While the Manhattan district attorney’s case against Donald Trump appears to be helping the former president’s 2024 White House bid in the short run, some analysts don’t see the lift lasting.
“Yes, he’s emboldened politically in the near term. There’s a rallying-around-the-flag effect among the GOP to his indictment,” said Ben Koltun, director of research at Beacon Policy Advisors. Koltun noted that even top potential Republican rivals such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are defending the 45th president and attacking Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg.
“But in the long run, this hurts him,” the Beacon analyst told MarketWatch in an email. The GOP base may be riled up, but other voters are just reminded “why they opposed Trump in the first place,” Koltun said.
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This week’s case might mark the start of a rough legal road for Trump.
Special prosecutor Jack Smith is leading two federal probes, with one focused on Trump’s handling of classified material after he left office, and the other on his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. In addition, an investigation in Georgia’s Fulton County centers on efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn that state’s 2020 election result.
“The Manhattan case may have smoothed the way for the other investigations into Trump,” Koltun said.
“No one wants to be the first person to indict a current or former president. But now that’s done, there may be a greater willingness from the special counsel or Georgia prosecutors to move forward. I think these cases present greater legal and political peril for Trump.”
Matthew Continetti, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said it’s clear that Trump’s poll numbers and fundraising have gotten a boost ever since the first reports came about the indictment in Manhattan.
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“So he’s maintaining his position as the front runner for the Republican nomination, and as long as he’s the center of attention, it’s hard to see how other rivals to the throne are able to knock him out,” Continetti said in a phone interview.
But the AEI expert said he’s watching GOP reactions to other indictments that might come, especially given that commentators from across the political spectrum have criticized Bragg’s case as relatively weak.
“There’s the potential that in the future Trump will be indicted for crimes where the evidence is much stronger against him,” Continetti said. “If the special prosecutor Jack Smith indicts Trump for obstructing justice in relation to the archives, will as many Republicans leap to Trump’s defense?”
Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, suggested Trump might lose support if he’s actually found guilty in the Manhattan case, and Sabato also suggested taking note of the other probes.
“Short term, this is helping Trump solidify his base, raise millions, and gain ground on DeSantis and others. But long term, who can say?” he said in an email.
“Is he found guilty or not guilty? What other indictments may be coming down the pike on matters the public will regard as more serious? Will Republicans begin to think more about choosing an electable candidate, and decide Trump is damaged goods even if they like him?”
When it comes to the 2024 general election, Trump faces the fact that he lost to Joe Biden in 2020 by more than 7 million votes even while he was the incumbent president, said Sabato, who is also a politics professor at the University of Virginia.
“It’s hard to see how he gains a lot more votes after an indictment (or more than one). Trump is also the one Republican who can’t make much of an issue of Biden’s age, since Trump is not far behind,” the professor said.
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