Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waco in...

Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Waco in March 2023.  Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON – The grand jury indictment of former President Donald Trump has intensified debate over his re-election prospects heading into the 2024 presidential primary season.

Trump, who declared his intent to run again for the White House last November, has been the front-runner among potential GOP candidates including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and among declared candidates such as former South Carolina governor and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, in recent polls. But the criminal indictment handed down by a Manhattan grand jury Thursday could erode some of his support, according to political analysts.

“There will be certain people for whom this will reinforce their loyalty to Trump, and there will be certain Republicans who have already decided to move on from Trump who will use this to convince others to support other candidates,” said David Greenberg, a Rutgers University history professor and author of several books on the American presidency.

Trump’s stalwart supporters insist the indictment will only galvanize support behind the ex-president, particularly by those who believe Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is politicizing his office by pursuing Trump’s prosecution over hush money payments made to adult entertainer Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 presidential election.  

John Jay LaValle, a former Suffolk GOP chairman who served as a Trump campaign surrogate in 2016 and 2020, said in a phone interview that last year’s midterm elections showed public safety remained a top issue for voters as Republicans picked up three New York House seats on a platform that focused on tackling increasing crime rates. By choosing to prosecute Trump for financial crimes, Bragg is feeding into concerns raised by Republicans who contend the DA should prioritize prosecuting violent crimes, LaValle told Newsday.

“People are losing faith in our government and this is the cherry on top of everything,” said LaValle, who continues to frequent Trump’s members-only estate Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. “This is going to propel Donald Trump even further, and it's going to cause not only his supporters, but I think people that are kind of in the middle, to really lock in behind him.”

Jay Jacobs, state and Nassau Democratic party chairman, told Newsday: "Very simple for me: No one is above the law, period."

He added: "This establishes that once again, no one is above the law and let the process play out."

Bragg’s office did not return an e-mail seeking comment. In a March 19 e-mail sent to staff that was obtained by the Associated Press, he said his office will “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”

“In the meantime, as with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly and speak openly only when appropriate,” Bragg wrote.

Former Long Island congressman Pete King, a Seaford Republican who backed Trump’s prior presidential bids but has also been critical of him, said he believes “in the short run” an indictment “will help Trump to firm up his base within the Republican Party and make him more of a top contender than he is now,” but the potential for a criminal trial could spell trouble for his general election chances. So far, President Joe Biden has signaled he plans on seeking re-election, but has yet to formally declare his intent to run.

“Assuming [Trump] goes forward, I would say it could hurt him in the general election because people just wouldn't want that uncertainty hanging out there,” King said in a phone interview.

Suffolk County GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia said the indictment underscores concerns among some Republicans who contend prosecutors are “weaponizing” their offices.

“I believe it will help him,” Garcia told Newsday. “It’s unprecedented for a former president to go through all these issues because prosecutors like Alvin Bragg weaponize their offices to oppose a political agenda.”

Asked if the Suffolk GOP planned to endorse Trump, Garcia said the local party was strictly focused on this year’s county executive race.

Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nassau GOP Chairman Joseph Cairo did not respond to questions sent by Newsday to the party’s spokesman concerning Trump’s re-election bid, but in a prepared statement called an indictment “a cheap political stunt.”

With Scott Eidler

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