The former president is starting to lean on the Jan. 6 riot—and his recent criminal indictment in Manhattan—to draw closer to his base.

When Donald Trump took the stage in Waco, Texas, for a campaign rally last month, the crowd had been warmed up with a startling spectacle: giant video screens showing footage of Trump supporters violently storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump’s presentation of the darkest day of his presidency—and one of the darkest in U.S. history—as a righteous hour to be celebrated marked the beginning of how central it will be to his 2024 presidential bid.

If anything, Trump’s criminal indictment in Manhattan has only supercharged the ex-president’s plans to weaponize Jan. 6.

Underneath the surface—largely at the urging of an increasingly influential Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), according to Republicans familiar with their conversations—Trump has prepared for his unprecedented legal conundrum bytying it to the sense of “political persecution” that is widely felt within the MAGA base in the aftermath of Jan. 6.

In doing so, the thinking goes, Trump is able to not only strengthen his bond with core primary voters, but also drive a wedge between those voters and other GOP presidential contenders—several of whom have loudly criticized Trump for his role in the Capitol violence.

Crucially, it all connects to Trump’s current top objective in the 2024 race: to “outflank” his chief nemesis, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“DeSantis can’t come out and say Jan. 6 was a terrible day in our country’s history akin to Pearl Harbor. He’d be done,” a GOP strategist outside the Trump campaign but familiar with conversations around the tactical shift told The Daily Beast.

“But he also can’t be put in a place where he’s defending Trump’s actions,” the strategist said.

In what should otherwise be a devastating low point for a presidential candidate besieged by a multi-count indictment on top of other legal woes, the Trump 2024 campaign thinks they’ve found a way to turn the tables on the rest of the field by daring them to cross the GOP base over the hush money case and Jan. 6.

Indeed, the emerging GOP presidential primary field has responded meekly to both developments. Candidates and would-be aspirants have largely stuck to attacking Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg with Fox News-ready attack lines—while avoiding Trump’s refocus on Jan. 6 altogether.

A savvy challenger—DeSantis, for instance—might be expected to capitalize on Trump’s extensive problems to prepare a knockout punch in the primary.

Instead, DeSantis declined to say anything negative about Trump following the indictment—or mention his name at all—already having paid a price for his initial response, in which he took a half-joking swipe at the ex-president over his involvement with a porn star. The Florida governor continues to slip to Trump in the polls, although he’s posted stronger showings in some early states compared to his declining national numbers.

“You saw evidence of how this shift can work last week when DeSantis was 95 percent of the way to a stand-up double with his statement and reaction to the potential indictment of the president, and then blew it by making a joke about the allegations,” an outside adviser who’s known Trump for decades told The Daily Beast.

“A lot of Trump supporters, some of whom were on the fence and perhaps ready to move on—they saw that as disrespect,” the adviser said.

Another sticking point in Trumpworld is a since-deleted tweet from DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern on Jan. 7, 2021, where he glibly reacted to the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt by Capitol Police with the quip: “How to Fuck Around and Find Out 101.”

Redfern and a representative for the DeSantis political operation did not return a request for comment.

Though Trump’s indictment and the insurrection were unprecedented events, his defense is predictable as ever. Backed into a corner, Trump perennially depicts himself as the victim of “political persecution.” The cycle is familiar: generate outrage, dictate the tempo of the debate, repeat.

The fresh question this time around is how a field of rivals—many of whom were forged in the new GOP that Trump created—will respond, as they seek to snatch the mantle of party leadership from him.

Former Trump administration officials and likely 2024 rivals Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo kept their focus on Bragg, with Pompeo going so far as to accuse the Manhattan D.A. of “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system.”

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, the only official candidate in the field who served in the last Trump administration, called the case “more about revenge” than justice in a tweet where she made sure to share a video of her on Fox News bashing Bragg.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of the brasher Trump critics within the party, was one of the rare figures to say he’d wait to read the actual charges before commenting.

But Christie, Pompeo, and Pence all denounced Trump at various points over the insurrection, while Haley has largely steered clear after saying in 2021 the former president’s “actions since Election Day will be judged harshly by history.”

There’s no foe, however, that concerns Trump more than DeSantis. While the Florida governor continues to lay the groundwork for a possible 2024 bid, Trump’s team saw an opportunity to shift its messaging, merging the Jan. 6 rhetoric and imagery with the looming indictment.

Notably, there’s far less talk of the 2020 election conspiracies that proved to be such dead weight for Republicans in last year’s midterm elections.

“There’s two things happening here: I think one is to try and not talk about the specific stolen election situation, because that’s becoming less popular with voters,” the GOP strategist said. “The second part of it is trying to outflank DeSantis on the issue.”

A key element of the messaging shift is Trump’s increased focus on the state of his supporters charged with crimes stemming from their actions on Jan. 6.

In particular, Greene has been influential in steering the ex-president’s attention in that direction. The Georgia congresswoman has visited the Washington jail where some defendants are still behind bars awaiting trial; she has tried to publicize inhumane detention conditions faced by what she calls “political prisoners.”

A source familiar with Greene’s conversations with Trump told The Daily Beast “she’s talked to him about the conditions” at the jail.

Given Greene’s long record of incendiary comments and fringe views—including her recent advocacy for a “national divorce” to split up the union—Republican observers are startled to see how effective she’s become in the arena.

“This is why a lot of advisers are concerned, potentially, [with] her… there’s right-wing things you could talk about that are not Jan. 6,” the GOP strategist noted.

Even in an early primary state like New Hampshire where Trump-backed candidates got swept in the midterms, there’s a clear price to be paid for opposing Trump on Jan. 6.

Although Pence has gradually and methodically amplified his criticism of Trump over the insurrection—in which his own life quickly became endangered—the former VP has kept his powder dry over the Manhattan indictment, calling it “criminalization of politics.” Starting with a soft launch of his criticism on Trump over Jan. 6 in June of 2021, Pence has yet to see any short-term benefit among Republican voters.

In the late March poll from Monmouth University, Pence had the highest unfavorable ratings of any potential candidate, and it had gone up nearly 10 points from February, to 37 percent. Trump, on the other hand, had a 71 percent favorable, 21 percent unfavorable rating in the survey of Republican and GOP-leaning voters.

The Pence campaign did not return an interview request for this story.

However noxious the insurrection and Trump’s legal issues may prove to be in a general election, in the context of a GOP presidential primary, they’ve made for a warped set of advantages for Trump and his allies.

When DeSantis’ flippant post-indictment comments “really turned off a lot of people who are sick and tired of these garbage investigations they’re putting Trump and all of his supporters through,” the source close to Trump argued, the rest of the field took note.

“It’s not funny.”

Source: Donald Trump Wants to Turn His Criminal Indictment, January 6 Baggage into 2024 Republican Primary Gold (

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