The charges against Trump throw the 2024 race into uncharted territory

NEW YORK (AP) — Tues historical charge of the former president donald trump pushing the 2024 presidential election into uncharted territory and raising the notable prospect that the leading contender for the Republican nomination will seek the White House while simultaneously being tried in New York on criminal charges.

Acknowledging the former president’s influence on the voters who will decide next year’s GOP contest, those with a primary challenge in mind for Trump were quick to criticize the prosecution. Without naming Trump, the Florida governor said. Ron DeSantis called the move “un-American.” Former Vice President Mike Pencewhose life was threatened after Trump instigated a riot in the US Capitol, told CNN the charges were “outrageous.”

This stance speaks to the short-term incentives for Republicans to avoid anything that might antagonize Trump’s loyal base. However, the indictment raises profound questions for the future of the GOP, especially as Trump soon faces the possibility of additional indictments in Atlanta and Washington. While that could shake up its supporters, the turmoil could threaten the GOP’s standing in the very swinging suburbs, which have left the party in three consecutive elections and erode its grip on the White House, Congress and key governorships.

Trump spent four decades that manage to bypass this type of legal jeopardy and expressed his confidence again late Thursday by blaming “thugs and left-wing monsters” for the charges.

“This is an attack on our country like never seen before,” Trump wrote on his social media page.

Trump is “ready to fight,” his attorney Joe Tacopina told Fox News.

Trump is expected to surrender to authorities next week on charges related to hush money payments during the 2016 presidential campaign to women who allegedly had extramarital sexual encounters. How the development will be received by the voters is still unclear for the time being. Polls show Trump remains the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and his standing has not faltered, even given the widespread coverage of the expected impeachments.

Trump’s campaign and allies have long hoped an indictment would serve as a rallying cry for his supporters, anger his Make America Great Again base, attract small dollar donations, and put Trump’s potential rivals in the awkward position of having to defend him — or theirs risk anger.

In fact, Trump’s campaign began raising funds almost immediately after the news broke, sending out an email to supporters with the subject line in all caps “BREAKING: PRESIDENT TRUMP INDICATED.”

At Trump’s first rally of the 2024 campaignheld in Texas over the weekend, supporters expressed widespread disgust at the probe and insisted the case would not hurt his chances.

“It’s a joke,” said Patti Murphy, 63, of Fort Worth. “It’s just another way they’re trying to get him out of the way.”

Others in the crowd said their support for Trump had waned since he left the White House, but the impeachment of impeachment made her more likely to support him in 2024 because they thought his anger was justified.

At the same time, there’s little chance a criminal case will help Trump in a general election, especially among independents who have grown weary of his constant chaos. That has created an opening for alternatives like DeSantis, who are expected to present themselves as champions of the former president’s policies, but without all his baggage.

But there was no immediate sign that the party was ready to use the charge to get past him. Instead, Republicans, including members of Congress and Trump’s rivals, rushed en masse to his defense. Alongside DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who had already declared her candidacy, criticized the indictment as “more about revenge than justice.” Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is considering an escape, accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system” while also sending a donation text from the news.

Trump, meanwhile, has tried to rally the public against the case. Early on March 18, amid reports that New York police were preparing for a possible indictment, he fired a message on his social media page stating that he expected to be arrested within days become.

While that never happened (and his associates made it clear that it wasn’t based on inside information), Trump used the time to highlight the case’s much-discussed weaknesses and attacked Bragg with a barrage of deeply personal — and sometimes racial — attacks.

Trump also tried to exude an air of strength. On the night of his post, he traveled with aides to a college wrestling championship, where he spent hours greeting supporters and posing for photos. On the way home, the assembled entourage aboard his plane watched mixed martial arts cage fighting.

And last weekend, Trump held a rally in Waco, Texas, where he railed against the case in front of thousands of supporters.

People who have spoken to Trump in recent weeks have described him as both angry and unconcerned about the prospect of impeachment. New Republican Rep. Mark Alford of Missouri said Trump was “optimistic” at a fundraiser in Mar-a-Lago the night before he warned of his arrest.

In fact, Trump has at times denied the seriousness of the situation. He and his helpers were surprised by the news on Thursday. And during the flight home from his Texas rally, Trump told reporters he believed the case had been dropped.

“I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I can tell you they don’t have a case. So I think the case is — I think they’ve already dropped the case, as far as I know. I think it was dropped,” he said.

Even so, Trump reacted with anger to pressure, though he insisted he wasn’t frustrated.

Beyond the Manhattan case, Trump faces several other investigationsincluding a Georgia probe into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and a federal probe into his alleged misuse of classified documents.

It remains unclear how the public might react if Trump is indicted in more cases, especially if some lead to convictions and others are fired.

An indictment — or even a conviction — would not prevent Trump from running for president or serving as the Republican nominee.

___ Associated Press writers Paul Weber in Waco, Texas and Lisa Mascaro in Orlando contributed to this report.

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