ATLANTA — The sprawling new indictment of Donald Trump in Georgia could have uniquely painful consequences for the former president’s effort to reclaim the White House, according to four Republican strategists with experience in the state’s politics.
The strategists, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly to avoid possible political retribution from Trump and his allies, say that Trump needs to win Georgia in November 2024 to return to the White House and that another year of nonstop indictment coverage on local and national news here doesn’t help.
“It may be more muck on top of the heap elsewhere, but in Georgia it's different," a strategist who has worked on recent statewide campaigns here said. “The road to the White House goes through Georgia.”
Trump has taken to bragging about how he gets a polling bump after every indictment. And with about 150 days until the Iowa caucuses, he holds a sizable lead in Republican primary polling, both nationally and in key states.
Strategists caution that his polling may be resilient, in part, because voters are simply not paying much attention — especially critical independent voters in battleground states like Georgia.
But another year of indictment coverage could push dialed-in moderate Republican and independent voters in places like the Atlanta suburbs even further away from Trump, three of the campaign strategists said. Georgia voters weighed his stolen election narrative last year when it was arguably on the ballot as Gov. Brian Kemp easily dispatched a pro-Trump primary challenge from former Sen. David Purdue by 625,000 votes.
“This reminds the same indies in places like Forsyth County why they didn’t vote for him in the first place,” one of the operatives said of the traditionally deeply red Northeast Georgia county where Trump’s vote share slipped 6 percentage points from 2016 to 2020.
“In Georgia, it's just a net loser,” another said. “Period.”
'Black and white'
After having voted for Trump in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, Phyllis Weaver, 79, of Gwinnett County, said she is even more certain she won't support Trump next year.
Weaver said that she had tracked the case in neighboring Fulton County and that the charges were merited. “They’re founded,” she said Tuesday.
Still, she conceded some exhaustion with the pace of new charges, saying she turned over to watch "The Bachelorette" soon after news broke Monday that an indictment could soon be handed up in Georgia.
"He should be cut out from politics," Weaver said. “I don’t think he should be allowed to run for president."
Trump lost Georgia to Biden by fewer than 12,000 votes — leaving him with no margin for error here in 2024. But in the 2022 midterm elections, Trump's hand-picked Senate candidate, Herschel Walker, lost a runoff by more than 100,000 votes. Kemp, who defended the integrity of the 2020 election, was easily re-elected.
The divide between Kemp and Trump could also work against Trump in a general election.
Trump has been particularly frustrated that most of the people who have testified against him before the grand jury in Fulton County are Republicans, a source said.
Another of the strategists said: “Kemp keeps beating Trump. It’s pretty amazing. And when Trump constantly looks at things in black and white, winners and losers, Kemp comes up on the winning side against him time and time again.”
The wild card in predicting how the four indictments will ultimately affect Trump seems to be whether voters are paying much attention — and whether they will ever start to follow his legal woes more closely.
Georgia presents a new variable — any court appearances are likely to be carried live on television with cameras in the courtroom. Trump has been arraigned three times, but so far, the public hasn’t been able to watch as he has been brought before judges and compelled to enter pleas for the crimes he’s been accused of.
Interviews with half a dozen Republican voters in Iowa who have caucused before and intend to do so again found that none were following closely enough to say why Trump had been indicted.
“I guess I really don’t know,” said Jane Story, of State Center, who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 and intends to vote for him again, when she was asked why he was being charged. “They’re just trying to dig up stuff so they can bring it up so that he doesn’t run again. Because he’s not a politician; he’s a businessman. They don’t want him out there again.”
Ryan Lauritzen, of Oelwein, supported Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas in the 2016 Republican caucus and then voted for Trump in the general election, but he hasn’t decided whom he will support in the January caucus.
Lauritzen said he thinks most Republicans just don’t care.
“How many times can you cry wolf before people finally decide, 'Yeah, no, I don’t think so'?” Lauritzen said.
Back in Georgia, Martha Zoller, a conservative radio host and commentator and a former Kemp adviser, said the indictment secured by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis this week was “overkill.”
Zoller’s listeners see an uneven application of the law, she said.
“People either feel that he’s being railroaded or they don’t care — that it’s too much,” Zoller said of the callers who dial into her show on weekdays.
'I'd lose a lot of friends'
Tyree Harris, 40, a 13-year resident of DeKalb County, Georgia, said he was drawn to Trump in the wake of the latest indictment and would vote for him next year after not having voted in 2020.
Harris said Trump’s insistence that there was voter fraud in 2020 has convinced him.
“I think he is” going to get a fair trial in Georgia, Harris said. Of the prosecutors, he said, “They’re not going to succeed.”
Trump’s constant criticism of the charges appears to be aimed at voters like Harris, who can be convinced the prosecution is unfair.
Chandelle Summer, a criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, has voted for Democrats consistently, she says but has also been described as conservative. After having seen four indictments, she is now considering voting for Trump.
“When it comes right down to it, I feel like people are torn. And I think he personifies strength and somebody who could withstand very difficult circumstances, like this, where you’ve got four major cases against you in four different places. And he does it without flinching.”
Part of her reason for leaning toward Trump now? The current president.
“A lot of it is being a little dissatisfied with Biden,” she said. “I like Trump’s stamina. And it’s a character issue for me, the character that he has shown through this very trying time, and I think that would be good for the country, possibly. But I don’t want to commit to voting for Trump. I’d lose a lot of friends.”
Garrett Haake and Katherine Doyle reported from Atlanta; Kristen Welker from Washington; and Alex Tabet from Des Moines, Iowa.