Trump's indictment could mark turning point in 2024 campaign, but not how he predicts: ANALYSIS

The ex-president is popular with GOP voters, but that was before he was charged.

March 30, 2023, 5:56 PM

The bombshell indictment of former President Donald Trump in New York City is history-making, even as much remains currently unknown about the criminal accusations he faces.

Beyond the legal implications, Trump being formally accused of a crime could change the outlook for the still-forming field of Republican presidential candidates in 2024 -- either rallying primary voters primed by his talk of the "deep state" and "retribution" or opening up an unprecedented line of criticism for Trump's rivals.

The indictment itself isn't disqualifying, legally speaking. The U.S. Constitution doesn't prevent people under indictment or criminal investigation from running for the White House, experts have told ABC News, so the former president could still be reelected despite the indictment -- and would still be eligible even if it leads to a conviction, regardless of practical obstacles like potential incarceration.

While the indictment remains under seal, Trump had been under investigation by the Manhattan district attorney over a $130,000 payment he made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public with a claim of an affair, which he denies.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month, Trump said he would "absolutely" continue on with his presidential bid if indicted and suggested it could actually be a boon to his comeback campaign, which he's describing in the language of revenge.

"In 2016, I declared, 'I am your voice,'" Trump told CPAC attendees. "Today, I add, 'I am your warrior. I am your justice.' And for those who have been wronged and betrayed, 'I am your retribution.'"

Given Trump's history of capitalizing on the outrage of his supporters, it's easy to imagine that this indictment will not only become an applause line as he makes appearances across the country but also that this could serve as a tool to boost fundraising -- though it may also shift warier donors to other candidates.

"I wouldn't even think about leaving," Trump told reporters at CPAC. "Probably it will enhance my numbers."

That's a sentiment publicly echoed by Trump's legal team.

"If they bring this case, I believe it will catapult him into the White House," Joe Tacopina said prior to the indictment.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the New Hampshire Republican State Committee's Annual Meeting, Jan. 28, 2023, in Salem, N.H.
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

Even before it was handed down by a Manhattan grand jury, the indictment was something of a litmus test for other leading Republicans. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and others decried it as persecution, but not everyone has weighed in so forcefully.

Another possibility is that the indictment may embolden GOP presidential hopefuls to more freely argue that voters ought to steer the party in the direction of new leadership.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- who, ABC News reported, has privately indicated he'll launch his own campaign in the coming months -- both denounced Trump's indictment before it was announced and swiped at Trump's potential liabilities as a politician.

"Look, I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair. I just can't speak to that," DeSantis said. (Trump has denied wrongdoing, including having an affair with Daniels; his lawyers have said the money he paid her was akin to extortion.)

So far, though, most declared and potential candidates have been very careful in their criticism of the former commander-in-chief, likely for fear of alienating Trump supporters -- a still-influential portion of the electorate.

According to a recent CNN poll, for those who plan to vote in the 2024 Republican presidential primary or caucus, 40% would most likely support Trump.

He has other legal troubles, though.

This indictment is only the first major development in the host of investigations aimed at Trump. In addition to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's case, special counsel Jack Smith is currently investigating Trump's involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as well as his handling of classified material after he left office.

Prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, have also been investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results.

If indictments and charges pile up, the argument that Trump is a distraction to the Republican agenda -- or, worse, a risk to ousting Democrats from Washington -- could be easier to make.

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