Jan 16, 2024 - Politics & Policy

After big win in Iowa, Trump takes campaign back to court

: Former President Donald Trump speaks at his caucus night event at the Iowa Events Center on January 15, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Former President Trump speaks at the Iowa Events Center on Jan. 15 in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Hours after his historic win in Iowa, former President Trump was back in a New York courtroom Tuesday — this time for a civil trial over a defamation lawsuit filed by author E. Jean Carroll.

Why it matters: Trump has wrapped his campaign around his numerous court cases for much of the past year, frequently casting himself as a victim of political enemies to gain sympathy from supporters.

  • Tuesday's appearance was the latest episode in that election-year drama, as Trump once again went to the grievance-laden playbook that helped fuel his rise in GOP polls this year.

Driving the news: Caucusgoers across Iowa rallied around Trump on Monday, despite freezing temperatures and low overall turnout, carrying him to victory in 98 out of the state's 99 counties.

  • Entrance polling underscores how Iowa Republicans embraced Trump's campaign built on grievances. Many signed on to his false claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
  • More than six in 10 Iowa caucusgoers said they would consider Trump fit for the presidency even if he were convicted of a crime, and about two-thirds said they don't think President Biden was legitimately elected, according to CNN's Iowa entrance poll.

The big picture: Trump has made frequent (usually optional) highly publicized appearances in court, slamming the prosecutors and parties involved in bringing the cases.

  • As he battles 91 criminal charges, Trump repeatedly has claimed the cases against him are politically motivated. He's cast himself, without evidence, as a victim of "election interference."

In the Carroll defamation case, a jury will determine how much Trump owes her for comments he continued to make after being found liable for defaming and sexually abusing her.

  • On Tuesday, Trump used the case to again portray himself as rising above unfair attacks.
  • "Naturally, it starts right after Iowa, and during the very important New Hampshire Primary where, despite their sinister attempts, I will be tonight," Trump posted on Truth Social Tuesday morning.
  • Trump has vowed to pursue retribution over other accusations against him, namely the 91 criminal counts he's fighting across four jurisdictions. He's appeared to tout the fact that voters often associate him with words such as "revenge" and "power."

State of play: Trump's support among likely Republican primary voters nationwide grew by more than 10 points from May to January, according to CBS News/YouGov polling, during the same time his legal woes ballooned to include four criminal indictments.

What to watch: Trump's campaign-in-court strategy has helped to position him to be the GOP presidential nominee, but there are signs that it might not play as well with a broader electorate in November.

  • Iowa entrance polling indicated that caucusgoers who backed a candidate other than Trump may be more skeptical of his legal troubles.
  • About a third of caucusgoers said that Trump would not be fit for office if he were convicted.
  • Of those, about half backed former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and one-third supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Iowa's caucuses were a small slice of the electorate — just under 15% of the state's registered Republicans turned out on Monday.

Zoom out: Other polling also suggests that independents may be more disapproving of his legal troubles.

  • Among independents who prefer Trump, one-third say they'd want Trump to be president if he were convicted of a crime, according to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from October.

Go deeper: Trump's courtroom and campaign calendar collision is here

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