The Memo: Unease about Trump’s legal woes spreads through GOP
Former President Trump has had one of his worst weeks on the legal front — and it is causing unease even among Republicans.
The most dramatic news was the suit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James that accuses Trump, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization of huge fraud.
The case is civil, not criminal, but James is seeking a judgment of $250 million against the defendants.
Later the same day, a federal appeals court ruled against Trump in the dispute over sensitive documents seized by the FBI from his Mar-a-Lago estate in August.
The appellate court’s verdict gives investigators immediate access to around 100 documents that were marked as classified, rather than having to wait for a separate ruling from a court-appointed special master.
Meanwhile, a probe in Georgia is still not getting the level of national attention that its gravity merits.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has told 17 people that they are targets of her investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election result in the state.
Among those facing the possibility of indictment is Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and Trump attorney.
Willis recently told The Washington Post that, if and when indictments are eventually issued, “people are facing prison sentences.”
The political ramifications have begun to worry some Republicans — and not only those within the strident but thin anti-Trump ranks.
“The legal issues are motivating Trump’s base, who believe he’s being targeted by Democrats. But it’s not playing well with swing voters,” Dan Eberhart, a significant GOP donor, told this column.
Eberhart, who donated around $100,000 to Trump’s 2020 reelection effort but has become more critical in the years since, added that the former president’s legal woes are complicating the midterm calculus for GOP candidates.
“Any candidate that tries to distance themselves from him over the legal stuff risks him attacking them and costing them base voters. It’s a mess,” Eberhart complained.
Sam Nunberg, who worked on the early stages of Trump’s 2016 campaign but has had a checkered relationship with him in the years since, viewed the recent developments through the prism of a possible 2024 bid.
Nunberg said Trump appeared to get a “bump” of sympathetic support among some Republicans in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago raid but it appears to have subsided.
“I just can’t see the Republican Party nominating someone who lost the previous election, could only serve one term, and is under multiple investigations and possible indictments — especially when there is an obvious alternative,” Nunberg said, referring to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Trump also deepened GOP dismay when he made the bizarre claim, during a Wednesday evening interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, that a president could declassify secret documents by “thinking about it.”
At least four GOP senators, including Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) dissented from that view in separate comments to CNN reporter Manu Raju.
Trump has responded to his various legal setbacks with rage — often a sign that the former president is feeling the pressure.
Reacting to the suit filed in New York, Trump described James, who is Black, as a “racist” and a “fraud.”
In relation to Georgia, the former president took aim at Willis soon after her comments about “jail sentences.” He complained that Willis was trying to “prosecute a very popular president” and was engaged in “a strictly political Witch Hunt!”
There is no good time for the kind of grim legal news Trump has received this week — but right now is particularly bad.
The former president is edging closer to declaring his 2024 candidacy, holding rallies in recent weeks in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The events were ostensibly to help GOP candidates in those states but, in practice, looked like rallies for a coming Trump campaign.
Trump’s primacy within the GOP is also coming under new challenge, especially from DeSantis.
The Florida governor has been holding public events far from his native state in recent weeks. And the flights of migrants he organized from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts have proven popular with the right-wing populist base that dominates today’s GOP, even though DeSantis’s gambit is deeply contentious with the general public.
In tandem, there is nervousness in Republican circles about the state of the midterms campaign.
A few months back, the GOP was confident of sweeping gains in both chambers of Congress. Now, the battle for the Senate tilts slightly toward Democrats, while expectations for GOP gains in the House have become more modest.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) recent observation about the importance of “candidate quality,” was widely seen as a jab at Trump-endorsed Senate nominees such as Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia.
Trump’s poll ratings rarely shift but they have eroded slightly in some polls amid the blizzard of bad news.
An NBC News survey released last Sunday found just 34 percent of registered voters holding a favorable view of the former president. It was his lowest rating in that poll since April 2021.
Democrats, for their part, can hardly contain their delight.
“Nobody in any sort of swing state is embracing Donald Trump as they would have 12 months ago,” said Dick Harpootlian, a prominent Democrat and state senator in South Carolina who also served on President Biden’s fundraising committee during the 2020 campaign.
“It is not just the legal difficulties, it is the election-denying. Beyond the My Pillow guy, that is not seen as a normal or rational position,” he added, referring to fervent Trump ally Mike Lindell.
“Trump lost the election. He can’t get past that, his people can’t get past that. But the American public has got past that,” Harpootlian said.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.