Can Donald Trump Keep Indictment Outrage Going Into 2024? – Former President Donald Trump has the potential to turn the New York indictment, something that would end most political candidacies, into a huge win with the Republican base.
Donald Trump and the GOP State of Play
Trump has already united the party behind him against Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. This extends beyond the hardcore MAGA element to Republicans like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
This includes the rest of the 2024 Republican presidential field. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has repeated her claim that the prosecution is about vengeance. Former Vice President Mike Pence has said it is an “outrage.” These are some of the Republicans who are supposed to go the furthest in distancing the GOP from the Trump brand, despite their prominent roles in his administration.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the only Republican hopeful who lays a glove on Trump in the polls, went a step further. He suggested he would not cooperate with an extradition request from Bragg. Trump is a Florida resident and DeSantis constituent.
The general Republican view is that Bragg is a George Soros-linked district attorney who is part of a broader weaponization of the legal system against conservatives, persecuting Trump, while letting violent criminals off the hook. And the indictment comes with Trump already leading DeSantis by 30 points nationally in the latest Fox News poll, with everyone else stuck in the single digits.
Trump’s defiance in the face of the grand jury’s vote and his ability to get his would-be competitors in the Republican Party to fall in line will at least initially remind rank-and-file GOP voters of the pugilistic qualities that originally drew them to him in 2015-16.
Can Trump Run on Outrage Alone?
The only question is how sustainable this all is. The indictment will soon be unsealed. Will the facts get worse? Will there be further indictments involving potentially stronger cases and certainly weightier matters than porn star hush money? Can the outrage Republicans feel over these Trump charges stay strong and continue to overwhelm other desires, like beating President Joe Biden in 2024?
Trump is clearly hopeful that images any other candidate would dearly like to avoid will instead redound to his political benefit. But will Republican voters begin to see them as a distraction?
One of the reasons Trump has been such a political survivor, resilient in the face of even self-inflicted hardships, is that he knows how to power through controversies and live to see the next news cycle. The pace of that change is much more rapid than it was when most of his foes first entered politics.
But this won’t necessarily be a speedy process. Will Trump be able to weather daily headlines about courtroom dramas while trying to wage a viable national campaign? His associates will undoubtedly point to two impeachments as evidence the answer is yes, and they could be correct.
Nevertheless, this seems different and is a theory that might need some real-world testing.
The central argument that Donald Trump has been making is that he personally got a raw deal in 2020 and so have his supporters, something that should be rectified in 2024. The counterargument virtually every White House aspirant not named Trump is making is that the energy devoted to Trump fights could be channeled in more productive directions with different leadership.
The “chaos candidate” argument against Trump failed Jeb Bush. It worked a bit better for Biden in the midst of a pandemic and could serve another Florida Republican governor well this year. These legal proceedings will at a minimum be chaotic, and Trump’s response to them won’t be particularly dignified.
It is, of course, possible that none of this matters. Trump knows how to suck all the oxygen out of the room and make himself the main story. While that hasn’t always worked well for his party — see the midterm elections — it has helped him seem larger than his competition most of the time.
We all know Trump beat 16 candidates for the Republican nomination and then Hillary Clinton. He drew no serious Republican opposition four years later and came within 43,000 votes of beating Biden even after COVID-19 and the government’s response to the virus wrecked the economy. Trump is the Republican frontrunner right now.
If Donald Trump can parlay this indictment into his third straight Republican nomination without sacrificing his ability to win a general election, it will be his greatest political escape act yet.
W. James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and senior writer for the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Antle is also a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.