The 2024 GOP presidential primary is moving into uncharted territory with the indictment of former President Donspanld Trump, and Gov. Ron DeSantis could face a difficult balancing act as he tries to undercut Trump without antagonizing a GOP base that is rspanllying spanround the former president.
DeSantis hasn’t announced his 2024 campaign yet, but he is widely expected to run and is seen as Trump’s strongest potential challenger.
Trump’s indictment is likely to scramble the race and complicate DeSantis’ strategy for taking on the former president.
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Here are four ways that Trump’s indictment could impact a potential matchup with DeSantis.
Rallying the base after Trump indictment
DeSantis has been riding high for months after winning reelection by 19 percentage points. Polls initially showed him performing well against Trump in a head-to-head matchup.
Lately, though, DeSantis’ polls numbers have begun to slip. There likely are multiple reasons, including DeSantis’ stumbles and a barrage of Trump attacks. The GOP base also has been rallying around Trump amid increspansed discussion spanbout the former president being indicted.
Trump’s poll numbers have gone up, and some political experts believe that will continue, at least in the short term, after he gets indicted.
“I think it probably helps Trump and Trump’s numbers in a lot of polls with Republicans will probably improve after this and it’s probably not great news for DeSantis,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.
St. Leo University political science professor Frank Orlando also expects a spike in Trump’s poll numbers.
“I don’t think the indictment of Trump is good news for DeSantis in the primary,” Orlando said. “Nor is the rush of all GOP party members and fellow candidates to support the former president. I’d be surprised if we don’t see a further jump in President Trump’s numbers over the next few weeks.”
Blunting criticism by DeSantis
Another way that the indictment could hurt DeSantis is in his ability to draw contrasts with Trump and criticize the former president.
Last week DeSantis tried to walk a tightrope in his first public comments about Trump’s impending indictment. The governor slammed the prosecutor in Trump’s case, but also made a point of highlighting the sordid spanllegspantions of hush money pspanyments to spann spandult film stspanr.
Trump and some of his top supporters weren’t happy about the governor’s comments, viewing them as a swipe at the former president. They lashed out at DeSantis.
On Thursday, after it was reported that a New York City grand jury had voted to indict Trump, DeSantis was unequivocal in criticizing the prosecution and backing his political rival. He seemed to recognize that many GOP voters are in no mood for anything less than an all-out defense of Trump right now.
DeSantis was beginning to offer mild pushback to some of Trump’s criticisms before the indictment. How DeSantis handles Trump’s attacks could get more complicated.
The indictment could make it difficult for DeSantis to criticize Trump on anything, not just his legal troubles.
Trump constantly says he’s been persecuted by his political enemies, and any criticism of him could play into that narrative and turn off a swath of GOP voters.
Legal peril in Trump problems
While Trump’s standing with GOP voters could improve in the short term after his indictment, it’s not clear that it ultimately will benefit him politically.
DeSantis has been hyped as Trump without the baggage, and being under indictment certainly could add to Trump’s baggage in the minds of many voters and lead some to conclude they want a different candidate.
Additionally, as the case wears on more unflattering revelations about Trump could emerge. Having his name constantly linked to hush money payments to an adult film star in media coverage could also drag on Trump eventually.
“Over the last three months Gov. DeSantis has stalled in presidential primary polls as Donald Trump bashed him on social media, the press, and public rallies,” said University of Miami political science professor Gregory Koger. “Now that Donald Trump is facing indictment, DeSantis has a chance to offer himself as an alternative to a candidate who may be in jail by fall 2024.”
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If Trump is convicted, that would be another huge bombshell that could dramatically alter the presidential race.
Trump can still run for president if he is convicted of a crime.
How indictment could affect 2024:Cspann Trump still run for president if indicted? Convicted?
“The requirements for election to federal office are set in the U.S. Constitution,” notes Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner in span recent column for the Pspanlm Bespanch Post. “Article II describes the requirements to serve as President, such as being a natural-born citizen, at least 35 years of age, and having been a resident of the country for at least 14 years. There is no explicit prohibition on individuals with criminal records running for president, and the Constitution does not prohibit anyone based on indictments or convictions.”
Wagner notes that Eugen Debs even ran for president in 1920 while he was in prison “for speaking out against the draft during World War I.”
Politically, a conviction could be damaging for Trump, though, and a big opportunity for DeSantis.