How Trump’s possible indictments will influence Republican political strategy

As the country waits for a Manhattan grand jury's decision in the case involving Donald Trump's alleged hush-money payments, the New York Times reported the former president is said to be invigorated by the possibility of an indictment. It raises questions about his fate and the Republican Party which has tied its future to Trump. GOP strategist Doug Heye discussed the latest with Geoff Bennett.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    The Manhattan grand jury hearing evidence in a case involving former President Donald Trump's alleged hush money payments to an adult film actress didn't meet today, as regularly scheduled, with no immediate word on why, leaving open the question of whether Mr. Trump will be indicted.

    Meantime, the former president is said to be invigorated by the possibility of an indictment. The New York Times reports that he's told his friends he welcomes the idea of being paraded by the authorities before a throng of reporters and news cameras, all of it raising questions not just about his fate, but that of the Republican Party, which has largely tied its future to Donald Trump's.

    Republican strategist Doug Heye is a former communications director to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and the RNC. And he joins us now.

    Thanks for being here.

  • Doug Heye, Republican Strategist:

    Good to be with you.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    So, Donald Trump has successfully fund-raised off of what he says is an expected indictment. What do you make of this notion that he would use a potential arrest, a potential indictment as part of a campaign strategy to galvanize his supporters?

  • Doug Heye:

    Well, Donald Trump very skillfully uses anything to his advantage, even if sometimes we have to scratch our head and say, why would that be to Donald Trump's advantage?

    The rules have never really applied to him that they would with any other candidate. And, certainly, in this case, in the short term, meaning the primary calendar, this is something that he will be able to use to help galvanize support, because it's entirely consistent with what his opening message was when he took that escalator ride down in his own building in New York, that the system is rigged. It's rigged against you. It's against — rigged against me.

    So he's consistent here. And that's why it helps him short term. Long term, if he's the general — if he's the nominee in the general election, disaster.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Meantime, President Trump's allies in the House, to include a trio of committee leaders, have used their new majority to demand the testimony of the Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg.

    It reads to many people like an extraordinary effort to influence an ongoing grand jury deliberation, investigation. This topic has also consumed much of the GOP's retreat in Florida this past week, with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy talking to reporters.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):

    I look at it from this perspective. We live in America and there should be equal justice. This was personal money. This wasn't trying to hide. This was seven years ago, statute of limitation. And I think, in your heart of hearts, you know too that you think this is just political.

    And I think that's what the rest of the country thinks. And we're kind of tired of that.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Is that the smart political move? And I ask the question because it's not just the Manhattan case that he faces in terms of legal and criminal exposure. It's also the case in Georgia, another New York case, and the two federal investigations.

  • Doug Heye:

    Well, as usual, there's a lot going on here.

    And a lot of things can be true at once. It can be true that what's happening in Manhattan is political, and that Donald Trump might have just committed a crime somewhere. And the challenge, I think, for Republicans here is if — and we have seen this for years now. If you want to play Donald Trump's game, you have always got to back him up.

    And the problem there is, Donald Trump is not somebody who gives points. He only takes him away, one at a time. So you have to back him in Manhattan. You're going to have to back him in Georgia. And one of these places, he might have just done something wrong, which means he will be indicted, and then potentially found guilty.

    And so this is where Republicans have backed themselves in a corner. And that's not going to change anytime soon. It's been a long time as the party's history already.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, after months of waving off taunts from Donald Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is starting to hit back. He took some shots in an interview that's expected to air tomorrow at Donald Trump's character and his leadership.

    And, earlier this week, he spoke about this hush money case.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL):

    I don't know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.

    I just — I can't speak to that.


  • Gov. Ron DeSantis:

    But what I can speak to is that, if you have a prosecutor who is ignoring crimes happening every single day in his jurisdiction, and he chooses to go back many, many years ago to try to use something about porn star hush money payments, that's an example of pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Governor DeSantis knew what he was doing there with that statement.

    I mean, is there room for criticism of Donald Trump now in the Republican Party? Have the political winds shifted?

  • Doug Heye:

    What we're seeing is, there is some room, depending on how you do it, where you can go after Trump on Trumpy things. A lot of Republicans have been critical on Trump on specific policy things.

    Marco Rubio very tough on the Trump administration on China, Lindsey Graham often very difficult and tough on Donald Trump on a Tuesday or Wednesday, might be playing golf with him on Saturday.

    But DeSantis obviously is in a different position. He's potentially running against Trump. Everybody thinks that he will. And this isn't exactly taking the gloves off yet. The gloves are still on. So these are soft blows that he's — that he's throwing at Trump. Ultimately, he can do this for a while. He can't do it in perpetuity. But he's smart, DeSantis is, and strategic, in taking on Trump a little bit at a time, but also not taking Donald Trump's bait, because what is he ultimately doing there?

    He's taking Trump's line as well that this is — the system's rigged. It's unfair. And part of what you're hearing, you heard from Kevin McCarthy, you heard from DeSantis, is very Clintonesque.

    When we had the Bill Clinton impeachments scandal, a lot of the Democratic rhetoric was, this is old news, we need to move on. It's what a lot of Republicans are saying right now too.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, on that point, I mean, if you think about what happened in the 2020 election, in the 2018 midterms, in the 2022 midterms, independent suburban voters who are inclined to vote for Republicans don't like Donald Trump. That was clear at the ballot box. Republicans paid a price for that.

    Looking ahead, I mean, at what point do Republicans break from the tried-and-true deep-red base, the demands and the desires of that base to attract a wider base of support?

  • Doug Heye:

    Well, the challenge is, it's not up to the Republican Party, however you define that.

    When I worked at the RNC in 2010, we had a great cycle that year, but we also knew you don't really win or lose races in Washington. You win and lose them in congressional districts and in states. And the problem Republicans have is, just look at some of the candidates they have nominated, not just in 2022, but we can go back to 2010, 2012, 2014, a lot of these elections where very winnable races were essentially thrown away because Republicans nominated the wrong candidate.

    And that's really difficult, whether you're the NRCC, the NRSC, or the RNC. The RNC doesn't get involved in primaries, as a rule. NRCC and NRSC is — they're starting to flex their muscles a little bit more than we have seen in the past, because they know that mistake. And this ultimately is what Mitch McConnell has warned the party. We need quality candidates.

    If we don't have that, Trump or no Trump, Republicans are going to have the same problems they have had and disappointing elections as we did in 2022.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Doug Heye, thanks for coming in.

  • Doug Heye:

    Thank you.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Appreciate your insights.

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