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Will Donald Trump’s indictment help him win the Republican nomination?

The former president’s legal woes will lead to a surge in support for him.

By Katie Stallard

Donald Trump is expected to turn himself in to the Manhattan district attorney’s office tomorrow. He will be arrested. His mugshot and his fingerprints will be taken. We do not know whether he will be handcuffed when he is led into the criminal court.

From there, the judicial process is clear. The judge will read out the charges against the former president, which are currently sealed but are reported to relate to hush money payments to the porn actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 election campaign. Trump denies any wrongdoing. Assuming there is no call for bail to be set, the judge will set a timetable for the next steps in the case and Trump will be released the same day.

The bigger question is what happens outside the court.

“THIS IS AN ATTACK ON OUR COUNTRY THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN BEFORE,” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social on 30 March. “IT IS LIKEWISE A CONTINUING ATTACK ON OUR ONCE FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS.”

[See also: Donald Trump indicted: this spectacle will bolster the narrative that QAnon conjured up]

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Metal barriers have already gone up around the court, where the New York City Police Department is preparing for large crowds outside the hearing. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right Georgia congresswoman, has vowed to be there, appealing on Twitter for others to join her: “We MUST protest the unconstitutional WITCH HUNT!”

Jesse Watters, an anchor for Fox News, could be heard gasping on air when the news broke, and predicted that there would a “major rally-around-the-flag feeling” in support of Trump. The Rupert Murdoch-owned channel, which had previously appeared to be distancing itself from Trump, has swung firmly behind the former president in the days since.

Likewise, the former vice-president Mike Pence, who is also considering his own presidential run and has criticised Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election, condemned the indictment as an “outrage”.

Meanwhile, the Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to pose the greatest challenge to Trump for the Republican nomination, posted on Twitter that the case amounted to the “weaponization of the legal system” and was “un-American”. DeSantis also charitably offered Trump help with the case by tweeting: “Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue”. Yet, the governor’s assistance won’t be necessary; Trump is expected to travel to New York City willingly.

Perversely, this case could help Trump to win the Republican nomination for the presidency as the party faithful and conservative media line up behind him. (Read Gabriel Gatehouse’s excellent piece on how the indictment will only strengthen conspiracists.) Trump is already reinventing his previously lacklustre campaign to portray himself as the victim of persecution and fundraising off the indictment. An email from his campaign team soliciting donations after the announcement urged viewers to “defend our movement from the never-ending witch hunts and WIN the WHITE HOUSE in 2024”.

Yet there are limits to how far this message will resonate beyond the Republican base and it is far from clear that a criminal indictment will help him to win the general election in 2024. The danger is that this case exacerbates the already bitter divisions in American politics and discredits the next presidential election in the eyes of millions of his supporters well before the first vote is even cast.  

[See also: Donald Trump and the art of indictment]

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
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