Trump faces questions about whether he’ll drag down the Republican Party after his indictments

FILE - This combination of 2023 photos shows, from left, former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott. (AP Photo, File)

Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican faithful was evident from the moment he left the federal courthouse in Miami last week.

Fresh off becoming the first former president to face criminal charges levied by the government he once oversaw, Trump’s motorcade moved through a crowd of hundreds of mostly adoring fans. He met more supporters at a Cuban restaurant in Little Havana, a Miami neighborhood that, like much of south Florida, has swung toward Republicans in recent years.

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A federal indictment on charges of mishandling the nation’s most sensitive national security secrets would doom any other White House hopeful. But Trump’s reception in Miami — and the more than $7 million he raised after the indictment — was a reminder of the central tension coursing through the Republican Party as the 2024 presidential primary gets underway.

For now, no one comes close to Trump in his command of the voters who will decide the GOP’s nominee next year.

But Trump’s path beyond the primary is far more perilous as he faces significant and growing questions about his ability to appeal to a broader, more moderate set of voters in a possible general election matchup against President Joe Biden. If Trump fails, he risks not just losing the White House contest but also dragging down other Republican candidates on the ballot as the party aims to retake the U.S. Senate and keep the House.

Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is among those warning Republicans that what is popular in a primary may not carry the general election. The frequent Trump critic backed a moderate Republican to succeed him in last year’s governor’s race.

But Trump’s preferred candidate carried the primary and was soundly defeated in the general election, a result that played out in key races across the country.

Trump is not the only GOP contender facing such concerns. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ national electability has been called into question after he signed into law a state ban on abortions performed after six weeks, delighting conservatives but leaving him as an outlier among broader voters.

While many Americans back some restrictions on abortion, especially after the first trimester, many do not agree with the most extreme measures pushed in Republican-led states such as Florida, according to polling that also showed most Americans support a federal law allowing access to abortion nationwide.

DeSantis also alienated some Republicans when he appeared to dismiss Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial dispute,” comments he later had to walk back.

No one in the race, however, carries the same level of baggage as Trump, particularly after the latest indictment, which follows charges in New York City that he paid hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels to cover up an affair.

The hand-wringing over the GOP’s future began well before Trump’s latest indictment.

In announcing her presidential campaign in February, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, was blunt in addressing the party’s general election challenge.

“We’ve lost the popular vote in seven of the last eight presidential elections,” she said. “Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans.”

Since Trump’s federal indictment in Miami, some of his rivals have begun to test how far they can go in criticizing him, positioning themselves in a way that may be helpful in a general election but also tempering their remarks by blasting the Department of Justice.

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