WASHINGTON – Donald Trump remains the Republican front-runner for 2024, but many obstacles lie ahead – including the prospect of indictments, as the former president himself acknowledged over the weekend.
During his visit to this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump made clear he would stay in the 2024 race even if prosecutors in Atlanta and/or Washington, D.C., bring charges against him over efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss.
"I won’t even think about leaving,” Trump told reporters before a CPAC speech in which he attacked the "establishment" of Democrats and Republicans, and accused prosecutors of seeking to derail his presidential bid.
“Probably, it’ll enhance my numbers," Trump added.
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The former president's speech to a pro-Trump CPAC crowd came at a busy time in the still-early race for the Republican presidential race for 2024.
Indictments coming from Georgia, New York, the feds?
Many Republicans opposed to Trump are awaiting developments in the long-running legal battle that could include the first-ever criminal indictment of a former president.
Prosecutors in Atlanta are considering charges against Trump over the pressure he applied to Georgia state officials to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden.
Trump's efforts to overturn the election in several states are also part of the U.S. Justice Department probe of his actions in and around the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.
A DOJ special counsel is also looking at Trump's handling of classified documents after leaving the White House on Jan. 20, 2021. And prosecutors in New York are reportedly looking at Trump's past business practices, including alleged hush money payments to a former mistress.
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Any number of Republicans are preparing to challenge Trump for the GOP presidential nomination to be awarded at the convention in Milwaukee in July of 2024.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has polled well against Trump, is launching a book tour that includes several primary states. DeSantis is expected to decide on a 2024 run after the Florida legislative session ends in May.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been subpoenaed in the Jan. 6 investigation, also might run against Trump.
Nikki Haley has already announced her 2024 campaign. The former South Carolina governor, and Trump-appointed U.N. ambassador, also spoke at CPAC.
So did another potential challenger, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
One rival who won't be running is former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a frequent Trump critic. The GOP moderate worries a crowded field would help the former president recapture the nomination as he did in 2016 by emerging from a large group of Republicans who split the anti-Trump vote.
Polls show Trump surging again
Trump addressed CPAC after four recent polls – Emerson, Yahoo News/YouGov, Echelon Insights, and Fox – gave him bigger leads in the GOP primary race over DeSantis and other potential GOP rivals.
The Yahoo News/YouGov poll gave Trump an 8 percentage-point lead over DeSantis, 47%-39%; the Florida governor had a 4 point lead over the ex-president in a similar poll in early February.
Underwhelming midterms reflected poorly on Trump
Trump's poll surge comes after months of negative publicity that began with the November congressional elections.
Trump-style candidates lost pivotal elections as the Republicans failed to reclaim control of the U.S. Senate from the Democrats. The GOP did win control of the House, but only by nine votes, a lackluster performance that many Republicans blamed on losses by Trump-style candidates.
Despite the underwhelming GOP showing, Trump announced his 2024 election bid in mid-November with a poorly received speech.
The ex-president later took heat for hosting a dinner that included anti-Semitic rapper Ye (Kanye West) and white supremacist organizer Nick Fuentes, who was denied entry to this week's CPAC confab.
Trump's lost elections
At CPAC, Haley and Pompeo did not cite Trump directly, but did refer to Republican setbacks in three straight elections, including the 2018 congressional elections and 2020 presidential contest.
"If you’re tired of losing, then put your trust in a new generation," Haley said.
Pompeo took veiled swipes at Trump in his CPAC speech and a Fox News Sunday interview, particularly over growth of the national debt when his former boss was in office: "Six trillion dollars more in debt," he told Fox. "That's never the right direction for the country."
Pompeo did appear to wade into a Trump critique before CPAC, telling delegates: "We can’t become the left, following celebrity leaders with their own brand of identity politics. Those with fragile egos who refuse to acknowledge reality.”
Another potential Republican nominee, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that Trump's troubles would eventually bring him down: "He's not going to be the nominee. That's just not going to happen."
Trump vs. DeSantis?
Trump, meanwhile, has stepped up his criticism of DeSantis, though the Florida governor has held off fighting back.
In an interview with Fox News' Jesse Watters, DeSantis said he doesn't pay attention to the "background noise" from Trump: "He used to say how great of a governor I was. And then I win a big victory and all of a sudden, you know, he had different opinions."
As part of his book tour, DeSantis speaks Sunday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Trump declares: 'I am your retribution'
In his CPAC speech, Trump signaled a campaign designed largely to get back at his many enemies, be they Republican opponents, Biden administration officials, or prosecutors.
"In 2016, I declared, 'I am your voice,'" Trump told CPAC delegates. "Today I add: I am your warrior, I am your justice, and for those who have been wronged and betrayed, I am your retribution!"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2024 race: Donald Trump said he'll pursue presidency even if indicted