Would being indicted actually help Trump politically?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Former President Donald Trump is expected to be indicted soon in New York on charges that he illegally covered up a $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

While the specific charges aren’t yet known, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is reportedly preparing to indict Trump for allegedly breaking the law while trying to keep his relationship with Daniels secret. There’s nothing inherently illegal in giving someone money to not disclose a supposed affair, but legal experts say the effort to hide the payment could violate laws against falsifying business records, and the funds themselves could represent an illegal contribution to Trump’s campaign. The former president has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and denied having an affair with Daniels.

Over the weekend, Trump claimed in an all-caps post on Truth Social that he was going to be arrested on Tuesday, calling on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” Concerns about potential violence from Trump’s supporters has prompted authorities to ramp up security around the Manhattan courthouse in anticipation of Trump's potential arrest.

A criminal indictment against a former president would be unprecedented, but the charges — or even an eventual conviction — would not disqualify Trump from becoming president again if he won the election in 2024. There has also been significant debate among experts about the likelihood that Trump could be found guilty — particularly on the potential campaign finance charge, which rests on what the New York Times called a “risky legal theory involving a complex interplay of laws.”

Why there’s debate

As significant as the legal questions surrounding the case are, news of the likely indictment has also sparked a parallel debate over what it might mean for Trump’s political standing as he attempts to reclaim the presidency.

Commentators from both ends of the political spectrum argue that being indicted may actually help Trump, who has shown a remarkable ability to weather a long list of personal and legal scandals that probably would have proved fatal to any other politician. They make the case that charges would invigorate Trump’s MAGA base and add significant fuel to his core message that he — and, by extension, his supporters — are being persecuted by powerful forces looking to stifle their political movement. There is also the simple fact that the indictment and potential trial to follow will once again put Trump at the center of the political conversation, robbing potential rivals like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of the attention they’d need to mount a serious challenge in the GOP primary.

But skeptics say the case has the potential to do real damage to Trump’s reelection chances. They argue that any anger over the indictment would come from people who are already squarely in his camp, whereas swing voters are more likely to be turned off by yet another Trump scandal. The charges may also give DeSantis and other GOP challengers an opening to question Trump’s electability, which may be his biggest vulnerability among Republican voters. Others say the widely held image of Trump as politically invulnerable ignores his actual electoral record, which includes his own failed reelection bid and lackluster results for Republicans in every election cycle since he took office.

What’s next

The Daniels case is just one of several ongoing investigations into Trump, some of which could carry much more serious potential legal risks for him. The Justice Department is investigating his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and his potential mishandling of classified documents after leaving office. He is also facing an inquiry in Georgia surrounding his efforts to overturn the state’s results in the 2020 election, a civil lawsuit alleging improper practices by his business, and a defamation case filed by a woman who claims Trump raped her in the 1990s.


Republican voters will rally to Trump’s defense

“Republicans might rally to his defense even after millions had concluded after the GOP’s midterm disappointment that it is time for a new nominee. Democrats have used legal investigations and impeachment against Mr. Trump for six years, and each time it failed to knock him out. As we have argued all along, the proper way to defeat Mr. Trump is through the ballot box.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

Trump will have to do a lot more than fire up the MAGA base to win

“What charges against Trump are certain to do is inflame his most devoted supporters. They will be furious that anyone would dare try to hold Trump accountable, view it as an act of political persecution, and make a great deal of noise about it. But no one should mistake the vociferousness of this group for size. They’ve always been noisy. They’ve always been a minority.” — David A. Graham, Atlantic

Trump always benefits whenever he’s the focus of attention

“The more people in politics who treat Trump and his travails as the one abiding subject of American political life, the more Donald Trump benefits.” — Michael Brendan Dougherty, National Review

Legal troubles could fuel concerns about Trump’s ability to defeat Joe Biden

“If Republican elites, or even rank-and-file conservatives, are worried about the electability of their 2024 nominee, Trump’s ensnarement in multiple criminal investigations could become a source of strength for DeSantis.” — Ed Kilgore, New York

The indictment puts Trump’s primary rivals in a no-win situation

“An indictment would potentially upend the 2024 Republican presidential primary, with Trump browbeating opponents to support his claims of innocence and portraying any failure to do so as siding with what he sees as a partisan investigation for political gain. The situation presents Trump rivals … with a dicey dilemma. [They] would have a strong interest in preventing the 2024 primary campaign from revolving exclusively around Trump portraying himself as a political martyr.” — Stephen Collinson, CNN

Trump always finds a way to survive, and sometimes to thrive, amid scandal

“For the duration of the Trump era, Trump has sought to turn one seemingly disqualifying scandal after another into his benefit. Sometimes he’s succeeded (the Access Hollywood tape was not the dagger everyone expected it to be), sometimes he’s struggled (the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 remains largely unkind). In each case, he’s survived.” — David Siders and Adam Wren, Politico

The idea that Trump is politically invulnerable doesn’t square with the facts

“There’s no reason to believe that Trump’s arrest would profoundly alter the current political landscape. For the last seven years, he has declared himself the victim of a variety of ‘witch hunts.’ … Even if those earlier scandals didn’t sink Trump, they certainly didn’t make him stronger: He became the first one-term president in nearly 30 years and ended his time in office with the lowest presidential approval rating in modern American history.” — Alex Shephard, New Republic

Republican voters have stuck with Trump though much bigger scandals

“At the very least, it’s hard to see how controversy stemming from criminal charges would cause Trump’s support in the Republican base to plummet. … Trump’s followers have stuck with him through countless scandals and the crises, and didn't defect after he engaged in many legally and socially questionable acts.” — Zeeshan Aleem, MSNBC

Trump is at his weakest when he’s obsessing over his personal grievances

“Mr. Trump has unleashed a series of personal, unproven and provocative attacks against investigators, Democrats and fellow Republicans. … It was the kind of behavior that swing voters and moderate Republicans tend to dislike most about Mr. Trump: the long tail of chaos that often drags behind him; an inclination to focus on personal attacks instead of policy solutions; and his inability, particularly in 2020, to settle on a forward-looking message to explain his candidacy.” — Michael C. Bender, New York Times

The case won’t have any impact one way or the other on the 2024 election

“Bottom line: Public opinion on Trump has barely budged, no matter the controversy he’s facing.” — Multiple authors, NBC News

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to the360@yahoonews.com.

Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images, Yuki Iwamura/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images