by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A week after former President Donald Trump’s federal indictment,the dilemma for the rest of the 2024 Republican presidential field is clear.
To go after Trump for his handling of classified documents risks putting a campaign on the wrong side of the Hatfields vs. McCoys feud that has dominated the national political scene since 2015 in a climate where the Republican base believes the federal government has been weaponized against conservatives generally and the former president specifically.
But to not try to use the opportunity presented by a 37-count indictment to convince Republican primary voters that they have better options than Trump in 2024 is to forfeit the game to the GOP front-runner before it starts.
Former Vice President Mike Pence and erstwhile U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have tried a little of both, decrying both the Justice Department’s prosecution of Trump and also their onetime boss’s conduct.
Haley in particular has used the second criminal case against Trump to make the argument that it is time to move beyond his “endless drama.”
Polling and focus groups reveal that even some current Trump supporters have a limited appetite for his temperament and tweets and would prefer to have the 2024 elections be a referendum on President Joe Biden. This line of attack reinforces those lingering doubts about Trump with months to go before the Iowa caucuses.
But it is also highly nuanced compared to Trump’s clear-cut argument that he is being targeted by the federal government under the leadership of his likely general election opponent. Nuance does not always win political arguments.
After years of investigations for collusion with Russian election interference, scrutinized in special counsel John Durham’s recent report and ending with a whimper in Robert Mueller’s, Trump can argue that this is the real election-interfering deal.