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Trump indictment throws 2024 into uncharted territory

Donald Trump’s indictment puts the next US presidential election in a historic situation, and raises profound questions about the Republican party’s future.

April 1, 2023
By Jill Colvin
1 April 2023

The historic indictment of former president Donald Trump thrust the 2024 US presidential election into uncharted territory, raising the remarkable prospect that the leading contender for the Republican nomination will seek the White House while also facing trial for criminal charges in New York.

In an acknowledgement of the sway the former president holds with the voters who will decide the GOP contest next year, those eyeing a primary challenge to Trump were quick to criticise the indictment. Without naming Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called the move “un-American”. Former vice-president Mike Pence, whose life was threatened after Trump incited an insurrection at the US Capitol, told CNN the charges were “outrageous”.

That posture speaks to the short-term incentives for Republicans to avoid anything that might antagonise Trump’s loyal base. But the indictment raises profound questions for the party’s future, particularly as Trump faces the possibility of additional charges soon in Atlanta and Washington. While that might galvanise his supporters, the turmoil could threaten Republicans’ standing in the very swing-state suburbs that have abandoned the party in three successive elections, eroding its grip on the White House, Congress and key governorships.

Trump has spent four decades skirting this type of legal jeopardy and expressed confidence again late on Thursday, blaming the charges on “Thugs and Radical Left Monsters”.


Trump was “ready to fight”, his lawyer, Joe Tacopina, said on Fox News.

Trump is expected to surrender to authorities next week on charges connected to hush money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to women who alleged extramarital sexual encounters. For now, it remains unclear how the development will resonate with voters. Polls show Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and his standing has not faltered, even amid widespread reporting on the expected charges.

Indeed, Trump’s campaign began fundraising off the news almost immediately after it broke, emailing supporters with the all-caps subject line “BREAKING: PRESIDENT TRUMP INDICTED.”

At Trump’s first rally of the 2024 campaign, held in Texas at the weekend, supporters expressed disgust with the investigation and insisted the case wouldn’t affect his chances.

“It’s a joke,” said Patti Murphy, 63, of Fort Worth. “It’s just another way of them trying to get him out of their way.”

Others in the crowd said their support for Trump had been waning since he left the White House, but the looming indictment made them more likely to support him in 2024 because they felt his anger had been justified.

At the same time, there is little chance a criminal trial will help Trump in a general election, particularly with independents, who have grown tired of his chaos. That has provided an opening for alternatives such as DeSantis, who are expected to paint themselves as champions of the former president’s policies, but without his baggage.

But there were no immediate signs the party was ready to use the indictment to move past him. Instead, Republicans, including members of Congress and Trump’s rivals, rushed to his defence. As well as DeSantis, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who has already declared her candidacy, blasted the indictment as “more about revenge than it is about justice”. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who is mulling a run, accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system”.

Trump, meanwhile, has tried to turn the public against the case. On March 18, amid reports that police in New York were preparing for a possible indictment, he declared on his social media site that he expected to be arrested within days.

While that never came to pass, Trump used the time to highlight the case’s widely discussed weaknesses and to attack Bragg with a barrage of personal and racist attacks.

Trump also sought to project an air of strength. The night of his post, he travelled with aides to a college wrestling championship, where he spent hours greeting supporters and posing for photos. And last weekend, Trump held a rally in Waco, Texas, where he railed against the case in front of thousands of supporters.

People who have spoken with Trump in recent weeks have described him as both angry and unbothered about possible charges. Indeed, Trump has at times appeared in denial about the gravity of the situation. He and his aides were caught off-guard by the news on Thursday. And during the plane ride home from his Texas rally, Trump told reporters he believed the case had been dropped.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I can tell you that they have no case. So I think the case is – I think they’ve already dropped the case, from what I understand. I think it’s been dropped,” he said.

Beyond the Manhattan case, Trump faces several other investigations, including a Georgia inquiry into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and a federal probe into his alleged mishandling of classified documents.

It remains unclear how the public might respond if Trump ends up facing charges in additional cases, particularly if some lead to convictions and others are dismissed.

An indictment – or even a conviction – would not bar Trump from running for president or serving as the Republican nominee.

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