Donald Trump indicted: Can he turn Manhattan grand jury vote into 2024 gold?

Donald Trump
FILE – Former President Donald Trump arrives to board his airplane for a trip to a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, at West Palm Beach International Airport, March 25, 2023, in West Palm Beach, Fla. While he’s far from the only U.S. president to be dogged by legal and ethical scandals, Trump now occupies a unique place in history as the first-ever indicted on criminal charges. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File) Evan Vucci/AP

Donald Trump indicted: Can he turn Manhattan grand jury vote into 2024 gold?

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Former President Donald Trump’s long-anticipated New York indictment, handed down Thursday, will test whether he can continue to defy the laws of political gravity.

The rumors of the Manhattan grand jury indictment, stoked by Trump himself, rallied the Republican base behind the former president, who has already announced for 2024.

DESANTIS VS. TRUMP AS THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE

Rank-and-file Republican voters are animated by the belief that the criminal justice system has been weaponized against conservatives. Trump’s argument is that if this can be done to him, it could happen to any of his supporters.

“A former president, a current candidate and my friend President Donald J. Trump is a victim of a corrupt and distorted version of the American justice system and history,” Trump attorney Alina Habba said in a statement afterward. “He will be vindicated.”

Trump himself described the indictment as “Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history.”

“The Democrats have cheated countless times over the decades, including spying on my campaign, but weaponizing our justice system to punish a political opponent, who just so happens to be a President of the United States and by far the leading Republican candidate for President, has never happened before,” he continued. “Ever.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is viewed as a partisan figure. The legal case is believed by some experts to not be very strong. The issues at hand — the charges are believed to be related to the payment of hush money to a porn star — are less consequential than those involving Jan. 6, the 2020 election, or Trump’s handling of classified documents.

But there is no guarantee that this will continue to redound to Trump’s benefit. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is not a declared candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. But the expected contender has already displayed a willingness to relitigate Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, a story that might not age well with social conservatives. And central to the Florida governor’s appeal is that he is a no-drama alternative to Trump.

Trump, by contrast, is leaning into the drama. He has denounced Bragg as the latest of his Democratic tormentors. He held his first rally since the indictment reports began circulating in Waco, Texas, the site of the deadly federal raid on the Branch Davidians’ compound in 1993.

Nearly any other candidate would have to suspend their campaign in response to a development of this nature. Trump could easily use his mugshot or images of his perp walk to galvanize the Republican base. He has denied reports that he would welcome being shot during an arrest, but many in his orbit are seeking to turn his legal woes into a political windfall.

“The unprecedented election interference from corrupt Socialist District Attorney Alvin Bragg is a political witch-hunt and a dark day for America,” House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said in a statement.

President Joe Biden and the White House have remained quiet about Trump’s latest legal issues. Many Republicans allege the indictment is designed to aid Biden politically, pointing to the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation during the 2016 campaign.

Trump has survived two impeachments, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, his 2020 reelection defeat, and his role in a disappointing midterm election result for Republicans with his hold on the base intact.

It is possible that even if an indictment helps Trump in the Republican primaries, it won’t have the same effect in a general election. Trump will carry the distinction of being the first president ever to be indicted, a marker that does not seem likely to enable him to win back suburban voters who swung against him four years ago.

Both Biden and DeSantis are likely to play up the chaotic nature of Trump’s presidency. The headlines surrounding a criminal trial will help feed that narrative.

There is also the possibility that the Manhattan grand jury will only be the beginning of the legal troubles Trump will face, with other investigations brewing elsewhere on multiple fronts.

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But for now, Trump is betting he can benefit politically from a legal development that would doom any more conventional campaign. To him, the grand jury vote is the ultimate proof of his argument that he is the victim of a sustained witch hunt.

The question is how long Republican primary voters will agree.

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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