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The biggest winner if Trump is arrested? It could be Trump

FILE - Former President Donald Trump waves after announcing he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
FILE - Former President Donald Trump waves after announcing he is running for president for the third time at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
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Former President Donald Trump could benefit politically, at least in the short term, if he's arrested in the porn star hush money case.

In the long term, however, Republicans will have to wrestle with the question of Trump's electability in his run to reclaim the White House in 2024.

“He is very strategic and very skilled at taking negative news and turning it into positive news,” said Todd Belt, Political Management program director at George Washington University.

Expect a familiar response from Trump and his camp – he’s a Washington outsider and the victim of a “political witch hunt.”

He knows that works, and he will expand it to say, 'They're not just attacking me. They're attacking you, because you voted for me,'" Belt said.

Trump is facing the possibility of criminal charges for an alleged payment to keep porn actress Stormy Daniels quiet about an affair when he ran for president in 2016.

An indictment from a Manhattan grand jury could come soon, but it wouldn’t stop his campaign.

It would be historic, as no former president has ever been indicted in a criminal investigation.

It’s one of several investigations encircling Trump, including allegations of election meddling in Georgia and suspicions that Trump mishandled and concealed classified government documents.

Attorney and author Alan Dershowitz told The National Desk that an indictment in the hush money case is very possible, but he was critical of the effort.

You could possibly get a conviction, but it will be reversed on appeal,” Dershowitz said. “No honest, objective judge would ever uphold this kind of Mickey Mouse charge.”

Belt said the Georgia case appears to be the strongest of the investigations involving Trump and said this New York hush money case is “like going after Al Capone for tax evasion.”

But Belt said Trump has a good shot of turning any of these legal cases to his advantage. Belt expects these cases to continue well into the primary season.

The political shine had started to come off Trump, with some Republicans blaming him for the party’s underperformance in the midterms.

But these legal cases thrust Trump back into the limelight and have prompted fellow Republicans to come to his defense for what they also see as a politically motivated prosecution by the Democratic district attorney in Manhattan.

Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are seen as the GOP front-runners, though DeSantis hasn’t announced a run.

Belt expects Trump to be able to maintain a sizable chunk, a quarter to a third, of the Republican Party support through the primary season, and his nomination likely comes down to how crowded the field gets.

The more that there's blood in the water with Trump, the more trouble he's in, the more you'll probably see more candidates announced on the Republican side," Belt said. "And it gets crowded. And then that helps Trump, because you end up dividing the non-Trump vote."

Belt said even DeSantis could get swamped by a crowded field.

Trump's voters are the most energized, and they might not see DeSantis as a good alternative who checks all the same boxes but without the legal baggage.

You know, why buy the knockoff when you can have the real thing?” Belt said.

Belt said it’s too soon to guess how a potential general election rematch with President Joe Biden would play out for Trump.

But even the never-Trump contingent of the Republican Party is likely to vote for Trump over a Democrat, Belt said.

“There's an old saying in politics, Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line,” he said.

Dershowitz thinks Trump will really lean into the indictment if it comes.

They don’t do a perp walk, but they’ll have a mugshot,” Dershowitz said. “The mug shot then becomes the most famous mug shot since Frank Sinatra’s, and he uses it as a campaign poster. It will get T-shirts made out of the mug shot, and he benefits from it enormously.”

Belt doesn’t see the mugshot ending up on campaign posters – at least official ones. He said Trump is too “vain and very controlling of his image.”

But that doesn’t mean the former president won’t turn a prosecution, potentially more than one, to his advantage as long as it doesn’t hamper his ability to hold his famous big rallies on the campaign trail.

“Donald Trump knows how to take a negative, what would be negative for anybody else, and turn it into a positive for himself,” Belt said.

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