Trump anxiety among GOP senators grows as indictments appear to help him

Republican senators who don’t want to see former President Trump as their party's nominee are feeling increasingly anxious that special counsel Jack Smith is actually helping Trump's presidential campaign through his dogged pursuit of the former president. 

They fear that another round of federal charges against Trump will only further boost his fundraising and poll numbers, solidifying his possession as the dominant front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary field.  

And they worry that Smith’s effect on the Republican presidential primary is being magnified by prominent House Republicans and conservative media personalities who have rallied behind Trump, effectively blotting out the rest of the GOP presidential field.  

“They wish he would go away,” said a Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on private conversation, of fellow GOP senators’ concerns that Smith is helping propel Trump to victory.  

“They wish they would both go away,” the senator added, referring to Smith and Trump.  

The senator said constituents are calling on colleagues to “stand by Trump,” essentially turning the GOP presidential primary into a referendum on the former president and his battles with the Biden Justice Department. 

The senator said Smith is “absolutely” the best thing going for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Trump had a 15-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in national polls March 30, when news of the former president’s first indictment in New York on 34 felony counts related to a hush money scheme became public.  

Since then, his lead over DeSantis, his closest rival, has grown to 33 points, according to an average of recent national polls.  

A second Republican senator said the Department of Justice will further boost Trump if it brings new charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and stop Congress from certifying President Biden’s victory Jan. 6, 2021.  

Trump already faces 37 counts in a federal indictment related to the classified documents found at his Florida residence.

“The things that one would have thought were disqualifying can be enhancing, can be improving your standing,” said the GOP senator, who also requested anonymity to comment on how Trump’s legal battles are energizing Republican voters to embrace his campaign.  

“I should explain to my constituents who complain that the Democrats are out to ambush Trump: ‘No, they want him to be Republican nominee because he is the one who would lose,’” the senator added.  

The senator said a new federal indictment against Trump “creates increased enthusiasm among his supporters and probably brings other voters along who see this as a rotten system.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who hasn’t yet endorsed any presidential candidate, said Trump is getting “stronger” because of the two indictments and the potential for additional charges from the Justice Department and the Fulton County (Ga.) district attorney.  

“I think he’s getting stronger,” he said, adding, “The primary gets less and less [competitive].” 

Paul speculated that the Biden administration and its allies may be focusing prosecutorial firepower on Trump to boost him in the primary, because Democratic strategists believe Biden has a good chance of beating him again in a general election.  

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“Maybe that’s their strategy. Maybe their strategy is: 'Let’s keep indicting him. We’ll build him up because he’s the one candidate who won’t have appeal to independents.’ And that might be true,” Paul said.  

The Kentucky senator said even Republicans who aren’t Trump fans feel angry and exasperated by the severity of the charges brought against him.

“More and more Republicans, even ones who have disagreements with him, are like: ‘Really, you’re going to indict him for trying to overturn the election?’” he said.  

Paul said he thought the strategy of Trump allies trying to push alternate slates of Electoral College electors in the weeks after the 2020 election was “a stupid strategy.” 

“I voted against it. I said at the time it was a dumb strategy. So I’m against that policy, but never in my right mind would I think that it’s a crime for [Trump] to say, ‘Let’s have an alternate set of electors,’” he said.  

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who has endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the 2024 presidential election and has repeatedly warned that Trump is a turnoff to swing voters, said the Department of Justice has only boosted Trump’s fundraising and standing in the polls.

“That seems to have happened so far,” he said. “He seems to have benefited every time that the Justice Department goes after him. 

“I’m hoping that the dynamic changes in a way that Tim Scott starts to break out,” Thune said.  

Trump’s campaign last week sent out a fundraising email to supporters within 24 hours of receiving a letter from Smith informing him that he is the target of a grand jury investigation related to the events of Jan. 6.  

He asked his subscribers to “make a contribution to show that you will NEVER SURRENDER our country to tyranny as the DEEP State thugs try to JAIL me for life.”  

Trump raised $35 million in the second quarter of this year, during which time he pleaded not guilty in separate criminal cases in Manhattan and the Southern District of Florida.  

DeSantis reported raising $20 million in the second quarter. 

Trump has repeatedly bashed Smith to rev up his core supporters.  

He shot off a fundraising email immediately after learning that he had been indicted in early June for violating the Espionage Act and conspiring to obstruct justice because of his handling of classified documents after leaving office.  

“We are watching our Republic DIE before our very eyes. The Biden-appointed Special Counsel has INDICTED me in yet another witch hunt regarding documents that I had the RIGHT to declassify as President of the United States,” he wrote June 8. 

Trump’s strategy of villainizing Smith and the Department of Justice has proven especially effective with small-dollar donors; his campaign reported collecting $6.6 million within days of Smith announcing his first round of charges.  

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted twice to convict Trump of impeachment charges and wants his party to move away from the former president, said: “In the past, an indictment would be terminal for a candidate.” 

“Donald Trump has proven that’s not the case. He was right: He could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t make a difference,” he said.  

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who doesn’t think Trump can win a general election matchup against Biden, said the indictments have rallied Republican voters behind Trump "so far."

“But he hasn’t had a trial yet," he said. "That could change things."