Republicans in the Senate say that despite his legal woes, former President Donald Trump is increasingly likely to be the 2024 GOP presidential nominee.
Since March 30, when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted him on multiple felony counts, Trump has doubled his lead in the polls over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, considered his closest rival.
A RealClearPolitics national poll analysis found that Trump led DeSantis by an average of 16 points on the day of the indictment; by May 1, Trump's average polling lead had grown to nearly 30 points over DeSantis.
Trump also has picked up several key endorsements in Congress, including that of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines, R-Mont.
According to Republican senators and party strategists, Daines' endorsement of Trump is an indication that the former president is seen as leading the field for the 2024 nomination.
"I just think that his nomination is inevitable," one Republican senator told The Hill on condition of anonymity. "I really do. He's going to be the nominee. I'd be stunned if he's not.
"You've seen the numbers. I've talked to voters. People are beginning to recognize that. Steve Daines' endorsement reflects that reality. He's going to be the nominee, we want him to work with us."
Another Republican senator who spoke to The Hill on condition of anonymity agreed that Trump is the clear favorite heading into the primary, and said Daines' endorsement serves to pave the way to work with him to win back the Senate.
While Trump has racked up 11 endorsements from Senate Republicans, DeSantis, who has yet to formally declare his candidacy, thus far has not drawn any significant support in the chamber.
Leading Republican pollster Whit Ayres told The Hill that the possibility of Trump being indicted by the Justice Department and by the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia could cause the race to go in a different direction.
"People seem to have an inevitable tendency to jump to premature conclusions well before we know many of the key elements of a campaign environment," he said, responding to comments by some Republican senators that Trump is a shoo-in for the primary next year.
"What might be the political effects of serious felony indictments backed up a mountain of compelling evidence?" Ayres said of possible charges that Trump incited the Jan. 6, 2021, protest at the U.S. Capitol and tried to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
"Are Republican voters really going to dismiss multiple credible felony indictments backed up by substantial evidence, if indeed they occur?" Ayres said. "They might, but I don't know the answer to that."
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