By Karl Rove
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s looming indictment of Donald Trump should be judged on its legal merits. I agree with attorney-turned-columnist David French—if the underlying theory of the case is untested and risky, “then don’t file the charge”—and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy—“this is a really dumb case.”
But if the charge is filed and the former president doesn’t plead guilty, the case will be heard. With Mr. Trump running again, there will be political fallout, especially if more indictments follow, such as for mishandling classified documents. With Mr. Trump, there always seems to be one more scandal around the corner.
An indictment would likely provoke many MAGA Republicans to rally around Mr. Trump, at least temporarily. His standing in 2024 GOP primary polls might improve as a shoddy case from a left-wing district attorney is likely to anger partisans.
The indictment talk has also moved Mr. Trump from his recent relative obscurity back to front-page headlines, in which he always revels. Even though he’s accused of paying $130,000 to an adult-film star for her silence about their alleged 2006 affair—accusations he denies—he clearly believes there’s no such thing as bad press. As he told an Iowa audience in 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” But that might no longer be true.
Still, believing a scandal is a terrible thing to waste, Mr. Trump has already stepped up his fundraising. Since Saturday, when he broke the indictment news, on through Wednesday, I’ve received 41 emails or texts from his team asking for contributions.
In all of his cash demands, Mr. Trump plays the victim. Dismissing the indictment as the left’s “most twisted scheme yet,” he offered supporters “YOUR Official Trump Gold Card Membership” for $47 on Sunday. By Tuesday, he was asking for only $1 to fight “witch hunt-crazed radicals” who want to “stop our movement for good.” If the Washington Post report that he has only raised $1.5 million from this barrage is true, his donors could be getting burned out.
The possibility of an indictment does, however, put his current and potential 2024 GOP competitors briefly in an awkward place. The easiest thing is to dismiss any charges as about “revenge” (former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley) or “politically charged” (former Vice President Mike Pence). The most adroit comment was from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who decried the “high-profile politicized prosecution,” while adding, “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star.” This won Mr. DeSantis a slap from Mr. Trump, who said that “Ron DeSanctimonious” would learn “about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES,” then made slanderous suggestions about the popular Florida governor. The only person who looks bad in that exchange—very bad—is the former president.
Mr. Trump further damaged his standing by calling on supporters to respond to an indictment with “PROTEST! PROTEST! PROTEST!!!” He forecast in a fundraising email that “millions of patriots” would “peacefully defend our movement from the vicious political persecution.” This is stupid. If MAGAites protest and it gets ugly, it damages Mr. Trump’s 2024 chances by reminding swing voters of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. If, as is far more likely, any protests are poorly attended, it’ll be a sign of eroding support. And he may get both negatives: Even small demonstrations could come across as semi-crazy.
Op-Ed by Mr. Rove, courtesy of rove.com, was first published in The Wall Street Journal.
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy-making process.
Mr. Rove has been described by respected author and columnist Michael Barone in U.S. News & World Report as “…unique…no Presidential appointee has ever had such a strong influence on politics and policy, and none is likely to do so again anytime soon.” Washington Post columnist David Broder has called Mr. Rove a master political strategist whose “game has always been long term…and he plays it with an intensity and attention to detail that few can match.” Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, has called Mr. Rove “the greatest political mind of his generation and probably of any generation. He knows history, understands the moods of the public, and is a visionary on matters of public policy.”
Before Mr. Rove became known as “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, non-partisan causes, and non-profit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional, and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.