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Donald Trump's repeated legal woes have given him a boost in the polls

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Early in Donald Trump's 2016 presidential run, he boasted that he could bend Republican voters to his will. Remember this?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's, like, incredible.

(LAUGHTER)

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Trump survived multiple scandals and impeachments when he was president. And now, after two indictments and a possible third, Trump is still the undisputed frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

MARTÍNEZ: White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here to tell us all about this. Franco, he's been called the Teflon Don, but let's fact-check this - is it really true that Donald Trump gets a bump when he gets indicted?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: I mean, for the most part, yes, or at least as it relates to the Republican primaries. In March, several weeks before the first indictment, Trump had just 43% of the vote in Republican polling, according to a RealClearPolitics average. But a day after he was charged in a hush money scheme to an adult film actress, his numbers had jumped to 50%. Two months later, he was indicted for mishandling classified documents. His polling average jumped again. And polls, of course, go up and down. And they did dip a bit, but not much. And they're back up now as Trump warns that he could be indicted over January 6.

MARTÍNEZ: And these strike me as the kind of scandals that would derail pretty much any other political campaign. So why is Donald Trump different?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's right. I mean, many politicians try to avoid or downplay these kind of scandals, even a small one. But Trump has really embraced his legal problems. He's turned them into part of his case also to return to the White House. I talked to Doug Heye. He's a longtime Republican strategist. He told me that the indictments have helped Trump keep attention and also help shape the narrative of the primary.

DOUG HEYE: The bizarre thing about this indictment or any of these indictments is it reinforces one of Trump's core messages - that the system is rigged against you and me and him. And so anything that comes from this, that becomes more proof, not of Trump's wrongdoing, but of the system being rigged.

ORDOÑEZ: He adds that Trump has had help from his rivals. Instead of attacking him, they've largely rushed to his defense. And that's because Trump has so much support from the base. And criticizing him isn't a risk they're willing to take yet. So instead, you hear them echo Trump's claims that this is politically motivated, which all just lends more credibility to his message.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So for all of Trump's resilience, I mean, is there anything at all that does wind up sticking to him?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, A, we should emphasize that the polls we're talking about are Republican primary polls. And it's one thing to win the Republican nomination - it's another to win the general election. So while the indictments may have boosted Trump's chances with Republicans, it could hurt him with independents and swing voters. The general election is a long way away, but his legal troubles have appeared to hurt him with those voters. And we did see that before in the midterms. And a recent NPR poll found that a majority of Americans, including 52% of independents, believe he's done something illegal. And that's why some Republican leaders and some Republican donors are worried about Trump's long-term prospects in the general election, even though he's been dominating the primaries.

MARTÍNEZ: That's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks a lot for your reporting.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
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