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Faculty reacts to former President Donald Trump’s federal indictments

(Kimi Jung/Daily Bruin staff)

By Christopher Buchanan

Oct. 4, 2023 12:03 a.m.

Some political experts predict former President Donald Trump will maintain strong Republican support in the 2024 presidential election, despite several federal indictments and other challenges.

After announcing his reelection campaign in November, Trump was indicted four times between March and August for his alleged participation in a conspiracy to defraud the United States in the 2020 presidential election, possession of classified documents, and business fraud in Florida, Georgia and New York. However, election poll organization FiveThirtyEight shows Trump leading the national Republican primary poll at 55.4%, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at 13.7% and former American diplomat Nikki Haley at 7.8%.

Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges, but the constitutional requirements for running in the presidential election do not include any restrictions on candidates with state or federal indictments, according to Congress’ website.

Chris Tausanovitch, an assistant professor of political science, said in an emailed statement that Trump’s legal troubles could prove to be a difficult obstacle for his campaign that will force a change in political strategy.

“He will spend more time railing against the political system in general, and less on his traditional theme of ‘law and order,’” Tausanovitch said in the statement. “The indictments raise difficult legal issues around the ways that a presidential candidate’s speech can be restricted during a campaign.”

However, some of Trump’s supporters regard his charges as illegitimate and politically motivated, said Tim Groeling, a professor of communication.

Bob Shrum, a political science professor and director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California, said Trump has generated strong personal support among his base rather than support for his policymaking, meaning indictments could have minimal impact on his campaign.

Groeling said Trump’s campaign team has strategically utilized the indictments to further his reelection campaign and unite his supporter base.

“The sort of strategic irony is that this was perceived as potentially weakening Trump, but seems to have increased the probability they will actually get the nomination stage in the process,” Groeling said.

Experts had differing opinions on Trump’s likelihood to win the presidential election next November if he is successful in the Republican primary.

Trump’s presidential approval rating – which averaged 41% throughout his term, according to analytics organization Gallup – could impede his reelection campaign despite his loyal supporter base, Shrum said. He added that he thinks the diverse Democratic base that voted against Trump in 2020 will respond negatively to his indictments.

“With independents, with younger voters, with women in the suburbs, with basically the coalition that defeated him in 2024 – these indictments are political poison,” Shrum said.

Groeling said he believes Republican demographics have shifted from white educated suburban voters to conservative working-class voters, who do not strongly associate themselves with the Republican party or its values to the extent they do with Trump as a figure.

Tausanovitch said in the statement he believes it is unlikely any other Republican candidate has a chance to compete with Trump in the primaries.

Republican candidates such as DeSantis, Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy are facing difficulties attracting constituents from Trump’s base because they have refused to criticize the former president in debates thus far, Groeling said.

As for the presidential election, Shrum said he foresees a strong Democratic stance against Trump if he succeeds in the primary.

“Biden is running. I don’t think there’ll be a serious challenge to him in the Democratic Party,” Shrum said. “I think if he’s running against Trump, you’ll have a very energized Democratic base.”

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