Trump’s post-indictment campaign donation surge proves optics matter


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Chioma Onyema

On March 30, former President Donald Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsification of business records in the first degree in an indictment. In the 24 hours after The New York Times broke the news, the former president’s 2024 campaign fund was flooded with at least $4 million in supportive donations. 

Prior to the indictment, the Trump campaign was receiving about $168,000 every day since the beginning of the year. Within two weeks of Trump’s ‘not guilty’ plea, the campaign added a disproportionately high sum of $15.4 million to their treasure trove. 

The donation surge raises many questions surrounding the values and motivation of Trump’s supporters. One would expect that the former president being accused of criminal activity would dissuade support for his latest presidential bid, but in this case, the opposite happened. 

Trump has yet again painted himself as a victim of his political challengers. Even worse, this message has been received loud and clear by his fanbase, as evidenced by his increased donation numbers. 

The optics of the case contributed to the phenomenon. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who led the indictment, belongs to the Democratic Party, while Donald Trump is the leading 2024 Republican Presidential candidate. 

Even if Bragg did not let his loyalty to his party influence the investigation and ruling, Trump’s supporters certainly construed the events in a way that favored the former president. 

If Bragg’s case against Trump intended to demonstrate that no one is above the law, not even a former president, that message has not been received successfully. A recent CNN poll found that 76% of Americans believe that politics played a role in Trump’s indictment. He has described the legal action against him as ‘political persecution’, ‘election interference’ and a ‘weaponizing [of] our justice system to punish a political opponent.’ 

It is difficult to ignore the politics clouding this case, regardless of whether they influenced the indictment or not, because Trump is a political figure with a cult-like following. The lesson from this sequence of events is clear: optics matter 

People are compelled to donate to political campaigns to demonstrate support for a specific candidate. A survey done after the indictment by international data company YouGov indicated that 57% of Republicans and right-leaning individuals supported Trump in the 2024 Republican primary over Ron DeSantis, his biggest opponent, who received 31%. In a poll two weeks before the indictment, Trump had only 47% of Republican support while DeSantis was polling at 39%. 

His opponents may attempt to capitalize on the indictment by using the charges against him as a testament against his character. However, such a campaign tactic will likely prove ineffective, since the indictment is already backfiring on Trump’s opponents as indicated by the Trump campaign donation spike.

Lastly, the increase in support for the Trump campaign is a warning to both political opponents within the Republican party and outside of it, alerting them of Trump’s renewed status as a powerful contender for the presidency. 

But Trump’s campaign should not get too comfortable. Many things can happen between now and the Republican primaries. In addition, the funds a candidate raises may help their campaign efforts, but does not dictate who will win a seat in the cabinet.