WASHINGTON – Donald Trump's prospective campaign to reclaim the presidency in 2024 faces legal and political jeopardy, but allies say some of the potential roadblocks – including the threat of prosecution – are actually motivating him to run.
As he ponders when and how to announce, Trump is dealing with new revelations about his conduct during the Jan. 6 insurrection of 2021, push-back from a rising number of Republicans, and, above all, the prospect of an unprecedented indictment of a former president.
Despite these and other problems, Trump is actively considering a 2024 campaign, and may make an announcement as early as this summer, said aides and allies discussing internal deliberations on condition of anonymity.
If anything, the attacks on him – including the prospect of indictments – is only encouraging Trump to run again, if only to confront his enemies, they said.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich said "the American people remain hungry for his leadership," and the former president is not dissuaded by the various investigations into his actions regarding the attempted insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
"As another witch hunt is blowing up in the faces of Democrats, President Trump is in a stronger position now than at anytime before," Budowich said.
While under investigation by a grand jury in Georgia and, perhaps, the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.,Trump has repeatedly dropped hints about another presidential run, including during a recent rally for 2022 candidates in Illinois.
"In 2024, most importantly, we are going to take back our magnificent White House," Trump told supporters, some of whom chanted "four more years!"
The obstacles between here and there, for Trump, include:
The Jan. 6 hearings
The Illinois rally took place less than a week before former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified to the congressional Jan. 6 committee about aberrant behavior by the president in the days leading up to the insurrection.
Claims that could follow Trump onto the campaign trail include the spectacle of the president throwing a plate of lunch against a White House wall, staining it with ketchup.
One of the most serious allegations: Hutchinson testified that Trump knew that some supporters on Jan. 6 were armed with weapons, even as he exhorted them to march to the U.S. Capitol to protest the electoral vote count that put President Joe Biden in office.
Trump may be vulnerable to charges of inciting an insurrection, or seeking to obstruct a legal proceeding.
The Jan. 6 hearings overall have produced a number of embarrassing items about Trump, and even gotten him cross-wise with members of his family.
Committee members said Trump protested the 2020 election with claims of voter fraud, even though Attorney General Bill Barr and other aides told him that those claims were bogus. Daughter Ivanka Trump told the committee in a videotaped deposition that she agreed with Barr's assessment, drawing a rebuke from her father on social media.
On the social media website Truth Social, Trump said his daughter "had long since checked out, and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!)."
An indicted ex-president?
Testimony before the Jan. 6 commission has fueled speculation that Trump is vulnerable to criminal incitement for inciting the riot designed to stop the electoral vote count that confirmed Joe Biden's victory.
The Department of Justice is also investigating the insurrection, and some of their findings could splash up on Trump. Authorities recently searched the home of former DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark, a key player in Trump's election protest. They have also seized the cell phone of John Eastman, a private lawyer advising Trump who was involved in efforts to overturn the election.
The U.S. Department of Justice is prosecuting Jan. 6 rioters, but it is not known if Trump is a focus of the overall investigation.
Trump is definitely being investigated by a grand jury in Atlanta regarding another allegation: Improperly pressuring Georgia state officials to change elections results favoring Biden. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told USA TODAY in February that investigators are "looking at the total scope" of possible wrongdoing.
Trump and the Justice Department:Trump leaned on DOJ to help overturn 2020 election, witnesses tell Jan. 6 committee: recap
Trump also faces a civil investigation by the New York state attorney general's office on past financing dealings.
Aides said Trump, at times, professes a lack of concern about the possibility of criminal charges, and doubts that prosecutors will go after him. At other times, however, Trump has fretted that the Biden administration and Democratic governments in New York and Georgia will go after him, a fear he has expressed in public.
"They wanna put me in jail," Trump told supporters in late January.
Trump and his allies say the various Jan. 6 investigations will not affect his political plans.
"I think it is going to propel him to run even more," said Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign adviser, adding that Trump sees all these investigations as a plot against him.
Emerging Republican opposition
At one time, some Republicans thought that no big-name Republicans would challenge Trump.
That no longer seems to be the case.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has made appearances in early contest states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, has said he will make his own decision on a presidential run, regardless of whether Trump runs.
That sets up the intriguing possibility of a former vice president running against a former president who tapped him to be a running mate in the first place.
There is evidence that more and more Republicans are casting about for an alternative to Trump – and one frequently mentioned name is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis has said he is more focused on his re-election bid this fall than on a presidential run in 2024. His people did put out the word that DeSantis didn't care whether he got Trump's endorsement or not.
A recent poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center gave DeSantis a slight lead over Trump in the state that is expected to host the first Republican primary in 2024.
The poll gave DeSantis 39% of likely Republican primary voters to Trump's 37%, well within the margin of error.
Anti-Trump political strategist Sarah Longwell, who has been conducting focus groups through the year, said she is seeing a rising number of Republicans who want Trump to leave the scene.
Reporting on two recent focus groups of Trump voters, Longwell said: "For the first time, none of the respondents want Trump to run again in 2024."
Conflicting advice on timing
Some aides said Trump is being advised to announce early in order to send a message to Pence and DeSantis, and make it harder for them to raise money.
Some potential GOP presidential candidates, such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, have said they won't run if Trump does.
Other contenders, such as Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., are waiting to see what Trump does and when he does it.
The downside of an early announcement: Candidate Trump would have to separate himself from the political action committee that is spending millions on behalf of candidates in the November mid-term elections – another big factor in Trump's personal political calculus.
So others are advising Trump to hold off a formal declaration after the November elections – the results of which could affect Trump's plans as well.
The November 2022 elections
Trump is backing more than 140 Republican candidates for offices up and down the ballots.
That includes state and local offices devoted to running elections – part of what Democrats say is an effort to make it easier to overturn adverse election results in battleground states in 2024. Trump said his protest of the 2020 election remains an issue and should be issues for Republican candidates across the board.
Trump is also prepared to take the credit if Republicans win control of Congress in the November elections, theoretically strengthening his hand for another presidential run.
If Republicans have reversals, it could be a different story.
Democrats are particularly hopeful about keeping control of the Senate. They are trying to use Trump's support of Republican candidates in closely contested states, such as Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and J.D. Vance in Ohio, to sway swing state voters.
Trump touts the success of his endorsed candidates in Republican primaries, but that is a mixed bag.
His support of Vance did propel the author-and-businessman to victory in the Ohio Senate primary, but he won only a little more than 32% in a crowded field. Oz won his primary in Pennsylvania, but it was so close that a recount was required.
Last month, the ex-president failed to defeat incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp, R-Ga., who won a blowout over the Trump-backed David Perdue. Last week, two Trump-backed candidates in Georgia lost congressional runoff races, though both the Republican winners said they are also Trump supporters.
Election reversals could affect Trump's thinking, allies said, but few think it will change his mind about running again.
One motive, allies said: Revenge against Biden. The lower Biden's approval ratings, the more likely Trump is to run, sources said.
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Biden, meanwhile, has said he would welcome a Trump challenge.
"I'd be very fortunate if I had that same man running against me," Biden told reporters in March.
Whatever the ratings, beating an incumbent is almost always a challenge.
Trump and his supporters point to his record of endorsements, claiming he has backed 146 successful candidates (against 10 defeats), thoughmost of those were incumbents or otherwise heavy favorites with little opposition.
“Would anybody like me to run for president?”
Trump has repeatedly hinted at a 2024 run since he left office on Jan. 20, 2021, two weeks after the attempted insurrection and one week after the House impeached him for a second time.
Last month, during a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Nashville, Trump began talking about "one of the most urgent tasks facing the next Republican president" when he stopped and said: "I wonder who that will be?"
As supporters stood and cheered, Trump added: “Would anybody like me to run for president?”
Trump has asked numerous people how he should handle 2024, advisers said, but has not overtly declared his intentions.
The only certainty: The final decisions about Trump's future belong to Trump, and they could be made anytime.
Gates, the former campaign adviser, said the former president "asks everybody if he should run" in 2024.
"But he will make the final decision."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump's prospective 2024 campaign faces a few roadblocks