“The campaign will be conducted in a courtroom, essentially,” said Dick Wadhams, a former Colorado Republican Party chair and longtime party strategist. “And that’s worked out well for [Trump] for the past year. They probably are banking on that to continue.”
Already this week, both Trump and the Colorado Republican Party have said they would appeal to the Supreme Court the state high court’s bombshell decision disqualifying Trump from the ballot because he incited an insurrection on Jan. 6.
In Michigan, a
bombshell report revealed both Trump and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel privately offered to provide legal defense to two GOP canvassers in exchange for not certifying the state’s 2020 presidential vote. That could prove to be a boon to special prosecutor Jack Smith as he seeks to show Trump repeatedly leaned on state officials to overturn the results despite lacking evidence of widespread fraud. The new evidence could also boost Michigan’s Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, as she investigates Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s election results, with some legal commentators suggesting it could be a crime to offer the canvassers costly legal advice in exchange for abdicating their public duties.
The Supreme Court’s roster of Trump matters may end up even more crowded than it already is. In addition to the Colorado case and immunity question — which is likely to come before the justices again soon — the high court plans to rule on the scope of a federal obstruction law that could upend two of Smith’s charges against Trump. And Trump’s ongoing challenge of a gag order in his Washington case is likely to end up in the Supreme Court next year as well. Trump has indicated he may bring yet another immunity case to the Supreme Court as he seeks to stall a civil lawsuit in New York brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.
Courts have already found Trump responsible in civil cases for fraudulent business practices, sexual abuse and defamation, even before getting to the charges that could carry jail time.
The Michigan case, too, was a reminder of the unexpected legal landmines that still await Trump as investigations into his allies surge forward in a handful of states, including Arizona, Nevada and Georgia.
The increased court wrangling comes as Trump has stepped up his campaign activity ahead of the early nominating contests, the first of which, Iowa’s caucuses, are less than a month away. Trump has visited Iowa four times recently, along with a recent stop in New Hampshire. His court calendar is crowded with pretrial developments in Florida, Atlanta and New York, but Trump is not required to appear at any of them until his May 20 trial on charges he hoarded classified information after leaving office — a trial date widely expected to be postponed. That could change once the immunity question is resolved and the timeline of Trump’s Washington case comes back into focus.
The seriousness of the legal cases against Trump could undermine him in a general election. Voters rejected him in 2020, after all. But they do not appear to be damaging him in the primary. And even Trump’s rivals admit that his legal challenges have bolstered his bid. In an interview aired Thursday, Ron DeSantis, who has fallen precipitously in the primary after entering the as Trump’s chief rival,
lamented on Christian Broadcasting Network that Trump’s indictments had “distorted the primary” and “sucked out a lot of oxygen” from the contest.
“I would say if I could have one thing change, I wish Trump hadn’t been indicted on any of this stuff,” the Florida governor said.
Logistics aside, the constant legal developments are also lending shape to Trump’s campaign narrative — a slow drip of grievance politics in which Trump casts himself as a victim of the establishment, including the justice system, despite controlling many of its levers for four years as president.
“Other than him doing the periodic big rally, it’s not like he’s a barnstormer, anyway.” said Jason Roe, the former executive director of the state Republican Party in Michigan.
Of the legal drama, he said, “It overshadows everything, but I still think it’s rocket fuel for Trump. … I think it feeds right into his whole narrative that everybody’s out to get him.”
In Colorado, where the Trump eligibility case exploded this week, Wadhams said, “It makes you wonder what is the tolerance level of Republicans for this chaos.”
He said, “So far it’s been pretty high, but I just have to think that there’s a breaking point. … It just makes you wonder when Republicans are going to start thinking maybe we don’t want to go through an entire general election campaign with this guy.”
Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.