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How are the 34 felony charges affecting Donald Trump's presidential campaign?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So let's dig into the politics of this a bit more because Donald Trump remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination. And that's due in large part to voters like Chris. He says Trump's indictment only makes it more likely he will support him in the presidential race.

CHRIS: It's just - it's too crazy right now. Trump being the only candidate and ex-president who actually really cared about people without caring so much about power. You can't trust Republicans. You can't trust Democrats. Trump was the only one you can trust.

MARTIN: We heard about Chris because he took part in a focus group led by the Republican Accountability Project. The group opposes Trump but is also trying to figure out what makes his voters tick and who else they might be able to support ahead of the next election. NPR political correspondent Susan Davis spoke with a leader of the project. And she's with us now to tell us more about it.

Good morning, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So tell us a bit more about these focus groups and what they're learning from voters.

DAVIS: So I talked to Sarah Longwell. She's been conducting almost weekly voter focus groups for about four years now. Her most recent focus has been on two-time Trump voters. So they supported him in '16 and in 2020. And she says, prior to the indictment, there was a lot of interest from these voters in finding a new face for '24. They say they still like Trump. But there was organic interest particularly in someone like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. But in the first focus group, immediately after the news of the indictment broke last week, she said it was the first group she had done with these voters where they all said that they were standing behind Trump.

SARAH LONGWELL: You actually heard one voter say, if they can do it to Trump with all his resources, they can do it to me. And of course, that has been Trump's signature way of tethering himself to the voters and making his grievances their grievances.

DAVIS: Longwell calls this the rally-around-Trump effect of the indictments. We've seen this phenomenon before, particularly during Trump's past impeachments. She says it's too soon to say if that will hold. But in the short term, it certainly has appeared to strengthen him.

MARTIN: Yeah, and we've seen this before with other political leaders, like, you know, Bill Clinton, for example, with his, you know, difficulties and the affair that he had with Monica Lewinsky and so forth, and other politicians beyond that. But these Trump voters, did they evaluate the indictment on its merits at all? Do they think there's any credibility to...

DAVIS: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...These charges or any credibility to any of the investigations into Trump?

LONGWELL: Well, I was listening to the voter conversation. And there was this striking moment to me where they were asked if they have any faith in the Justice Department, the FBI or any government entity to investigate Trump fairly. Take a listen to this exchange.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Who do you trust to lead investigations against Trump?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Nobody in government right now, nobody.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: You're exactly right on (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah, it would have to be a total independent.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Exactly.

DAVIS: And no one could even name an independent third party they could trust. I mean, suspicion in government runs so deep with this - with these voters. And that just helps Trump. If anything, the more he's accused of - and, you know, there are still three other ongoing investigations in which he might face additional indictments. It seems pretty safe to say that it won't move the needle with these voters.

MARTIN: And, Sue, it's clear that this case is going to carry into the election year. The next court date is in December. How are potential Trump rivals like DeSantis, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, maneuvering on this?

DAVIS: I mean, they're rallying around him. DeSantis, other potential rivals - like his former vice president, Mike Pence, declared rival South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley - they've all defended Trump. They echo his defense that it's politically motivated. I asked Longwell about this. You know, she's been - never been a Trump supporter. She's personally very eager to find a new leader for the party. But she said it's just going to be really difficult for any of Trump's rivals to shake up this race following that playbook.

LONGWELL: They don't seem to realize that by rallying around him - parroting the things that he's said, by staying on side, by looking like a bit player in his drama - that ultimately, they just make Trump stronger.

DAVIS: It's also, as Longwell noted, the exact same dynamic that played out in the 2016 Republican primary that led to his nomination the first time.

MARTIN: OK, so that's Republicans. But briefly, what about the country on the whole?

DAVIS: You know, if Trump is ultimately the nominee, it's a totally different story. He carries tremendous baggage with swing and independent voters. They have much more credibility in these investigations. They were totally turned off by the events around January 6 and Trump's role in it. The most recent NPR poll found that despite Republican support for him, Trump remains disliked by 6 in 10 Americans, who don't want him to be president again.

MARTIN: That is NPR political correspondent Susan Davis.

Susan, thank you so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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