Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 4, 2023.

Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 4, 2023. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg )

Most politicians would see criminal charges as career-ending. Not Donald Trump.

The former president is seizing on his indictment by a New York grand jury as an opportunity to strengthen his status as the 2024 Republican front-runner and rake in donations from the small-dollar individual contributors who powered his previous campaigns for the White House.

Since news of his prosecution broke, Trump has blasted supporters with email fundraising solicitations and posted a personal video appeal asserting that his opponents "only attack me because I fight for you." Within days, he raised $10 million, according to his campaign.

Trump's campaign is also trying to enlist donors who have supported his chief Republican rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, by presenting the former president's rising poll numbers as an unstoppable force in the GOP race. One donor said Trump's indictment may overshadow other Republicans' ability to fundraise, including DeSantis, at least in the short term.

"This indictment guarantees that he'll be the center of the story for the foreseeable future," said GOP strategist Alex Conant, who's worked on presidential campaigns including the 2016 bid by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Cable networks spent the week covering all of the minutiae of Trump's arrest and arraignment, down to the movement of his motorcade through Manhattan and the arrivals and departures of his plane, branded "Trump Force One." Networks broke into prime-time coverage to carry Trump's remarks from his Mar-a-Lago resort upon his return to Florida. But it remains to be seen whether Trump can sustain the injection of fresh energy, which came just as it appeared many in the party wanted to move on.

Trump was at a low point politically after being widely blamed for the GOP's disappointing 2022 midterm results, compounded by a lackluster launch of his third White House bid.

While Trump faces serious legal jeopardy from the 34 felony charges unveiled by the Manhattan district attorney's office Tuesday - as well as from other state and federal investigations of his conduct - the prosecution's case marked a political inflection point, prompting Republicans to again rally behind him.

Even DeSantis - who has not yet formally declared he's running for president - and Republican critics like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah criticized the prosecution as political.

"The indictment freezes in place the Republican field for now and blunts any negative impact on Trump in terms of getting the nomination again," said Marty Cohen, a professor of political science at James Madison University. "There is a conscious need from his rivals to not inflame his base."

Trump's campaign is highlighting sentiments of support from more than 110 state and federal GOP officials, and - according to one Trump ally - is working behind the scenes to secure more endorsements from lawmakers who Trump has supported in the past. On Thursday, Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., whom Trump backed for reelection last year, endorsed him as the leader who "can seize the moment and deliver what we need."

Early polling suggests the indictment has boosted Trump's standing in the GOP. Trump's lead over DeSantis in the RealClearPolitics average of polls increased to 50.8% to 24.6% on Tuesday from 45.7% to 28.9% the day before news of the indictment broke. A CNN poll conducted after the indictment showed that while 60% of Americans and 62% of independents approve of the charges, 79% of Republicans disapprove.

The response to Trump's indictment may put pressure on DeSantis and others to officially join the race "to claw back some of that very shiny limelight that Trump is basking in," said Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University who served on the staffs of New York Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was in the Senate and Mario Cuomo when he was the state's governor.

In Iowa, the former political director of the state party, Craig Robinson, said that a number of Republicans were ready to vote for a candidate other than Trump but that the indictment drew them back toward him.

"Everyone on the Republican side thinks this is politically motivated," Robinson said. "A month ago, Ron DeSantis had all of the momentum, but he has stalled now in a sense. When you are running against Trump and everything that means, you can't afford to stall out."

Trump's legal woes could still hurt his campaign, especially if they mount. Officials in Georgia are weighing another indictment for Trump's attempts to interfere with the state's counting of ballots, and the Justice Department continues to investigate his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, as well as his handling of classified documents post-presidency.

Trump also will be forced to take time away from his campaign to help with his legal defense and possibly attend hearings or a trial in New York, a potential distraction.

"He thinks that's good news for him. It's not," said Chris Christie, a former New Jersey governor, federal prosecutor and 2016 presidential candidate who's considering his own White House bid.

Trump's critics say the charges also could further alienate the independent and suburban voters Trump would need to win in a general election, adding to the sense among Republicans that it would be better to nominate an alternative.

"The last three cycles have been dominated by Trump and have been terrible for the party," said Mike DuHaime, the top strategist for Christie's campaigns. "What's getting better by being indicted?"

Bloomberg's Gregory Korte contributed to this report.

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