Trump critics fear indictment will boost reelection bid
published : 31 Mar 2023 at 05:45
WASHINGTON - Donald Trump's adversaries have long called for him to face criminal charges but some fear the first-ever prosecution of a former US president could be a loser that undermines more consequential cases.
On Thursday a New York grand jury voted to indict the twice-impeached Republican leader, who is running again for president, over a $130,000 hush money scheme to silence a porn star shopping her story of a tryst with him in 2006.
Trump supporters and critics alike have voiced doubts over the legal merits of the case, which turns on whether the payment to Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election counted as an illicit contribution to his campaign.
Washington-watchers are focused on the effect the charges could have on Trump's third bid for the White House, and in particular on the reaction of his likely opponents for the 2024 Republican nomination.
Detractors worry that if Trump were cleared in a campaign-finance case similar to the prosecution that Democrat John Edwards defeated in 2012, it could make it easier to cast any future indictment as a "witch hunt."
The charges will also likely juice turnout among Trump's base, say analysts, catapulting him to victory in the nomination race, known as the presidential primary.
Long before the indictment vote, Ron DeSantis, Trump's biggest likely challenger for the nod, was already criticizing the case while being careful to repeat its most salacious details, joking that he didn't "know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star."
- 'In-kind gift' -
The veiled swipe triggered an immediate backlash from Team Trump, with the ex-president himself insinuating, without evidence, that the Florida governor may soon face sexual misconduct allegations from an underage man.
The smear was not taken seriously, demonstrating that it is possible for Trump's opponents to needle him and live to tell the tale. But don't expect a stampede of Republicans to follow suit.
Nicholas Creel, a political analyst at Georgia College and State University, said Trump's base in the "Grand Old Party" (GOP) was "simply too bought-in" to abandon him.
"Even now, we see Trump's Republican competitors, such as former vice president Pence, actively defending him in this scandal instead of using it to attack him for his own gain," he told AFP.
"This indicates that Trump's GOP rivals fully understand how his base has an unshakable cult-like devotion to him, one that isn't letting up any time soon."
That fealty has been exemplified by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which has reprised the role it assumed during Trump's presidency as his unstinting rearguard.
A trio of House committee chairmen has called on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to testify before lawmakers -- a stunning intervention in an ongoing case -- accusing him of pursuing "sham" charges because Trump is running for president.
In the Senate, Trump loyalist Ted Cruz, a former presidential rival, said on his podcast the prosecution "could be the single biggest in-kind gift to the Donald Trump campaign of this entire cycle."
- 'Undying support' -
On the left, figures like former White House strategist David Axelrod have characterized the hush money scandal as the least significant of four criminal probes of Trump.
Nerves are said to be jangling in Trumpworld over potential racketeering and conspiracy charges in a much more consequential probe of the 76-year-old billionaire's efforts to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results.
And a quasi-independent federal prosecutor is overseeing historic investigations into Trump's mishandling of classified documents and involvement in the 2021 insurrection.
"Trump getting indicted should absolutely ruin his presidential aspirations. It should. But based on the undying support from his base, I do not believe it will," Amani Wells-Onyioha, a Democratic election strategist, told AFP.
"In fact, I think it will give him a surge in the polls and cause his base to rally around him even more."
But the tide of Republican opinion is showing the first signs of turning, even in the House, as the party's push for expansion in 2024 is overshadowed by Trump's mushrooming scandals.
Chip Roy, one of the most right-wing lawmakers who recently endorsed DeSantis for president, called into the influential conservative commentator Glenn Beck's radio show last week to discuss what was then a possible Trump indictment.
"Look, at the end of the day, you cannot walk away from the fact that the former president clearly paid a porn star off to hush up right before an election," the Republican said.
"Correct," the host replied.