What Republicans make of Donald Trump’s conviction

IN MARCH 2023 a reporter asked Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, about an impending indictment of Donald Trump in New York. “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” the then presidential candidate said. Mr DeSantis was trying to subtly argue that he could deliver similar policies without the drama that Mr Trump brought. But the former president was indicted soon afterwards—and only increased his lead over Mr DeSantis in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Last week, after Mr Trump was convicted, Mr DeSantis (who has since endorsed Mr Trump) said the candidate was the victim of “the political agenda of some kangaroo court”.

The indictments—in New York, but also in Georgia, Florida and the District of Columbia—helped Mr Trump easily win what had once been, according to public-opinion polling, a competitive race for the Republican presidential nomination. In February 2023, before Alvin Bragg, Manhattan’s district attorney, indicted Mr Trump, the former president’s lead over his nearest rival was ten points. By the end of April it was around 30. There may have been other factors at play, but the timing suggests that the indictment activated a powerful Trump-defence reflex among Republicans. The indictment certainly has gone a long way to bringing Republicans together after a short but fractious primary.