Third indictment won’t change views of Trump, but it will cost him millions

August 7, 2023

This week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 31

  • Yet another Trump indictment — and the legal bills start adding up
  • DeSantis enjoys modest success in Iowa
  • Important referendum in Ohio Tuesday

President 2024

Donald Trump: As predicted, they did it again — they indicted former President Donald Trump for the third time this year. 

In one sense, there are diminishing returns to all of these indictments for the Democrats who are initiating them. A third indictment doesn’t really change much in terms of how Trump is viewed by the average voter over the second indictment. 

From a Republican perspective, it still seems that Biden and New York Democrats (and perhaps Atlanta Democrats will move next) are going to do everything they can to prevent this guy from becoming president again. This continues to generate sympathy for Trump. 

Commentators differ as to the merits of this indictment. (Jonathan Turley, for one, is very unimpressed.) But politically speaking, as we noted last week, there might come a point where Trump is so overwhelmed with legal trouble and expenses that a presidential race will become too much of a chore.

And as anyone who has been involved in a court battle can attest, this sort of thing isn’t cheap. The Associated Press reports that Trump has paid almost $60 million in legal fees since January 2021. That includes a reported $40 million just in the first six months of this year.

The sum of $60 million is almost as much as Trump put into his own 2016 campaign. It is also roughly 10 percent of the total amount spent to elect him that year. And we haven’t even gotten into the thick of those expensive pre-trial motions yet.

Because Trump’s presidential donors are paying his legal fees — the Save America PAC is paying a substantial amount of it — resources are bound to become an issue at some point. This could be exacerbated by the fact that small-dollar political donations are drying up amid the current economic circumstances.

Trump never gets credit for this, but he demonstrated in 2016 that even a badly out-funded campaign could win the presidency. Hillary Clinton and her associated super PACs outspent him and his almost two to one.

Still, Trump will be tempting fate if he enters the 2024 general election with a considerable amount of his donors’ money being siphoned off, going to lawyers instead of the actual campaign.

The other danger here is that Trump makes his entire campaign about his own persecution, as opposed to the issues (crime, Bidenomics, etc.) that have already turned voters against President Joe Biden. 

Ron DeSantis: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said over the weekend that Trump definitely lost the 2020 election. Although this may not sound especially edgy, it is arguably his strongest statement yet distancing himself from Trump on the issue of the 2020 election, since Trump denies having lost so vigorously and so many of his supporters deny that he lost.

Meanwhile, although DeSantis trails Trump in every available poll, It is evident that his efforts in Iowa are bearing some fruit. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but as the New York Times put it, Trump’s lead is “less dominant” there than it is nationally. He currently has 44 percent in Iowa, compared to DeSantis’s 20 percent. This 24-point lead is of course quite dominant still, but significantly less than the 37-point lead Trump enjoys over the second-place DeSantis nationwide.

The poll had some interesting findings beneath the toplines, too. Voters in Iowa are more likely than the average American to see DeSantis as superior to Trump in terms of being “moral” (57 percent), likable (52 percent), and “able to beat Joe Biden” (40 percent). For now, this hasn’t translated into a surge in the polls for DeSantis, but he will benefit if he is able to make this impression sink in.

DeSantis probably will not beat Trump if he can’t beat him in the Hawkeye State. Iowa is a small state with a manageable caucus process in which Trump performed poorly in 2016, despite being quite popular in the state.

Dean Phillips: Although he keeps talking a good game about some other Democrat jumping into challenge Joe Biden for the party presidential nomination, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) keeps acting like he’s the one who’s going to do it. His appearance on Face the Nation over the weekend would never have happened if he were not at least considering it and enjoying the attention it is bringing him. Phillips could have bowed out from such an appearance if he weren’t interested in drawing attention to himself as a possible presidential candidate.

Phillips is a better embodiment of what makes today’s Democratic Party tick than either President Joe Biden, who is both old and unpopular, or RFK, Jr. Phillips is a former business executive who represents a suburban district, filled with wealthy people with liberal values. Unlike RFK Jr, whose years of anti-vaccine activism will be off-putting to modern liberals, Phillips is an ideological fit for most Democrats. 

However, Phillips would still be a serious underdog against Biden, given the current situation and Biden’s advantage of incumbency.

Election 2023

Ohio: Ohio is having an unusual August election with a special ballot measure as the only thing appearing. Republicans, who solidly control the state government, want to require a 60 percent majority in future referenda for proposed constitutional amendments, instead of a simple majority. 

This measure will have immense repercussions for this November’s abortion referendum, a left-wing attempt to reverse the state’s new legal limits on abortion after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Although the abortion referendum seems to be on track to exceed 50 percent, it likely will not exceed 60 percent.

Senate 2024

Nevada: Former Ambassador to Iceland Jeffrey Ross Gunter (R), a Trump appointee, is jumping into the primary race to challenge Sen. Jacky Rosen (D) next November. His candidacy may help split the vote against the NRSC-endorsed Sam Brown (R), whom national party leaders prefer over Jim Marchant due to the latter’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. 

NBC News reported that Brown raised $400,000 in the first week of his campaign, which he launched in mid July.