Former President Donald Trump was indicted on Thursday by federal prosecutors investigating his handling of classified documents. What will that mean for the 2024 White House race, where Trump has a big lead in polls for the Republican primary?
Analysts are predicting that the indictment could help him in the GOP primary, but not in the November 2024 election vs. President Joe Biden.
“We continue to think that indictments are a neutral to positive factor for Trump in a primary setting, while being a serious vulnerability when the general election rolls around,” Tobin Marcus, an Evercore ISI analyst, wrote in a note on Friday.
Marcus said the “semi-official Republican Party message about this case will be that this is a grave abuse of power by Biden’s [Justice Department] and a blatant double standard with Biden not facing charges for his own document issue.”
He added: “Trump’s challengers will be left to make bank-shot electability arguments while condemning the prosecution itself, and we doubt it will rapidly erode his lead.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is second in polling but still about 30 points behind Trump, criticized the new indictment in a tweet, saying the “weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.” He also brought up former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as well as Biden’s son, asking: “Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?”
Another GOP presidential hopeful, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, offered a similar reaction, telling Fox News that there has been a “weaponization” of the Justice Department against the former president over the last several years.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who entered the Republican presidential primary two months ago, was somewhat out on his own with his reaction as he called for Trump to end his campaign.
Trump’s position in GOP primary polls improved after his indictment on March 31 by a Manhattan grand jury over his alleged role in hush-money payments. His lead over DeSantis, which was between 15 and 17 points in the days just before that indictment, grew to about 32 points in mid-April.
Because “no one plays grievance politics better than Trump,” said Cowen Washington Research Group’s Chris Krueger, the indictment “could help with his base.” But Krueger suggested the latest legal development and Trump’s “all-caps responses” to it likely will hurt the former president’s standing with independent voters.
Trump’s reactions to the indictment have included a post in all capital letters on his Truth Social platform in which he wrote: “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN. THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS TOTALLY CORRUPT.”
Another analyst, Pangaea Policy’s Terry Haines, said he thinks the new indictment “increases the already substantial likelihood that Trump won’t again be president” and also “increases the likelihood that Trump won’t be the Republican nominee.”
The former president’s GOP rivals will end up deciding to “paint Trump as unfit for office even while they raise questions about the appropriateness of prosecuting a former president,” Haines said in a note.
“Forget the meaningless national ‘beauty contest’ polling,” Haines said. “In early primary states where the nomination will begin to take shape, it’s roughly Trump 40% versus the field at 60%, and that’s with more than 6 months before the first votes, an eternity in politics. What that means is over half of Republican primary voters *already* want a Trump alternative — and to win, not engage in another Trump vanity show.”
Betting market Smarkets was giving Trump a 60% chance of becoming the 2024 GOP presidential nominee on Friday, down from 67% on Tuesday and Wednesday.
His chance of winning the general election for president was 22% as of Friday, down from Tuesday-Wednesday levels of 24% to 25%, according to Smarkets.