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Arrest Trump? That Makes Him the GOP Nominee (But Can’t Beat Biden)

Trump’s intense, cult-like bond with his voters is well-established. His arrest is more likely to verify the premises of that bond than challenge it. The real question looms over the general then, where Trump is on track to lose the popular vote, as he did before.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump.

Trump’s Arrest will Probably Help Him – In the GOP Nomination Fight But Not in a General Election: Former President Donald Trump recently announced that he would be arrested this week. It is unclear if this will actually happen. Trump has ducked legal troubles for decades, and his status as a former president makes it all the trickier to arrest him. The charges are well-known by now. Trump has long been disloyal to his wives, and he apparently paid off one of his mistresses in the run-up to the 2016 election.

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Trump is almost certainly guilty, but that is not really the issue. More important is whether his arrest will impact the 2024 US presidential race. Trump is now the front-runner in the GOP primary, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis likely his toughest opponent. An arrest will probably help Trump win the GOP primary – he will market himself as a martyr – but hurt him in the general – where centrist suburban voters will pull back from a now-indicted, as well as impeached, ex-president.

MAGA will Embrace Trump’s ‘Persecution’

A core argument of Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ movement is widespread persecution of Trump voters and conservatives in general.

Fox News, the conservative movement’s primary media organ, regularly speaks of conservative shadow-banning on social media. The new Republican majority in the House of Representatives has opened investigations into the ‘weaponization’ of government against conservatives. Even Ron DeSantis felt compelled to describe Trump’s looming indictment as a product of George Soros action against Red America.

Whether true or not, this narrative is deeply resonant, and Trump himself has regularly tapped into it, such as when he referred to himself as his voters’ ‘retribution’ on elites who contemn them. Hence Trump is likely to slot his arrest into this narrative. Trump has already decried the prosecutor – who is not white – as a racist and a radical leftist. He has called for protests, much like he did on January 6, 2021 – presumably to blackmail the district attorney into not indicting him.

Assuming Trump does not actually go to prison – no former American president ever has – Trump will continue as a candidate. The arrest will, inevitably, become an issue. DeSantis will try to use it, but in the GOP primary this will likely not work. Trump will pitch his arrest to GOP voters as yet another example of the ‘deep state’ attacking him and, by extension, them.

Fox and other conservative media will not air Trump’s mugshot nor discuss the details of the case. It will be decried as politicization.

If this is correct, an arrest will not hurt Trump. Indeed, it may even help him.

Can Trump Overcome the Arrest in the General Election?

I have argued repeatedly on this website that Trump will likely beat Ron DeSantis in the primary. Insofar as DeSantis is running as Trump-lite figure, I see no reason why GOP voters would take that over the real thing. DeSantis offers no real choice beyond style, and the charismatic Trump badly outclasses the bland DeSantis.

The bigger issue is the arrest’s potential ramifications in the general election. The general is still decided by swing voters. The US is indeed polarized between right and left, but crucially, both parties still poll over 45% in US general elections, leaving centrist and swing voters to decide elections.

Neither party routinely wins a definitive majority, and the Electoral College has allowed the Republicans to stay competitive even if Democrats win the popular vote. 

These remaining swing voters tend to be educated women concentrated in the suburbs. Trump has traditionally struggled with this demographic because of his regularly harsh comments about women and their appearance. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and 2020. It seems likely he will do so again in 2024. 

One can already foresee the commercials from the campaign of current Democratic President Joseph Biden. They will emphasize again and again that Trump is a criminal. He was impeached twice, which has not happened to any other US president.

He may also be indicted, complete with a mugshot and fingerprint. That imagery will show up on American televisions for months, hammering away on theme that Trump is not fit for the office. Trump’s previous vote totals and his weak coattails suggest it will work.

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MORE: What Trump Getting Arrested Could Look Like

Trump’s arrest will be heavily hyped in the media, but it is unlikely actually to change the race. Were DeSantis running against a normal candidate, that candidate’s arrest would be disqualifying. But Trump’s intense, cult-like bond with his voters is well-established.

His arrest is more likely to verify the premises of that bond than challenge it. The real question looms over the general then, where Trump is on track to lose the popular vote, as he did before. His arrest will make that more likely.

Dr. Robert E. Kelly ( is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 



  1. Andreas Brecht

    March 21, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    Trump will again lose the dead peoples’ vote

  2. len

    March 21, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Who makes this s**t up?
    Looks like the indictment (if it even materializes) will have the same effect as the impeachments, zero. Because both are bogus attempts to permanently dethrone Trump. Won’t happen.

  3. Fred Leander

    March 21, 2023 at 4:51 pm

    Trump lost the election due to his three major statements – any of which would make the capitalist US institutions go bananas:

    1. He would enforce USA’s immigration laws (which would reduce the influx of cheap labour), thereby opening for higher wages for US citizens.

    2. By taxation he would force US industry to move production back to the US, thereby reducing its profits by manufacturing in low-cost countries, at the same time increasing the number of jobs for US citizens.

    3. He would “normalize” the connection with Russia. For the US establishment this was possibly his most “dangerous” wish as it would imply a reduction in US defense spending and its tool for the aggressive neo-colonialism and aim to control the world’s resources – and the expansion of NATO.

    It’s a great pity that the US voters did not understand this. Or did they?

  4. Rick

    March 21, 2023 at 8:58 pm

    Those who think trump will escape his criminality are whistling past the graveyard. Sit back and enjoy porky twisting in the wind.

  5. Ezra Teter

    March 21, 2023 at 11:25 pm

    I lived in Brazil when Lula was arrested on Trumped up charges and convicted in a kangaroo court. Before this moment, I was highly critical of him but he is probably my favorite mainstream politician in the world. His position on the U.S. “support” for Ukraine is the most correct I have heard any statesman say: it is sinful that the U.S. is spending an amount of money on weapons for a war that could end world hunger for several years. Biden also has to contend with the coming recession which will almost certainly be going full blast during the election next year. The public support for his ability to manage the economy is already woefully low for a president living through such a “good” and “strong” one. If Ukraine is on their backs because they have depleted NATO ammunition stocks that is a double blow against Biden that would favor even the most repugnant Republican. I won’t vote for the G.O.P. because I strongly oppose its immigration, tax, and foreign policy but I also won’t for the Democrats for the same reason. My plan is to vote for the local ordinances and leave the rest of my ballots blank because they are all lying, warmongering thieves.

  6. GhostTomahawk

    March 22, 2023 at 12:57 am


    Beat Biden? Biden won’t be able to guide in the basement and take amphetamines for his debates this time. Everyone sees thru his act now. The democrats are going to turn on him and it’ll be a race to see who they destroy first.

  7. Jim Higgins

    March 22, 2023 at 9:37 am

    Trump 2024 victory regardless of the Fix by Democrats.

  8. The Past

    March 22, 2023 at 2:55 pm

    Robert Kelly is a buffoon! Any vegetable could beat Biden!

  9. Omega 13

    March 22, 2023 at 3:29 pm

    The only way Trump would lose in 2024 is if the Dems cheated harder than they did in 2020.

    Can ANYONE honestly say that Biden got sixteen million more votes than Chocolate Jesus Obama from a campaign in his basement? Or rallies that drew 20 people?

    Didn’t think so. Democrats cheat. It’s what they do.

  10. Jon

    March 27, 2023 at 8:38 pm

    Regardless of who runs against the Democrats, IF the CHEATING and denial of being able to vote in Republican districts is allowed to occur again, the outcome will be the same.

    Only clueless Elitists are breathlessly working to ignore the huge majority of American citizens who supported Trump in the last Presidential election.

    The huge number of messages being pushed by the Elitist Republicans and the hidden power bloc in Washington DC to eliminate Trump tells the rest of America that the underworld powers want nothing to do with Trump and the want to avoid a huge powerful economy again that is almost impossible to manipulate.

    Beware America, the true traitors are again busy at work to destroy America.

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