Former President Donald Trump is set to return to Iowa Monday evening, signaling a determination to trudge forward with his 2024 White House campaign in the face of a possible criminal indictment.
Trump will deliver an address on education policy in Davenport just days after his would-be rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, made an inaugural swing through the first-in-the-nation caucus state. The Monday appearance will mark Trump’s first trip to Iowa since announcing his 2024 presidential campaign nearly four months ago.
But it also comes at an uncertain moment for the former president. Prosecutors in Manhattan have reportedly offered Trump the chance to testify in a grand jury investigation of an alleged hush money payment made during his 2016 campaign — a move that suggests that criminal charges could be close.
The ultimate question, now, is whether such a legal threat will hobble Trump as he looks to reclaim the GOP nomination next year.
“It puts him on defense, and that’s never the place you want to be running a campaign,” one Republican consultant said. “That being said, this is a guy who’s been put on defense before and makes it work for him.”
The consultant floated two possible outcomes for Trump: “Either the base rallies around him or it reminds Republicans of all the controversies — all the drama that follows around Donald Trump.”
Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, predicted a “burst of sympathy for Trump” among the GOP’s conservative base amid news of the possible indictment, but he said that would likely wear off quickly.
“Some people are going to dig their heels in even deeper with him,” Naughton said. “But there’s a certain exhaustion over Trump’s troubles.”
The offer for Trump to testify in New York marks a dramatic escalation of an investigation into alleged hush money payments Trump made to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet an alleged affair during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.
Of course, even if prosecutors move forward with an indictment, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be convicted. Trump also signaled last week that he would push forward with his campaign despite the possible indictment, calling the grand jury investigation into the hush money payment “a political Witch-Hunt” and accusing prosecutors of “trying to take down the leading candidate” in the 2024 GOP primary.
“I will not be deterred, I will always continue to be your voice, and I will keep fighting for our great Country,” Trump said in a statement last week.
Yet the threat of criminal charges is still far from ideal for Trump, who’s not only facing potential legal threats but political ones, as well. If he is indicted, he would become the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges — a distinction that could complicate his path to reclaiming the White House.
And while early polling shows Trump holding onto his frontrunner status in the nascent 2024 Republican primary, his victory is far from assured.
A growing number of Republicans have begun to question Trump’s outsized role in the GOP, worrying that he’s too damaged and controversial to win back the White House. At the same time, would-be candidates like DeSantis have started to make inroads among Republican voters.
A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll released on Friday underscored Trump’s waning popularity among GOP voters. While 47 percent said they would definitely vote for the former president if he is the party’s nominee in 2024, that result was down from 69 percent in June 2021.
The poll also showed DeSantis gaining on Trump among Iowa voters. Forty-two percent of Republican respondents said that they have a “very favorable” view of the Florida governor compared to 44 percent who said the same of Trump.
Of course, DeSantis has said little about his 2024 plans. And while he’s widely expected to run, he likely won’t make a formal decision until after the Florida state legislature wraps up its annual session in May.
But DeSantis isn’t Trump’s only competition. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced a bid for the 2024 Republican nod last month, was also in Iowa last week. Other potential contenders, like former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), have also paid visits to the Hawkeye State amid 2024 speculation. Another candidate, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, paid a visit to the state last month.
There are signs, however, that Trump may be more preoccupied with DeSantis. The former president took direct aim at the Florida governor on Friday as he traveled through Iowa, urging voters in a post on his social media site, Truth Social, to tell DeSantis “to go home.”
“Very small crowds for Ron DeSanctimonious in Iowa,” Trump wrote at one point. “He’s against Farmers, Social Security, and Medicare, so why would people show up — other than Fake stories from the Fake News!”
Naughton, the veteran strategist, said that Trump’s Iowa visit was notable, given DeSantis’s Friday swing through the state.
“For a guy that’s ahead in the polls, he sure is chasing DeSantis a lot instead of setting the agenda,” Naughton said.