(WASHINGTON) — The federal trial over former President Donald Trump’s alleged illegal efforts to overturn the 2020 election is slated to start on March 4, 2024 — one day before “Super Tuesday” in the GOP presidential primary. Yet that, just like four indictments and two impeachments, may not stop the steamroller that is Trump’s campaign, GOP strategists who spoke with ABC News said Monday.
Trump has not blitzed the campaign trail, opting instead for a few events each week, and he retains the power to pack crowds with his signature rallies, meaning the trial may not significantly impede his campaign operations ahead of Super Tuesday. And given his sturdy dominance in early state polling, strategists warn the primary might already be over by March 4 anyway.
“I get the conversation going into overdrive about Super Tuesday,” said Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee communications director. “But if Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire, then electorally, in the primary, there’s no impact because it’s locked up at that point. I think this highlights the importance of Iowa.”
Trump’s allies lambasted the timing of the trial, which U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan announced after rejecting both an expedited timeline from special counsel Jack Smith and a request from Trump’s lawyers to delay the trial until 2026, with Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance dubbing it “Straight up election interference.”
“You’re starting the trial the day before the biggest primary day? It’s called Super Tuesday for a reason. It’s the biggest day of primaries. That’s when you start the trial?” asked one GOP consultant supporting Trump.
Trump later posted on his social media platform that he plans on appealing the March 4 date announced by Chutkan.
Still, the date’s timing could offer both disadvantages and opportunity — potentially taking Trump off the campaign trail the day before the largest number of delegates is up for grabs while also elevating attacks over an alleged “two-tiered” justice system that have so animated his backers.
“He’ll be able to message on it, but it will certainly interfere with his ability to campaign. It’s a double-edged sword,” said the consultant, who discussed the new ruling on condition of anonymity.
GOP strategists downplayed how much of a logistical hurdle the March 4 trial would pose to Trump — if he’s even required to show up at all.
California, whose primary is a major Super Tuesday prize, is expected to have a hefty chunk of its votes already cast before March 5. And with Trump riding partially on his name recognition, he doesn’t necessarily have to glad-hand every day of the primary calendar like some of his lower-polling rivals must.
“California is Super Tuesday, but I bet more than half the votes will already be submitted by mail before Election Day, if not two thirds of the votes, because the early voting is all by mail,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based GOP strategist. “He’ll be able to campaign all weekend…he’ll still be somewhere that evening campaigning.”
“He’s kind of a two-rallies-a-week type of guy anyway,” Stutzman added. “And you’ll have scenarios where he walks out of court at five o’clock and gets on the jet, and there’s a 7:30 rally in western Pennsylvania. That’s what he’ll do is talk about his day in court, being persecuted all day. He’ll still pop up on a rally stage in the evening.”
Trump’s leads in national and early state polls suggest that strategy is enough.
Stutzman said it’s a “very even-money question” as to whether Trump can win Iowa and New Hampshire — the states with the first two nominating contests where polling has shown Trump with double-digit leads — but that if he does, the former president could face an unobstructed path to his third straight nomination.
“Unless he’s narrowly winning states against somebody, then conceivably, it could be going to Super Tuesday, but if he wins the first four states, yeah, you would think he’s all but the nominee at that point,” Stutzman said.
But while the March 4 trial date may end up being a mere speed bump in the primary for Trump, the general election could be something else altogether.
Trump is facing four different criminal cases, in which he maintains his innocence in each, that are expected to extend through November 2024, meaning he’ll have to bounce between a courtroom and the campaign trail for months on end, all while his legal struggles remain front and center for swing voters, not just the GOP’s supportive primary electorate.
“You want to know that your politician who wins in November is not going to be in the slammer. And you can’t say that about Trump. And so those voters, they don’t love Joe Biden, they don’t think the economy is working, but they wanted to give him a chance, and in part because they were tired of all of chaos,” Heye said. “This does not help them come back.”
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