Donald Trump's biggest campaign foe? A string of investigations - and possible indictments

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WASHINGTON – No matter how many Republicans line up to run against him, Donald Trump's biggest potential foe in the 2024 presidential election is not necessarily another candidate – it's the string of criminal investigations that could lead to indictments.

Amid a steady drip of news developments – including Tuesday's report that former Vice President Mike Pence may have to testify about Trump before a grand jury – the ex-president has made clear he plans to campaign against the prosecutors themselves.

Decrying what he called "the weaponization of our justice system," Trump told a supportive crowd at a weekend rally in Waco, Texas, that "this is the central issue of our time."

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Hush money, classified docs and other investigations

Many Republicans would prefer to stay mum about Trump's legal troubles.

Others are starting to wonder if he can sustain a campaign in the face of charges in up to four cases involving hush money, classified documents, attempts to reverse the 2020 election, and the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.

"Look, at the end, being indicted never helps anybody," said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to ABC News.

Mike Pence testimony possible

Political analysts said they believe that near-daily stories about grand jury developments, legal rulings, appeals – not to mention possible indictments, pre-trial maneuverings, and actual trials – can't help but take a steady toll on Trump's political standing.

The latest piece of bad news came Tuesday, as a judge ruled that Pence would have to provide information to a grand jury investigating the events leading to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Former President Donald Trump campaigns on  March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas.
Former President Donald Trump campaigns on March 25, 2023, in Waco, Texas.

While Pence could appeal the ruling, it sets up the distinct possibility that he could provide damaging testimony against Trump, leading to more bad publicity.

In a statement criticizing the Pence ruling, the Trump campaign said "there is no factual or legal basis or substance to any case against President Trump." It also said people are using the justice system "in order to manipulate and influence an election."

These kinds of things could go on for months – including the less-than-20 months before Election Day 2024.

How many investigations is Trump facing?

Trump is dealing with no less than four major investigations.

At this point it appears the most pressing is in New York City, led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

A grand jury there is investigating whether hush money for former porn star Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election – made to buy her silence about an alleged and long-ago assignation with Trump – constituted an illegal campaign contribution. Trump fundraising solicitations have attacked Bragg's case.

There’s no way to tell when - or if - the New York grand jury might act.

A grand jury in Atlanta is also busy. It is investigating the pressure that Trump put on Georgia election officials to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in that politically pivotal state in 2020.

In Washington, D.C., Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith is in charge of two investigations.

One involves why Trump's handling of classified documents after he left the White House on Jan 20, 2021.

The other is the effort nationwide to overturn Trump's election loss, including Jan. 6.

Republican opponents hang back

Trump opponents – both announced and prospective – have criticized the New York case in particular but are trying to be low key about how the panoply of Trump's legal troubles might affect the campaign.

This group includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, as well as Pence.

DeSantis has suggested that voters may tire of all the melodrama.

In an interview with Fox Nation host Piers Morgan, DeSantis said: "The way we run the government I think is no daily drama, focus on the big picture and put points on the board."

Christie, who may also jump into the 2024 race, has criticized the New York case, but also said said the legal threats in general are "ominous" for Trump and "it's not a help."

What happens if Trump is indicted?

Trump claims voters will rally around him if he is brought to trial, but no one really knows how it will play out. There has never been a major presidential candidate running under indictment, much less a former president.

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Early polling indicates trouble for Trump, though not necessarily among Republicans who will decide their party's nomination.

An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll this week said that 56% of respondents believe the Trump investigations are fair while 41% believe they are a "witch hunt." These responses tend to fall along party lines, with Republicans much more supportive of the former president.

Trump is struggling with the electorate as a whole, according to this poll. It said that 61% do not want Trump to be president again, while 38% do want him elected to another term.

Analyst: Trump lost credibility, sway

Political analyst Lara Brown, author of "Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants," noted that Trump and Trump-backed candidates fared badly in the elections of 2018, 2020, and 2022.

Trump has "lost a lot of credibility and sway with the public over the last few years," Brown said, and campaigning while under indictment is unlikely to help, no matter how much he tries to make it an issue.

"It seems reasonable to conclude that the more Trump campaigns on his perceived victim status, the more he is likely to turn off those who might be inclined to support him," Brown said. "Most voters want politicians to focus on the future."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump's biggest 2024 campaign foe? Possible indictment