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A judge sets March 4, 2024, as the trial date in a Trump election interference case

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A judge in Washington, D.C., says former President Trump should stand trial on March 4, 2024. To make room for that trial, the judge apparently has arranged to move aside the other trial scheduled for March. Yet another trial is scheduled for May, and a fourth is not yet scheduled - all of these events happening during the presidential primary season. Doug Heye, a political consultant, formerly the communications director of the Republican National Committee, is with us. Good morning, sir.

DOUG HEYE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: When you lay the trial schedules, as far as we know them, on top of the presidential primary schedules, what do you see?

HEYE: Well, I see what clearly is going to be a campaign season that's in overdrive. But as we've gotten so much focus on Super Tuesday, one thing we should be mindful of is if the current trends in the Republican primary hold - and they may or may not - but if they do, we'll be well past the point where Donald Trump is not just the prohibitive favorite, but the prohibitive nominee. And I think what we see with these dates being scheduled is it means that Iowa - especially Iowa - but also New Hampshire, are that much more important. A Donald Trump who wins in Iowa and New Hampshire may be unstoppable. And whatever happens comes Super Tuesday or after is too late.

INSKEEP: Oh, because Super Tuesday, a day when many states will vote, is the day after this trial is to begin. But I think you're telling me that if Trump is as dominant as he has been in polling so far, he'll have the nomination at that point. Is that what you're saying?

HEYE: Absolutely. And with Super Tuesday being the day after it starts, we may not see anything terribly explosive in that first day anyways. So there wouldn't be anything, potentially, for Republican primary voters who overwhelmingly agree that Donald Trump is a victim, that there's a two-tiered system of justice, all those other things that I don't think is true - there won't be time for bad news to really marinate in their minds if that bad news happens at all.

INSKEEP: Why do you think each new indictment seems to help rather than hurt the former president?

HEYE: One, it reinforces Donald Trump's core message. From Day 1, when he announced in 2015, he said the system was rigged. So when he gets indicted, it becomes evidence of that, not whether or not he did anything wrong. And the other - and this is really unprecedented in American politics, Steve - is that when he gets indicted, his own Republican opponents not only do not criticize him on this, they reinforce his core messaging that it's rigged, that there's a two-tiered system of justice, that Donald Trump is a victim. So where are those candidates going to lead Republican voters to if they won't criticize Trump themselves and indeed reinforce his own messaging?

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson are two candidates who've taken a different approach of criticizing the former president. Does their low standing in polling suggest that that is not a successful strategy?

HEYE: Well, it certainly is a strategy to get more television interviews, get more notice, which is important for Republican candidates or any candidates. But that's a message that most Republican voters either don't believe or just don't want to hear.

INSKEEP: When you get beyond the primaries, of course, you're talking about a general election. You've got a lot of Democrats that, if you're Donald Trump, are going to be against you regardless, overwhelmingly so. But there are also independent voters. As best you can tell, how are independent voters viewing these indictments and trials that we see coming up?

HEYE: That's a much different story. A lot of those voters voted for Donald Trump in '16 because they were angry with Washington. They wanted to shake things up. And after four years of shaking up, they voted for Joe Biden because they were tired of all the shaking up and all the drama. It's going to be very difficult for Donald Trump to win those voters back. And those voters, they're going to be very important in states like Arizona and Georgia, North Carolina as well. Those close states that Donald Trump will need to either flip or, in North Carolina's case, hold - but it may be the easiest state for Biden to flip - will become much more important.

INSKEEP: Is there a practical problem that Trump has traditionally campaigned a lot and he might be busy in courtrooms?

HEYE: That puts us in another unprecedented territory of things that we just haven't seen. It seems very possible that we could see Donald Trump in a trial during the day and at a rally at night. It's, again, something we've never seen in American politics. It's going to complicate his schedule. But we know that at least in the primary purposes, Donald Trump believes that he can thrive if he's the center of attention.

INSKEEP: Doug Heye, formerly communications director for the Republican National Committee, thanks so much.

HEYE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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