Trail Mix: GOP Circles the Wagons for Trump After Indictment

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Reuters

Welcome to Trail Mix, a fun but nutritious snack for your election news diet. See something interesting on the trail? Email me at

This week, we take an early look into the 2024 fallout from Donald Trump’s historic indictment in Manhattan court. Plus, we dive into Gov. Ron DeSantis’ nabbing of a top GOP free agent. Et tu, Jeff?

Circling the wagons around Mar-A-Lago

Following the unprecedented criminal indictment of a former U.S. president, few hands were shooting up within the Republican Party to go on the offensive and use the news to bury Donald Trump for good in the 2024 presidential primary.

Instead, the opposite happened: From Trump’s diehard supporters to Republicans who have been critical of him to those who haven’t declared their allegiances in 2024, the GOP wagons seemed to circle fully around Mar-A-Lago.

“This indictment doesn’t pass the smell test. The Department of Justice already looked into the facts and decided there was no case to be made against President Trump,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a Trump critic, said on Friday.

“Politics should never tip the scales of justice, and Congress has every right to investigate the conduct and decision-making of the Manhattan D.A.’s office,” he said.

‘Witch Hunt Bullshit’: GOP Lawmakers Quickly Side With Trump on Indictment

One of Trump’s only official rivals, Vivek Ramaswamy, went so far as to call on President Joe Biden to declare the indictment “a politically motivated prosecution” as a way to deliver national unity.”

To observers in the party, that illustrates the core political truth underlying the indictment—at least for the GOP primary.

"This only helps Trump. Polling shows most voters, including independent voters, see this as partisan,” one GOP strategist told The Daily Beast following the indictment news. “The rumor of Trump’s indictment only strengthened his position in the GOP primary, I would expect his numbers get even stronger."

Trump has long described himself as a “counter-puncher,” and those who know him say he revels in the fight along with the attention that comes with it.

“Donald Trump fights his best from the ropes, he really does,” a source who has spoken with Trump for decades told The Daily Beast. “Some of his best knockout punches have been from the ropes.”

Why not seize the opening to take a potshot at Trump?

“It will force their hands to comment on a [George] Soros-funded DA, or not,” the strategist said, referring to allegations on the right that Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg was “bought” by the liberal financier. “Which speaks volumes, for GOP voters.”

With few voters left who haven’t made up their mind about Trump, the Republican noted, agitating enough of the MAGA base needed to win not just a primary but a general election makes it not worth the trouble.

Instead of unsubtly dropping in the terms “hush-money” and “porn star,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis went to bat for Trump, if indirectly, calling the decision “un-American” and a “weaponization of the legal system,” making sure to tar Bragg with the “Soros-backed” tag. However, as The Daily Beast reported, Trumpworld was less than pleased with the response.

GOP Warns Trump’s Indictment Is His Biggest Campaign Asset

For especially quick Republicans, the fundraising spigot also turned on, with Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) quickly blasting out an email encouraging supporters to make a “rush donation” to “demand his freedom.” (As of publication, Trump had not been arrested or booked in jail.)

For Republicans who believe Trump deserves accountability, but kept their heads down to avoid rankling the base, the indictment drew mixed feelings.

“No one is above the law. Everyone is entitled to due process,” a longtime Republican strategist and adviser told The Daily Beast for this edition of Trail Mix. “If this was politically driven, every American should be concerned… Justice shouldn’t be arbitrary.”

But the seasoned Republican also found humor in the moment.

“Bet he smiles in his mugshot,” the operative said in a follow-up text. “Maybe he’ll bring back THE KRAKEN.”

‘You can’t bring a mercenary army to a holy war’

As the GOP inches closer to open war in the 2024 primary, very few Republicans have yet to cross the Rubicon separating the fiefdoms of Trump and DeSantis.

That changed this week. The high-powered operative Jeff Roe—who was Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign manager before floating in and out of Trump’s orbit afterward—has picked DeSantis as his horse for 2024. He’s headed to Never Back Down, the super PAC set up to support the governor’s nascent presidential bid.

Once Roe had crossed the Rubicon, it was clear the Trump campaign and the MAGA faithful had sharpened their daggers.

“Ron DeSanctimonious’ Political Consultants are failing to rescue his sinking ship,” Trump wrote in a Truth Social post following the news of Roe’s move. “He can’t move without them, it takes him forever to make a decision, and they’re charging him and his Globalist Donors a fortune.”

DeSantis Talks Tough After Indictment. Trumpers Unimpressed.

From one dirty trickster to another, longtime Trump stalwart Roger Stone called Roe “the guy who, when working for Ted Cruz, put out a mass text blast to Iowa voters saying Ben Carson had dropped out” on the eve of the 2016 Iowa caucuses. (Carson had not; the Cruz camp was accused of trickery and denied it.)

Far-right activist Laura Loomer, meanwhile, posted a widely shared meme of Roe dressed as The Hamburglar, highlighting losing campaigns for which he consulted.

“Jeff’s a larger than life personality, so he’ll get the larger-than-life treatment,” a former DeSantis staffer told The Daily Beast.

The former DeSantis staffer, who has crossed over the other way and now identifies as “Team Trump,” though they do not work on the Trump campaign, said the tarring and feathering of Roe is meant to send a message.

“I think Jeff Roe is being made an example of,” the DeSantis apostate said. “I think the takeaway should be: Listen, Ron’s opponents are gonna play all four corners on the battlefield, and we are going to tear Ron DeSantis apart.”

In crossing Trump, the former DeSantis staffer said Roe “brought a mercenary army to a holy war.”

One GOP strategist familiar with the Trump team’s plans said going after Roe is designed to send a chilling effect—though other former Trump staffers, such as Erin Perrine and Ken Cuccinelli, have also followed Roe to the pro-DeSantis Never Back Down super PAC.

“That’s the thing,” the strategist said. “The DeSantis people are trying to beat Trump in a primary by bringing over an expert to losing to Trump-backed candidates in primaries.”

“The problem for Ron DeSantis is that the whole army Jeff is bringing is loyal to him, not Ron DeSantis,” the alumnus of the Florida governor’s office said.

A source close to Roe pushed back on the critique of the campaign consultant as a mercenary.

“We’re missionaries, not mercenaries,” the source told The Daily Beast.

Roe never worked directly for Trump, but worked for Trump-endorsed candidates in 2020, and was reportedly in the mix to join the ex-president’s 2024 team after a Mar-a-Lago meeting between the two late last year.

Still, with loyalty placed at such a premium in and around Mar-a-Lago, those who have switched between the worlds know the price that must be paid to make it to the other side of the river.

“Everybody will get their time in the barrel. You can’t bring a mercenary army to a holy war, and Ron can’t keep a team together,” the former DeSantis staffer said. “He’s never been able to.”

Sununu 101 at Harvard

While Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) was working the crowd after his speech at Harvard University last week, he couldn’t resist a little dishing.

At one point, Sununu bragged that his upcoming speech at the National Rifle Association forum in Indiana fell on the same day DeSantis is scheduled to travel to New Hampshire for an event. As first reported by The Daily Beast, DeSantis’ advance team requested metal detectors for that rally—a big no-no in the “Live Free or Die” State.

“Like, c’mon!” Sununu said to a chorus of chuckles.

Roughly half the crowd were young Republican undergrads, who seemed delighted to glad-hand with the popular, moderate-leaning Granite State governor.

But some Democratic-voting grad students came to check out the potential 2024 dark horse candidate—and they seemed unimpressed.

Kate Michaels and Clare Fisher, a pair of second year master’s in public policy students, said they tried coming into Sununu’s speech with an open mind and hadn’t heard much about him beforehand.

However, they found his happy warrior routine got stale rather quickly, especially what Michaels described as his “throwaway comments,” such as how immigration reform—a famously intractable issue—isn’t “that hard” to solve.

“My impression of him based on this speech is that he’s more far-right than I anticipated,” Fisher added.

“I think it was interesting that he’s potentially running for president to hear from him,” she continued, “but I’m personally not interested in voting for him and I don’t know anybody who would.”

Campaign lit

Alvin and the chipmunk$$

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who officially indicted Trump this week, has proven to be a lucrative boogeyman for GOP fundraising, The Daily Beast’s Ursula Perano reports.

O’er the ramparts we juked the stats

Trump has been bragging about his take on the national anthem topping the Billboard charts, but as the Beast’s Roger Sollenberger explains in this week’s Pay Dirt newsletter, it’s nowhere near that straightforward.

Deep dish on Chicago politics

Dave Weigel of Semafor went inside the Chicago mayoral race, which is proving to be a high-stakes testing ground for Democratic messaging, not “another black-and-white story about liberal cities rebelling against crime.”

‘Just a Jacksonian’

In a double byline that will terrify Republican campaigns in 2024, Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times took a deep dive into Ron DeSantis’ foreign policy chops. The piece includes DeSantis’ crowd-ready take that President George W. Bush’s doctrine “constituted Wilsonianism on steroids.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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