Sensing an opportunity, the Trump campaign began to turn the imminent accusation in a litmus test for the rest of the field: either they defend the former president, they warned, or they are branded as left-wing sympathizers.

Even Trump’s Republican detractors began to see the writing on the wall.

“It has become the new teflon chairsaid Michael Brodkorb, a former vice chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party and a longtime critic of Trump. “He is someone who has built his entire political empire on him being the victim all the time and being the martyr, and this is just another example.”

For the duration of the Trump era, Trump has tried to turn one seemingly disqualifying scandal after another to his advantage. Sometimes it was successful (the Access Hollywood tape wasn’t the dagger everyone expected it to be), sometimes it was in trouble (the aftermath of the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 remains largely unsightly). In each case, he has survived.

The expected indictment to come will test that yet again; although, so far, the timing could hardly be better for him. If he is arrested this week, he will once again frame the early stages of the presidential primary around him, just as Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several other high-profile Republicans are considering launching their own campaigns.

“It seems very apparent that the left is doing everything they can to discredit former President Donald Trump,” said Bruce Cherry, chairman of the Republican executive committee for Seminole County in Florida, who called it the “best possible candidacy this country could have.” it would be Trump. as a presidential candidate alongside DeSantis, as his running mate. «The accusation, I feel, means nothing.»

If anything, Republicans say, Trump will benefit from a surge of support in the short term, as he did after the FBI seized documents from his property in Mar-a-Lago last year. It may not show up in national polls, where independent and Democratic voters will be reminded of the drama and scandals that seem to perpetually follow Trump. But a national Republican strategist, who was granted anonymity to discuss the political fallout, said the former president would likely enjoy an immediate fundraising boost in a hostile political environment.

“Small dollar donors have dwindled,” this person said. “It will motivate them. It proves there is a witch hunt.

on the right social media channels Over the weekend, some Trump supporters debated the merits of violent versus nonviolent protests, vaguely contemplating a truckers’ strike or a bank run, while others warned of a deep state «trap.» Unlike the legal challenges facing Trump in Fulton County, Georgia, and in a special counsel investigation around January 6, the case in New York stems from a Manhattan district attorney, seen by many Republicans as an epicenter of left-wing excesses. .

“In this case, I think the Republicans will initially support Trump,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. «Long term, it depends on what happens with this case, as well as with the other criminal investigations.»

If Trump ends up facing multiple charges, Ayres said, primary voters who are at least open to other Republican presidential candidates may see him as having too much «baggage.» But, he warned, no one can fully understand how it will all play out. After all, it has never happened before.

“I have never studied the impeachment of a former president and prominent presidential candidate,” Ayres said, “and I have never done any survey on the impeachment of a former president and prominent presidential candidate.”

One of the lingering fears of some Trump critics is that the case against him may prove weak and that beating him could further embolden him. Former Rep. Peter Meijer, the Michigan Republican who lost his primary last year after voting to impeach Trump for his role in the January 6 riots, said that “shitty Democrat crusades help Trump in his primaries, which , if he wins, they help the Democrats run the weakest Republican candidate for general.”

The highest-profile Republican critic of Trump in 2024, Pence, refused to twist the knife on Saturday. Campaigning in Iowa at a foreign policy forum organized by the Bastion Institute, he told reporters: “No one is above the law. I’m sure President Trump can take care of himself.»

But privately, Pence allies have argued that Trump is likely to face more charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

“He’s trying to walk a pretty narrow line,” Mike Murphy, a former Indiana Republican state legislator close to Pence, said of the former vice president’s comments. “He is trying to keep Trump at arm’s length. But at the same time he knows that the Republican base will go crazy if this happens on Tuesday. He has to empathize with his concerns, without empathizing with Trump. The most serious potential prosecution is in Atlanta. It will be clear that what is correct is correct and what is incorrect is incorrect.

Trump may be overreacting with his call to “Protest, Take Back Our Nation!” and with a rally Saturday in Waco, Texas, the first of his 2024 campaign. If the protests don’t materialize, or if the crowd size is negligible, «it will show that the Trump movement is sizzling,» said one Republican strategist. longtime veteran who remained anonymous to discuss the dynamics of the 2024 campaign.

It’s also possible that electability-obsessed Republicans, after Trump’s 2020 defeat and a disappointing midterm, see Trump’s impeachment as untenable in a general election.

“At some point, some of your supporters will see the cumulative effect of these legal actions directly affect your ability to win a general election,” said Dick Wadhams, former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and longtime party strategist. «There’s a reality that could start to sink in that he’s probably going to be sidetracked by these legal actions throughout the campaign.»

The biggest fear of some Republicans, however, is that an impeachment would really hurt Trump and the GOP just when the party needs to win back the independent and moderate Republicans who fled from them in 2020. Images of an impeached former president or of the protests its sparks could be painful reminders of his time in office.

“It helped him in the Republican primary, but he was going to win the Republican primary anyway,” said Mike Madrid, the Republican strategist who co-founded the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

The problem for the GOP, he said, is that even if an impeachment further intensifies Trump’s base, it will do nothing for the party in the general election.

“The strength of a waning base is not a sign of increasing movement,” Madrid said. «It’s the sign of an imploding dwarf star.»

Natalie Allison contributed to this report.