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Opinion: Trump’s indictment bounce may well be a ‘sugar high’


Opinion by Dean Obeidallah

(CNN) — Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion at CNN.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a front-page article titled “How Trump Benefits From an Indictment Effect.” As the Times wrote, “Donors sent checks. Fox News changed its tune. The party apparatus rushed to defend Mr. Trump. And the polls went up — and up.”

But while former President Donald Trump is seeing a bump now, it could be just akin to the now-debunked idea of a “sugar high.” And at some point, Trump will likely suffer a “sugar crash.” In fact, the signs are there that he is already beginning to see the sugar high wear off.

The Times is correct in noting Trump has seen a spike in GOP support since he was first indicted back in April. But Trump is not running simply to be king of the GOP base. He needs to win in the general election in November 2024, yet reality suggests these indictments likely will become an albatross around his neck.

Trump is now facing 78 criminal charges, all felonies, in three cases, including four counts over attempts to overturn the 2020 election, 32 counts of “willful retention of national defense information” under the Espionage Act, obstruction of justice and more. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases and denied wrongdoing.

Trump’s trial over the 2020 election interference may start in early 2024 if special counsel Jack Smith has his way. Trump’s attorneys have not responded to Smith’s request to begin this trial on January 2, but we know from Trump’s classified documents case that his lawyers would like to delay a trial date as long as possible.

However, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan — who is presiding over the election subversion case and is expected to announce a trial date on August 28 — made it clear during oral arguments Friday over a protective order that she intended to move this case forward without regard to the political calendar. “The fact that he (Trump) is running a political campaign currently has to yield to the administration of justice,” Chutkan said. There’s a real chance the former president could not only be tried but even potentially convicted by mid-2024.

Trump’s legal woes are also having an impact on his campaign funds — which are a finite resource — as he’s hemorrhaging money to pay his lawyers. Trump’s Save America PAC — which had more than $100 million at the beginning of 2022 — per the most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission in late July now has only about $3.6 million in cash on hand, according to The Washington Post.

This PAC has become the primary vehicle to pay legal bills for Trump and his associates, and FEC reports show it and five other Trump-related committees have spent more than $40 million in legal fees since the beginning of 2021, the Post reported. These hefty costs may explain why Trump was lashing out Saturday on his social media platform Truth Social for the “vast” legal fees he has spent — which he blames on the “Lunatic Left.”

Trump’s indictments have also cost him funds in another unexpected way. He recently began running ads attacking prosecutors who are investigating him. That is money he could have spent on ads attacking his fellow Republicans vying for the 2024 presidential nomination or even criticizing President Joe Biden, but instead the money went to address his felony indictments.

And while Trump’s criminal charges yielded “an online gold mine,” according to The New York Times, it’s unclear how much this bump in “bigly” fundraising will continue. The day Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records in his first indictment, his campaign raised nearly $4 million in online donations. But he raised a little more than a quarter of that amount online when he was arraigned on the second indictment in the classified documents case. The Times noted there were no public records of fundraising available covering his third indictment.

Then there are polls of voters beyond the GOP base that raise red flags for Trump in the general election. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll conducted after his indictment in the election interference case found that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the charges against him are serious. The poll also found that a majority of Americans — 52% — agree Trump should have been charged, including a majority of independent voters. Only 32% of Americans believe he should not have been charged.

And while there’s no disputing Trump has seen his lead in the race to be the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee jump, there’s been no similar spike in general election polls. A New York Times/Siena College survey released August 1 found Trump and Biden tied at 43% in a hypothetical matchup.

Given our polarized electorate, the 2024 presidential election will be close regardless of who the Republican nominee is. But with Trump facing 78 criminal charges — as well as possibly more to come — his sugar high in the GOP primary is going to come crashing down. And so it should.

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