The Effect of Trump’s Legal Troubles on the Campaign Trail

Dr. Louis Perron
blog post louis

Donald Trump is facing dozens of felony charges in four criminal cases. Does this mean precious time and attention away from the campaign trail? Time off the campaign trail is certainly not a good thing, but then again, I have always doubted the effectiveness of campaign rallies. They are expensive, time consuming, but I think have little effect. They are an important aspect of Trump’s campaign style foremost because he enjoys doing them, not because there is much solid evidence to support their effectiveness.

I have observed presidential candidates in legal trouble before. In the Philippines, for example, it is quite a common tactic to try and derail a presidential candidate with legal issues. It happened to Fernando Poe Jr., Grace Poe and during the last election, with Ferdinand Marcos. For Fernando Poe Jr. and Grace Poe, it did cost them precious time. Marcos however went on winning a landslide victory nevertheless.

The key for a candidate in such a situation is to use the media attention a candidate is getting due to the legal problem to circle back to the main campaign message.

While I think that Trump’s message of political prosecution resonates with his base, I doubt it’s the right message for swing voters. For them, it should focus on Biden and inflation: “Instead of an alleged affair from more ten years ago, we should be talking about how much more you pay for groceries now compared to when I left office.”

As I write in my new book “Beat the Incumbent,” the dynamics of an election campaign with an incumbent are such that it’s foremost a referendum on the incumbent. A savvy challenger makes sure it remains that way and tries to keep the focus on the incumbent no matter what.

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