On March 18, former President Donald J. Trump made a social media post stating that he would be “arrested on Tuesday of next week.” This statement, although based on media reports and off by two weeks, set off a chain of events that significantly impacted the Republican nominating contest. Donors sent in checks, Fox News changed its stance, the party apparatus rushed to defend Trump, and his poll numbers increased. This phenomenon, referred to as the “indictment effect,” reveals the extent of Trump’s dominance over the Republican Party, where criminal charges act as political assets.
Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s empire had been moving away from Trump and focusing on elevating Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the future of the Republican Party. However, after Trump’s indictment, influential conservative talk radio hosts and commentators switched their support to Trump, viewing the indictments as a personal attack on him and the cause he represents. Conservative media programming began to revolve around the idea that Trump was a victim of a justice system controlled by Democrats, overshadowing DeSantis’ fight against “wokeness.”
Trump and his team strategically orchestrated media coverage of his criminal arraignments, treating them like campaign events. They invited reporters into their motorcade and ensured cameras were stationed at multiple locations to capture the best shots. This media strategy gave Trump the majority of the news coverage, leaving little room for his rivals to make their own mark.
Even the official structure of the Republican Party rallied behind Trump after his criminal charges. The Republican National Committee (RNC) had stopped sending out Trump-centric fundraising emails to maintain neutrality during the primary. However, when rumors of Trump’s indictment emerged, the RNC resumed sending emails expressing outrage over the indictment and asking for donations. This demonstrated that the party apparatus considered defending Trump as their only option.
Trump’s online fundraising received a significant boost following his indictments. Prior to the charges, his daily average fundraising was $129,000. In the three weeks following the first indictment, this average surged to over $778,000 per day. Trump’s online fundraising became an online gold mine, with millions pouring in within a matter of days.
Overall, the “indictment effect” revealed Trump’s control over the Republican Party, the conditioning of Republican voters to perceive his legal troubles as attacks on themselves, and the way criminal charges can paradoxically act as political assets in winning the nomination. The impact on media coverage, fundraising, and party support demonstrate the unique influence and dominance Trump holds within the Republican Party.