Last August, as F.B.I. agents hauled boxes of classified documents out of Mar-a-Lago, I surveyed a few Republican and MAGA operatives about how this latest legal woe might impact Donald Trump’s political future. For a brief moment, the former president’s opponents entertained the notion that surely this would be the scandal that broke his hold over the Republican Party. Wasn’t Trump actively endangering national security by leaving sensitive nuclear secrets in his desk?
But Trump’s allies were almost giddy about the optics, correctly recognizing the F.B.I. raid as an opportunity to galvanize the base, raise more money, and temporarily paralyze the 2024 field. “Nobody is worried,” one G.O.P. insider told me at the time, relaying the sentiment around Mar-a-Lago. And worry they did not: Days after an underwhelming midterm performance in which Trump’s highest-profile endorsees crashed and burned, and Ron DeSantis cruised to a resounding re-election victory, Trump announced that he was running for president. Eight months later, Trump has only gained strength in G.O.P. polls, with DeSantis and Nikki Haley, his two closest rivals, trailing by double digits. (Mike Pence, Glenn Youngkin, Mike Pompeo, Tim Scott, and other would-be challengers barely register.)
Over the past few days, of course, it’s been déjà vu all over again as Trump rages on Truth Social about his looming indictment and arrest over his 2016 hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels. So far, there’s been no arrest—in fact, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told the grand jury to stay home on Wednesday, and to remain on standby—but that has not stopped Trump from whipping the media into a frenzy, and urging his supporters to protest in the streets, Jan. 6 style, if he is arraigned. As the Times reports, Trump has been fixated on the optics of a potential perp walk, unlikely as that is to happen, and the ensuing spectacle. His campaign has already raised more than $1.5 million on the news.