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Trump's Short-Term Gain Is Republicans' Long-Term Pain | Opinion

Newsweek 3/30/2023 Doug Gordon
A NYPD K-9 Unit conducts a security sweep outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on March 29. © ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images A NYPD K-9 Unit conducts a security sweep outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on March 29.

As the waiting game to see if Donald Trump will be indicted in New York, Georgia, or by the Department of Justice (or all three) continues, Trump and his allies have gone into overdrive to push a media narrative that any such indictment would be a political gift to Trump. Many, from Republican operatives to Elon Musk, have gone so far as to say that an indictment would hand the White House to Donald Trump in 2024.

While Trump will certainly get short-term gain from what he will claim is a politically motivated prosecution, Trump's short-term political gain will be Republicans' long-term political pain.

In the short term, Trump is getting to play his favorite and most comfortable role, the aggrieved martyr wildly counterattacking his perceived enemies. And his grip on his party, already near airtight, is only getting stronger. He is benefiting from Republicans, including his primary rivals, rallying to support him unquestioningly.

And since he hijacked the news cycle with his false claims that he'd be arrested two weeks ago, he is getting what he needs more than oxygen and water: near nonstop media coverage. The threat of indictments and arrest has once again put him at the center of the political media world in a way that he has been denied since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

All of this is leading to tangible benefits for his campaign, too. Reports say that Trump is planning to film his own arrest to use alongside his mug shot as fundraising fodder. And since Facebook and other online platforms have reinstated him, he is maximizing this moment to raise mountains of cash for his campaign. And although crowds have been noticeably thin at his recent rallies, the threat of indictment will mean his diehard supporters will come out in even bigger numbers for his rallies over the coming months—like we saw in Waco, Texas.


But as has been the case for much of the last eight years, since Trump's hostile takeover of the Republican Party that turned it into his MAGA cult, what is in Trump's short-term interest diverges greatly from what is in the Republican Party's long-term political interests.

For starters, Trump's total eclipse of the media means that just as the new House majority was going on offense and driving media narratives around Hunter Biden, inflation, and the so-called culture war issues that ignite their base, they are now once again being forced to play defense and must answer for Trump. And as the elections in 2020 and 2022 showed, any day that Trump, not Joe Biden, is the main media story is a win for Democrats.

But more importantly, general elections are a simple math equation. They're about addition, not subtraction. And the political party that has won the popular vote only once in more than 30 years simply cannot afford to lose any more voters from their small and shrinking coalition.

And while an indictment, or even the threat of one, will produce a rally-around-Trump effect among his MAGA base that could carry him to the nomination, it will have the exact opposite effect in the general election.

The very voters who have fled the Republican Party in droves under Trump's reign—suburban voters and voters with college degrees—are the very ones who will be most turned off by an indictment and Trump's other ongoing legal issues.

Despite the claims and fantasies of Trump and many in his camp, he cannot defy the laws of political gravity. Joe Biden got 7 million more votes than Donald Trump in 2020 and easily won the Electoral College with more than 300 of its votes. And there is simply no credible argument that can be made that an indictment will move any of those 7 million voters to Trump's camp.

While an indictment is likely to harden his base, it is just as likely to have an equal and opposite reaction with the voters who will decide the outcome of the general election.

For the Republican Party, the damage could extend well beyond losing another presidential election. In addition to the 2020 election, midterm elections in 2018 and 2022 showed that Trump is not only a drag at the top of the ticket but down the ballot, too.

With the balance of power in the Senate in 2024 likely to come down to the suburbs outside of cities like Columbus, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, the drag that is an indicted Trump at the top of the ticket could very well sink Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's dream of returning to majority leader once again. And when it comes to the House, the path back to the majority for Democrats runs right through 18 congressional seats that Republicans currently hold in districts that Joe Biden won in 2020. As in the Senate races, those districts are filled with voters who didn't vote for Trump in 2020 and are the least likely to rally around an indicted Trump.

In the simple math equation that is general elections, the numbers don't add up for Republicans with an indicted Trump at the top of the ticket.

Trump's power and popularity within the Republican Party has only grown through the "Access Hollywood" tape, two impeachments, and a deadly insurrection. An indictment (or three) is not going to change that. But the very characteristics that make his MAGA base fawn over him serve as a powerful repellent to the majority of voters in this country.

So yes, Trump will get a short-term political gain from an indictment. But it will cause Republicans long-term political pain.

Doug Gordon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of UpShift Strategies who has worked on numerous federal, state, and local campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He is on Twitter at @dgordon52.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.

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