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One more indictment won’t knock Trump from GOP front-runner spot

Iowa caucuses are five months away, so not much time for game-changer

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Steer N' Stein bar at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Steer N' Stein bar at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 12 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — Somehow, former President Donald Trump’s latest indictment is best categorized as historic but also inconsequential in the context of the 2024 Republican presidential primary. 

Trump started the race as the front-runner (or even arguably the de facto incumbent as the two-time nominee), and significant legal trouble has not slowed him down. Past indictments in the New York hush money case, the classified documents case, and the Jan. 6 case haven’t hurt his support among primary voters, so there’s no reason to believe Trump’s supporters will view the Fulton County, Ga., case as particularly different. 

To put it another way, why would Trump’s supporters see the Georgia case and suddenly start to step away from their chosen candidate? 

If Trump doesn’t falter in the race, he’s going to be the nominee again. And that reality is more likely to happen if his opponents in the race continue to defend him on his potentially greatest liability. 

[Newest Trump indictment leaves lawmakers repeating themselves]

Lest there be any doubt, Trump is the leader in the GOP race, with five months to go before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses

Trump has a significant 38-point lead in the national polls, according to the FiveThirtyEight average. He was at 52.7 percent on Tuesday, followed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (14.8 percent), tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy (7.2 percent), former Vice President Mike Pence (6 percent), former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (4 percent) and everyone else below 3 percent.    

Of course, we don’t have national elections or primaries in this country. The nomination, and ultimately the presidency, is decided by a series of state-by-state elections. But polls of early primary states show a similar story. 

Trump had significant leads, albeit sometimes more narrow, in recent polls out of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, where he’s running against two people who won that state before (Haley and Sen. Tim Scott). 

After eight years of claiming the polls underestimate Trump’s support, some Republicans are trying to convince themselves that the polls are now overestimating it and exaggerating his lead.

“I don’t put a lot of faith in polls, I don’t think he’s as far ahead as what the polls are making him to be,” Iowa Republican Richard Young told CBN News at the Iowa State Fair

Outside of the polling, there’s more evidence that Trump is as strong as ever. No one is trying to get out from under the Trump tent. 

Even though news of the Fulton County indictments is still fresh, none of Trump’s congressional endorsers have rescinded their support. That’s 10 senators and 73 House members, according to the FiveThirtyEight tally

If members were worried about being connected to him, then they would rescind their endorsements. But right now, Trump’s congressional supporters don’t see him as a liability or aren’t concerned enough about his electability to move away from him. 

Clock ticking

So is there anything that would change the dynamic? 

With Georgia, all of the expected indictments are now in motion. None of the cases will likely go to trial before primary voters start casting their ballots. So more legal issues aren’t likely to bring down Trump. 

There could be a revelation at an upcoming debate, but it’s not clear what that would be considering Trump’s supporters have heard many of the worst things about their candidate and chose to support him anyway. And as long as there’s a large field of non-Trump candidates, no one has an opportunity to squeak by the former president in a one-on-one race.

While there’s technically still time for someone else to win the nomination, the clock is ticking against anybody looking to turn the page from Trump. And as time winds down, Trump’s opponents will likely need a game-changing event to dethrone Trump rather than rely on a gradual descent. It’s just not clear what that event might be with all of the indictments on the table.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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