Courts Pummeled Trump. That Made Some Republicans Love Him More.

Courts Pummeled Trump. That Made Some Republicans Love Him More.
Courts Pummeled Trump. That Made Some Republicans Love Him More.

Summary

The GOP presidential front-runner is expected to clinch the nomination this month after his legal woes showcased resilience.

GOLDSBORO, N.C.—Donald Trump has been impeached, indicted and ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties for committing fraud and defamation. For many Republican voters in this Raleigh exurb, that doesn’t disqualify him from returning to the White House.

Instead, it makes them more likely to back Trump in this week’s Super Tuesday primary because they view the GOP presidential front-runner as unfairly targeted by his political enemies. They say his resilience in the face of obstacles shows why he will fight for them if he wins the presidency in November.

Primary races in North Carolina and 14 other states on Tuesday are expected to accelerate Trump’s march toward the Republican presidential nomination. Trump’s last remaining top-tier opponent, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, has committed to campaigning through Tuesday but has no events scheduled after Monday. Trump is likely to get the delegates needed to become the party’s nominee this month.

North Carolina, which Trump won narrowly in 2020, is the only battleground Super Tuesday state that will also help decide who wins the general election in November.

Charlette Corbett, a 67-year-old hospice nurse from Pikeville, N.C., who is a Republican, said she considered supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy when the GOP field first took shape. But as she watched Trump endure blow after blow, she became convinced he was the stronger candidate.

“It just makes me more determined that I will vote for him, because he’s getting the short end of the stick," said Corbett, who backed him in 2016 and 2020. Referring to Trump’s rivals, she said, “I’m not sure if they could have withstood what he’s withstood, and stood their ground like he has."

The former president’s track record in office also gives her confidence. “I know Trump. He was really trying to give the American people what the American people wanted," she said.

Trump’s image and political standing have grown stronger in the past year, Wall Street Journal polling finds, while he has faced charges in four separate criminal cases and adverse judgments in civil cases for defamation and business fraud.

After trailing or tying President Biden in prior Journal polls of the 2024 presidential race, Trump has led Biden in the last two surveys, including a Journal poll released Sunday that found him with a narrow lead, 47% to 45%. Trump’s advantage in the new survey grew to five points, 40% to 35%, on a ballot that included independent and third-party candidates.

One reason for Trump’s lead is that his voter coalition is fraying less than Biden’s is—a finding that confounds indications from the early primaries that many GOP voters won’t back Trump in November. In the new Journal survey, Trump held 83% of voters who had backed him in 2020, while Biden retained only 73% of his 2020 supporters, according to the ballot test that included third-party candidates.

“Biden is an old man for his age. He doesn’t have what it takes to be president," said Claire Snell, age 92. Her husband, Fred Snell, 82, didn’t like Trump’s claims of election fraud and his frequent tweets. He said he might vote for Haley in the primary, but in November will pick Trump because they feel he is strong.

The two retirees disagree about Trump’s opposition to funding Ukraine in its war with Russia. Fred Snell said the U.S. should continue helping Ukraine, because “if we don’t help them to some extent, they are going to go down," and he worries about the implications of that.

Claire Snell agrees with Trump. “We’re so far in debt, we’re giving away money that we don’t have," she said. “We’re just helping the war go on and on." She also plans to vote for Trump in November.

In this area southeast of Raleigh, full of rolling hills and barbecue, Trump took 54% of the vote in 2016 and 55% in 2020. The broader area was part of a competitive house race in 2022 that elected Democratic Rep. Wiley Nickel, though the state has redrawn district lines since, ensuring it goes to a Republican.

Both the Biden and Trump campaigns are already working to reach voters in the state. Trump held a rally on Saturday in Greensboro ahead of the primary, and, on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Durham to announce a $32 million investment for small businesses.

In the latest Journal poll, Republican respondents said immigration—which Trump has focused on heavily in his campaign—was their top issue, followed by the economy.

Views of Trump’s overall image have improved in recent months, while views of Biden’s image and job performance have turned more negative, Journal polling finds. In December 2022, negative views of Trump outweighed positive ones by 24 points. That gap declined to 12 points in the new Journal survey.

“I don’t think Trump is as bad as people say he is," said Kashmere Farmer, a 31-year-old in Goldsboro who picked Trump for the past two presidential elections and plans to vote for him again. “It’s the people that follow him that do craziness. He can’t cross-check every person. His job is to run the country."

A mother and active-duty member of the Air Force, Farmer said she likes how Trump talks about the strength of the military, about bringing jobs back to the U.S., and blocking China from buying land in the U.S. Outside of a Target where she was buying diapers last week, she said Trump has been attacked and that she likes to see him push back, calling it “hilarious and ballsy."

In the Journal poll released Sunday, 89% of Republicans said they definitely plan to vote for Trump. Should the former president be convicted of a felony in the many court challenges he’s facing, 86% said they would still choose Trump.

Not all voters are thrilled to face the same choice on the ballot they had in 2020. Roger Kearney, age 76, a food-service worker from Greene County, N.C., said he might select Haley in the primary, even though she’s unlikely to grab the nomination. In November, he’ll pick Trump, as he did in 2020.

“I’ll vote for Trump over President Biden," said Kearney, noting that he’s a registered Democrat. Of the president, who is 81, he said, “he’s like me, he’s too old." Asked about Trump’s 77 years, Kearney said that Trump projects strength and Biden doesn’t.

“One reason I will vote for him is that I know what he did, and I can accept that," Kearney said of Trump. “I do not like what Biden’s done," he continued, “and I can’t accept that."

Write to Natalie Andrews at natalie.andrews@wsj.com

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