Donald Trump huddled with his closest advisers on Saturday at his Mar-a-Lago resort over political strategy after being caught by surprise about the news that a Manhattan grand jury had indicted him on criminal charges connected to hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in 2016.
The former president was buoyed, according to a source familiar with the matter, over new post-indictment polls that placed him far ahead of his expected 2024 rival, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, and other Republican primary challengers.
According to a Yahoo news poll, Trump was beating DeSantis 57% to 31% in the one-to-one contest, and was attracting majority support at 52% when pitted against a wider, 10-candidate field including DeSantis at 21% and the UN ambassador in the Trump administration, Nikki Haley.
Trump also improved his lead over DeSantis in polling done for his campaign by McLaughlin and Associates, which surveyed 1,000 likely 2024 general election voters and found Trump beating DeSantis 63% to 30%, improving his lead from January when Trump was at 52% and DeSantis at 40%.
The sharp uptick in polling numbers – and a corresponding reversal by potential 2024 rivals trying to come to Trump’s defense over the indictment after previously trying to distance themselves – was so sudden and marked that it took some of Trump’s own advisers by surprise.
Trump took the reluctance of his nearest rivals to directly confront him over the charges as a sign that he remains the steadfast frontrunner for the Republican nomination, the source said, and reinforced their difficulty in getting voters to renounce him, while trying to be his successor.
The strongest reflection of Trump’s durability with his core Maga base came in fundraising numbers. The Trump campaign said on Friday that it had raised more than $4m in the 24 hours after news of the indictment, and that more than 16,000 people registered to volunteer for the campaign.
The case centers on $130,000 that Trump paid to Daniels through Cohen in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Trump later reimbursed Cohen with $35,000 checks using his personal funds, which were recorded as legal expenses. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal crimes.
With the charges under seal, it remains unclear what charges the district attorney Alvin Bragg might seek against Trump, though some members of his legal team believe the most likely scenario involves a base charge of falsifying business records elevated to a felony.
An attorney for Trump, Joe Tacopina, told NBC’s Today show that his client would not consider taking a plea deal after becoming the first former president to be criminally charged. “There’s no crime,” Tacopina argued.
Preparations for the ex-president’s arraignment at Manhattan’s criminal courthouse at 100 Centre St have been under way for 10 days, with barriers being erected for crowd control.
Indictments and criminal trials scheduled for Tuesday at the same courthouse include: burglary for taking paintings from a West Village townhouse; a thwarted terrorist attack on a Jewish community; the illegal selling of firearms; murder for an East Harlem hammer attack; murder and attempted murder for attacking multiple homeless men; murder and criminal possession of a weapon for shooting into a car in East Harlem; and a grand larceny case involving sim-card swapping.
New York police have issued a memo instructing all officers to wear their uniforms and prepare for mobilization, according to local news reports. That came after Bragg acknowledged in a memo to the DA’s 1,600 staff members that the office had been receiving offensive and threatening phone calls and emails.
Bragg said the safety of his staff remained a top priority, and he thanked them for persevering in the face of “additional press attention and security around our office”.
Trump will not be handcuffed at his arraignment or subjected to a “perp walk”, and discussions are still being held about whether his booking photo will be publicly circulated. Trump reportedly “wants the mugshot out” because it could harness donations to his presidential campaign.