Will Trump, facing competitors and indictments, nab another presidential nomination?

The second debate of the Republican primary saw petty infighting that seemed to favor the absent frontrunner.

Donald Trump
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He has been indicted in four separate cases, on 91 felony counts. He lost the 2020 presidential election, and the candidates he endorsed in 2022 for the most part fared poorly. He has been described as the GOP’s past, and been urged to make way for a younger generation of conservatives.

Yet as the 2024 election approaches, Donald Trump is in the best political shape since launching his third presidential campaign last November. Just days after one poll (an outlier, arguably) showed him defeating President Biden by 10 points in a potential national election, his rivals for the GOP nomination engaged in a debate widely derided across the political spectrum as a chaotic showcase of second-rate political talents.

And on Thursday, the House began an impeachment inquiry focusing on Biden’s alleged involvement with his son Hunter’s business dealings. Evidence for such involvement is essentially nonexistent, but the public proceedings will do little to help an already unpopular president.

Those dynamics could shift, but for now they are aligned in ways that benefit the 45th — and possibly the 47th — president .

Read more on Yahoo News: Trump pulls even with Biden in Yahoo News/YouGov poll

Debate no-show wins debate

From left, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott.

Trump did not show up to the first debate, held last month in Milwaukee. Some thought that was a mistake, but his decision to skip the second debate, held at the Ronald Reagan President Library in Simi Valley, Calif., was quickly validated, as the candidates on stage shouted at each other, interrupted the moderators, traded insults and generally did little to convince GOP primary voters that their versions of Trumpism were better than the original article.

Establishment Republicans have been abandoning one-time favorite Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for months, as early expectations for his candidacy turned out to have been largely unrealistic. As in the first GOP debate, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley made the most convincing case for herself as the best candidate to take on Trump.

Even so, she trails him by 50 points in national polls. Though he has seen his own standing plummet, DeSantis remains in second place. He only trails Trump by 40.

“If these people are actually running for president something’s gotta give,” Cook Political Report analyst Leah Askarinam said in a post-debate roundtable hosted by FiveThirtyEight.

On Wednesday night, nothing did.

Read more on Yahoo News: Frontrunner Trump's absence at 'hot mess' 2nd GOP debate leaves Haley, DeSantis and Scott to spar for 2nd place

Investigating the Bidens

Witnesses at the impeachment inquiry hearing into President Biden
Witnesses at the impeachment inquiry hearing into President Biden on Thursday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters) (REUTERS)

Thursday morning saw the House Oversight Committee open its impeachment inquiry against President Biden. At the heart of the investigation is Biden’s son Hunter, who has struggled with substance abuse and is facing charges related to a gun he owned. Hunter Biden sought to use his family name in business dealings in China and Ukraine, and Republicans charge that Joe Biden was also involved in the influence campaign.

“At least 10 times, Joe Biden lied to the American people that he never spoke to his family about their business dealings,” Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican and the committee chair, said at the opening of the hearing on Thursday.

Yet the evidence seems to be highly circumstantial: Joe Biden appears to have been aware of some of his son’s dealings and arguably could have done more to dissuade him from getting involved with foreign corporations. Even one of the Republicans’ own top witnesses, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, said that filing articles of impeachment would not be merited by what the GOP investigation has unearthed thus far.

Still, no president wants to be impeached. And conservatives have charged that while the Justice Department has zealously prosecuted Trump, it has been far more cautious in pursuing what they call “the Biden Crime Family.”

If nothing else, the investigation will allow Trump’s supporters on the Oversight Committee to make that case over and over again. “He has done a good job persuading people that the Justice Department is a partisan organization.” says Republican political strategist Whit Ayres.

If nothing else, impeachment will serve to amplify that grievance, allowing Trump to play his favorite role: the victim.

Read more on Yahoo News: Trump demands court ignore DOJ request for gag order, from Fox News

Too soon for a coronation?

TOPSHOT - Former US President and 2024 presidential hopeful Donald Trump gestures while speaking at Drake Enterprises, an automotive parts manufacturer and supplier, in Clinton, Michigan, on September 27, 2023. Both Trump and Biden are visiting Michigan this week, in what is their first major skirmish of a long fight for voters in working-class swing states ahead of the November 2024 election. Biden on September 26, 2023, became the first sitting president to stand on a picket line, supporting calls by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union for the Big Three Detroit carmakers to raise wages. And Trump is skipping a debate in California with his trailing Republican rivals on September 27 to head instead for a small, non-union car parts factory on the other side of Detroit. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher / AFP) (Photo by MATTHEW HATCHER/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump may be in a highly enviable political position today, but the primary season has only begun, and voters’ preferences can shift overnight, as DeSantis and his faltering campaign have discovered.

“The coronation of Trump may be accurate but there are so many things that could happen between now and next July,” Ayres told Yahoo News, adding that he was "hesitant to make a definitive statement” about who would be accepting the Republican nomination for president next summer in Milwaukee.

Wednesday saw Trump found guilty of fraud in a civil case relating to his business. Any one of the four criminal cases against him could send him to prison. And mounting a defense has been expensive, not to mention time consuming.

And, of course, not a single vote has been cast — and won’t be cast for many months. Ayres sees a narrow path for a non-Trump candidate who can do well, if not win, the Iowa caucus and then defeat Trump in New Hampshire, with an independently-minded electorate and an open primary.

He believes the candidate best positioned to walk that tightrope is Haley.

Read more on Yahoo News: Nikki Haley is most feared candidate by Biden campaign: report, from NextShark