Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Will the prosecution of the former president build his base, asks Terina Hine

Facing 34 counts of criminal charges for covering up ‘hush-money’ payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, Donald Trump has gone from yesterday’s news to providing a headline grabbing media spectacle. A spectacle that looks set to resurrect his political career.

The timing of the indictment – just as Trump launched his bid to become the Republican nominee for the 2024 presidential election – is thought by many to be more than just coincidence. The case was brought by elected Democratic Party district attorney, Alvin Bragg, for an offence allegedly committed six years ago. New York’s statute of limitations for most felonies is five years, so questions have been asked as to why it has taken so long. A recent poll showed the majority of Americans (76%) think politics played a role in the indictment, while 93% of Republicans (and 66% of Democrats), believed the charges to be politically motivated.

Neither a stranger to controversy, nor litigation, Trump and his team will milk the prosecution for every last vote.


With an eye on the evangelical constituency, Trump supporters have been quick to draw attention to his arrest taking place during Holy Week, only a few days before Good Friday, making bizarre parallels between the persecution of Jesus and the persecution of their political saviour. Marjorie Taylor Greene, far-right Georgian congresswoman and influential Republican, defended Trump, saying that like Jesus and Nelson Mandela, he was a victim of political persecution. Trump the martyr is born.

But it is not just the right of the party that has been defending Trump. Republicans less favourable to Trump’s nomination, notably those critical of his involvement in the 6 January Capitol riots, have been forced to rally around their leader. Ron DeSantis, Florida governor and Trump’s main rival for the Republican nomination, called the indictment ‘un-American,’ and posted a tweet saying ‘the weaponisation of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head.’

In one stroke the indictment has managed to unify the party, with those wishing to put the Trump era behind them forced to offer him support. No one dares risk antagonising Trump’s loyal base, nor the increasingly Trump supporting Republican voter angered by this perceived Democratic abuse of power.

A post-indictment YouGov poll reports Trump is now charging ahead of his main rival for the Republican nomination: 57% of Republicans want Trump to be the next president and just 31% want DeSantis. As recently as February DeSantis was leading the Republican polls and Trump was yesterday’s man.

Some hold that this may yet change again, as further legal challenges come to fruition. The current charges are minor by comparison to those threatened by investigations into Trump’s involvement in the 6 January Capitol riot and possible electoral interference in Georgia in 2020. If legal challenges were brought against Trump in either of these cases, party support could evaporate. But in the current febrile climate of American politics all bets are off.

If the Democrats believe Trump will lose the election because of his sleazy reputation, in either personal or business affairs, they are delusional. Attempts to damage Trump in 2016 failed to harness electoral success and the New York indictment reveals nothing voters did not already know.

The last election was the Covid election, and Trump lost in large part because of his mishandling of the pandemic. In 2016, when Trump stood against Hillary Clinton, his victory was based on the inability of the old guard to provide answers to the crisis facing many Americans. Answers which still elude them today.


Trumpism didn’t appear from nowhere. It was based on years of neglect by the Democrats of their traditional supporters. Migration to the Republicans was a response to Democratic disdain for the those trapped in the post-industrial wastelands and the deprived, rural communities. Trump promised a new era of investment in jobs, and he promoted economic nationalism over costly and unpopular military crusades in far-off lands. He promoted a culture war and led a campaign in which he pitted blue-collar workers and ‘rednecks’ against a cosmopolitan, urban elite.

The Democrats’ addiction to the status quo helped feed Trump’s narrative. The Clinton dynasty and its neoliberal cheerleaders failed to grasp that the system was broken for the majority, so the majority turned elsewhere or stayed at home on election day. And while many Republicans remain enthralled to a Reagan-Bush, neocon world view, and are very much part of the old establishment, they are content to hide behind Trump’s right-wing populist electoral wall.

Democrats are whipping up anti-Trump fever as if it might help them win them the next election, having learned nothing from last time. In doing so they will fire-up Trump’s base and fuel ever more dangerous polarisation.

The Capitol riot and loss of the 2020 election diminished Trump’s hold over the Republican party. But the New York indictment has provided a platform, an enemy and a cause for the Trump team: the rallying cries for ‘justice’ already ring out and accusations of a left-wing plot thrive. The funding campaign for Trump’s nomination was launched immediately the news of the indictment broke, the legal challenge a launchpad, raising $4 million in less than 24 hours.

Trump is now the undisputed frontrunner in polls for his party’s presidential nomination. His indictment and arrest appear to be serving him well.

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