Early on March 18, former President Donald J. Trump hit send on a social media post saying he would be “arrested on Tuesday of next week.”
“Protest,” he wrote on his Truth Social website. “Take our nation back!”
Mr. Trump’s prediction was based on media reports, according to his lawyers, and his timing was off by two weeks.
Yet the statement set in motion events that profoundly altered the course of the Republican nominating contest. Donors sent checks. Fox News changed its tune. The party apparatus rushed to defend Mr. Trump. And the polls went up — and up.
These series of falling dominoes — call it the indictment effect — can be measured in ways that reveal much about the state of the Republican Party. To examine the phenomenon, The New York Times reviewed national and early state polls, interviewed Republican primary voters, examined federal campaign finance records, analyzed hundreds of party emails, scrutinized the shifts in conservative media coverage and talked to operatives inside the campaigns of Mr. Trump’s rivals.
The analysis highlights Mr. Trump’s dominance over the party, revealing the years of conditioning of millions of Republican voters who view Mr. Trump’s legal troubles as a proxy attack on them. And it displays an upside-down reality where criminal charges act as political assets — at least for the purpose of winning the Republican nomination. [Continue reading…]