and the big-money donors could walk as well. It could be the 2024 equivalent of the Hollywood Access tape scandal – but with a far big impact.
If Ron DeSantis was smart, he would try to snatch up all of that support and craft a campaign that is populist and MAGA to the core, but states that we can’t have a 2024 Presidental candidate that is facing jail time. He would not have to attack Trump – just state the obvious.
How would Trump fight that fact? He can’t.
Then the real wild card: how does the rock-solid Trump MAGA base by and large respond to Trump getting charged? Do they come out screaming for a third-party run by Trump (and, of course, handing the election to Joe Biden)?
Bottom line: if Donald Trump gets charged with a crime, 2024 will be the most interesting presidential election ever.
My gut says Donald Trump would be at his end – but how much carnage comes with those words? Get the popcorn ready.
Harry J. Kazianis (@Grecianformula) is a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive and serves as President and CEO of Rogue States Project, a bipartisan national security think tank. He has held senior positions at the Center for the National Interest, the Heritage Foundation, the Potomac Foundation, and many other think tanks and academic institutions focused on defense issues. He served on the Russia task force for U.S. Presidential Candidate Senator Ted Cruz, and in a similar role in the John Hay Initiative. His ideas have been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, CNN, CNBC, and many other outlets across the political spectrum. He holds a graduate degree in International Relations from Harvard University and is the author of the book The Tao of A2/AD, a study of Chinese military modernization. Kazianis also has a background in defense journalism, having served as Editor-In-Chief at The Diplomat and Executive Editor for the National Interest.