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Keller @ Large: Criminal charges could help Trump's presidential campaign, not hurt it

CBS Boston 3/21/2023 Jon Keller

BOSTON – Former President Donald Trump is convinced he will be indicted soon.

And while that's never happened in the United States before, there's an excellent chance criminal charges could help the Trump campaign rather than hurt it.

"I think it's building a lot of sympathy for the former president," New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said.

And Trump clearly agrees.

"Our enemies are desperate to stop us because they know we are the only ones who can stop them and they know it very strongly," he said in a recent video.

The latest GOP presidential poll from Morning Consult appears to show Trump enjoying a boost from the news cycle.

How can legal jeopardy be a potential political positive? The past is prologue.

There was clear evidence of President Richard Nixon's guilt in the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. But party leaders saw a need to put it behind them quickly.

GOP presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan said at the time: "I don't think we want to go into that battle with the Democrats in November having to defend a part of the past."

And when a sex scandal snared President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, the public and his party made it clear they disapproved of his character but not his job performance.

"They're looking at the polls where we - not me - are up by so much they can't even believe it," Trump said recently.

"He knows his people don't want to hear an apology," said Boston College presidential historian Marc Landy, who predicts Trump will profit politically from any indictment in this case:

"He plays the martyr. You don't have to apologize if you're a martyr," Landy said.

That same principle doesn't necessarily apply to all of the ongoing investigations of the former president. The possible racketeering and conspiracy charges in the Georgia voting case have the potential to be much more damaging than the campaign finance violations and bookkeeping fraud apparently being considered by the Manhattan DA.

And they evoke Trump's behavior in the run up to the January 6 attack on the Capitol which we know is not popular with most voters. 

But the Clinton-Lewinsky case proved that the public doesn't care so much about sexual impropriety.

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