Analysis: How Trump will use Stormy Daniels case to fire up his campaign for 2024 election
March 21 (Reuters) - Donald Trump will try to turn any indictment to his advantage by stoking anger among core supporters over what they see as the weaponization of the justice system, though it may also push more Republicans tired of the drama around him to look for another presidential candidate.
A Manhattan grand jury could bring charges as soon as this week against the former Republican president for alleged hush money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford.
While the prosecution of a former president is unprecedented in U.S. history and places Trump in legal peril, it will likely be viewed by his most loyal supporters as politically motivated and only harden their determination to back him in the 2024 Republican primary, party officials, strategists and political analysts told Reuters.
"I think this will strengthen the resolve of his supporters," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist who represented Trump in many media appearances during the 2020 presidential campaign.
But to win the party's nomination, Trump will likely have to broaden his support beyond the 25%-30% of the Republican electorate generally thought to be in his corner no matter what, especially if the field of Republican candidates narrows in the coming months. An indictment could make it difficult for him to broaden his appeal.
Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said some Republicans could be swayed by the charges to back Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or another potential candidate without Trump's legal baggage, which has grown considerably since he left the White House in 2021.
"It’s not good for Trump, the question is how bad for Trump it is," said Sabato. "There could be multiple indictments ... it begins to add up to a major problem."
Trump's campaign has accused the Manhattan District Attorney's office, as well as prosecutors pursuing separate cases against him in Georgia and at the federal level, of doing the bidding of Democrats out to stop his re-election campaign.
People close to Trump said his campaign would seek to frame the indictment as proof that all prosecutions - including his two impeachments in Congress - are unjustified attempts by the "Deep State" to undermine him and his supporters.
Trump will have more social media outlets to get his message across after YouTube became the latest platform to reinstate him on Friday. Trump was cut off from YouTube, Facebook and Twitter following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol. He has now been reinstated on all three, giving him a powerful megaphone to rally his base, as he did effectively during his 2016 White House run.
It is unclear how Trump's rivals for the Republican nomination will approach the indictment, although several have already made clear they view any attempt to charge Trump as politically motivated.
Sam DeMarco, chair of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania's Allegheny County, said candidates will likely allude to the need for less drama without explicitly calling Trump out.
DeSantis got a taste of that on Monday when he criticized what he said was the politicization of the Manhattan DA's office but also took a veiled swipe at his rival. Trump responded aggressively with an innuendo-filled post on his Truth Social platform.
DeMarco said Republicans would view the Manhattan indictment as political, given that federal prosecutors reviewed the Daniels case in 2018 and decided not to charge Trump, although it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president.
Republicans would take a similar view of any charges arising out of the ongoing investigation in Fulton County, Georgia, into Trump's effort to overturn his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden there, said DeMarco, who plans to vote for DeSantis should he run.
Trump has defied predictions of his demise numerous times since he launched his bid for the White House in 2015. Sometimes called "Teflon Don" for his record of skirting accountability, Trump once bragged that he could gun down someone in the middle of Manhattan and not face consequences.
Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite the emergence of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape in which he made vulgar comments about women. And in 2018, when he was president, he paid no apparent political price for the Stormy Daniels affair, even as his lawyer went to prison for arranging the payments and pointed the finger at Trump.
Trump remains the front-runner in the 2024 Republican field, with the support of 44% of Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Monday, ahead of DeSantis' 30% support.
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