Larry White, a self-described Republican conservative, was thinking of voting for Ron DeSantis in his party’s presidential nominating contest, believing the Florida governor had a better chance of winning back the White House from the Democrats than former President Donald Trump.
Then came news on March 30 that Trump had been indicted in New York on charges related to a hush money payment to a porn star, making him the first former U.S. president to face criminal prosecution.
“Now I am absolutely voting for Trump,” said White, 75, a composer and musician in Nevada. “The indictment was the last straw for me, because Trump has suffered so much political abuse. I think he’s the strongest candidate to contest what the left is doing. I’m all in.”
White’s anger and return to supporting Trump over DeSantis reflected the sentiment of many Republican activists and voters Reuters spoke to in Nevada. The western state votes early in the presidential nominating process, giving it an outsized role in deciding which candidate gains momentum in the 2024 election.
Until the indictment, a majority of the 35 Republicans Reuters interviewed had been willing to turn their backs on Trump and go with a different candidate for the 2024 election, believing he was too flawed and bombastic to win the general election for Republicans next year.
The criminal charges in New York changed all that, upending the Republican primary contest and potentially giving Trump and his “Make America Great Again” movement a major boost in his quest to re-enter the White House. A trial is more than a year away, legal experts say, meaning that Trump may face a jury trial as he campaigns.
All 35 Republican activists and voters Reuters spoke to say they will be voting in the nominating contest to choose their 2024 White House candidate.
Every one of them decried the indictment as a meritless, politically motivated persecution of Trump. The charges against Trump are not yet clear, though legal analysts say he may be prosecuted for falsifying business records on charges of hiding the true nature of the payments.
Of the 35, 20 said they had been thinking of moving on from Trump and backing DeSantis. Of those, 14 said the indictment was changing their thinking and leading them back to supporting Trump again.
“I was really for Ron DeSantis,” said Pepe Kahn, at a Republican club meeting in Henderson on Saturday. “I’m now more likely to support Trump than before. I think people who were more neutral than before will now go in to bat for him. This is the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen in the U.S.”
Party leaders have rallied behind Trump. Even DeSantis, who has yet to declare his candidacy but is expected to do so soon, called the indictment “un-American.”
Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and Trump critic, has conducted seven focus groups this year with people who voted for the businessman-turned-politician in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, to gauge how they feel about his candidacy this time round.
On Friday, a day after news of the indictment broke, all nine members of her latest focus group said they were going to vote for Trump over DeSantis in the Republican primary – the first time the ex-president has had universal backing in a focus group, Longwell said.
The reason was the indictment, Longwell added.
Trump Indictment Pulls DeSantis Leaners to MAGA Fold