Trump indictment provides popularity boost ahead of 2024 White House bid

A Fox News poll published Thursday gives the former president a 30-point lead over his Republican rival Ron DeSantis while prosecutors negotiate his surrender to the authorities

Former president Donald Trump during a rally in Waco, Texas on March 25.
Former president Donald Trump during a rally in Waco, Texas on March 25.BRANDON BELL (AFP)

The more the legal net tightens around Donald Trump, the greater the former president’s approval rating among Republican voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election. This trend was confirmed by the most recent poll, conducted by the conservative Fox News network, a few hours before the announcement of Trump’s indictment by a grand jury in New York on charges related to a secret payment to former porn actress Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged extramarital affair during the 2016 race for the White House. The poll, released Thursday, gave Trump a 30-point lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, double his February advantage. The historic indictment, far from jeopardizing his political future, could serve to hand Trump a timely boost in his 2024 bid to return to the Oval Office.

The appearance of the former president at the Manhattan district attorney’s office, possibly with his hands cuffed in front like a white-collar criminal, will be the next step in the process. In a case as potentially explosive as this — the first indictment of an active or retired U.S. president in history — the aim is for Trump’s surrender to the authorities to be as orderly as possible: that is to say, without producing any song and dance beyond the former president’s standard rhetoric. On Thursday, the prosecution officials were involved in negotiations with Trump’s lawyers “to coordinate his surrender to the Manhattan D.A.’s Office for arraignment on a Supreme Court indictment, which remains under seal,” a spokesman said. CNN reported that Trump faces over 30 counts of business fraud for allegedly passing off the payment to Daniels as a “legal expense” on the books of the Trump Organization. The statement from the district attorney’s office said further information will be provided when the date of Trump’s arraignment is set.

Donald Trump speaks during a 2024 election campaign rally in Waco, Texas, March 25, 2023.
Donald Trump speaks during a 2024 election campaign rally in Waco, Texas, March 25, 2023. SUZANNE CORDEIRO (AFP)

Trump has repeatedly claimed he is being subjected to a “witch hunt” and on March 18 he issued a call to his supporters to stage protests against the grand jury proceedings, conjuring images of the assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump loyalists in January 2021. Authorities in New York, fearing a repetition of that violence, have been examining contingency plans for weeks, including the mobilization of the city’s entire police department, which is the largest in the United States. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who provided testimony before the grand jury, said Thursday that the former president’s indictment “is not the end of this chapter, but, rather, just the beginning.” Cohen served prison time after pleading guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations, for facilitating payouts to Daniels and former model Karen McDougal, whom Trump also denies having had an affair with. The payment to Daniels was made in October 2016, 12 days before the election that handed Trump the keys to the White House.

Although the prosecution has remained scrupulously silent about the timelines, one of Trump’s legal team, Joe Tacopina, told NBC Thursday that they expect his client to attend the Manhattan district attorney’s office early next week. Another lawyer representing the former president, Susan Necheles, specified that he will appear next Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

The grand jury indictment implies only that Trump has been formally charged with one or more crimes so his arrest, whether by voluntary surrender or by force, is just one step in the process. U.S. media reported Thursday that after the hypothetical arrest, it is possible that the former president will be fingerprinted and have his mugshot taken, which could then be released to the press. Trump being booked as a criminal — or consecrated as a victim — could spark a multiplier effect in public opinion among his Republican strongholds.

It remains to be seen, however, whether he agrees to voluntarily present himself. After the grand jury’s decision was made public, Trump again alluded to a perceived political persecution by his Democratic rivals, “thugs and radical left monsters” as he defined them in a message posted on his social network Truth Social, adding in capital letters: “This is an attack on our country the likes of which has never been seen before. It is likewise a continuing attack on our once free and fair elections. The USA is now a third world nation, a nation in serious decline. So sad!”

Trump also stated on Truth Social that he felt he cannot “get a fair trial in New York.” All eyes are now on the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Alvin Bragg, Trump’s nemesis. The case against the former president was gathering dust in his office when Bragg was elected prosecutor during the 2021 Democratic primaries. It was a case inherited from his predecessor, fellow Democrat Cyrus Vance Jr., and was nearly derailed in early 2022 after the two lead investigators resigned over doubts about Bragg’s determination to move the process forward. Many then thought it would be dismissed, but the testimony of Cohen, who has also become a scourge of his former employer, and Daniels reinforced the investigation.

Speaking to CNN, Cohen, a one-time fixer for the former president, said that Trump’s indictment had been “a long time coming,” adding “there’s plenty of corroborating testimony to go around.” Daniels’ attorney Clifford Brewster said in a statement on Twitter that “the indictment of Donald Trump is no cause for joy. The hard work and conscientiousness of the grand jurors must be respected. Now let truth and justice prevail. No one is above the law.”

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, also posted a brief message on social media: “Thank you to everyone for your support and love! I have so many messages coming in that I can’t respond... also don’t want to spill my champagne.”

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