Date first published: 25/04/2023

Key sectors: all

Key risks: political polarisation; civil unrest


Risk development

In January 2016 Donald Trump, then running for the Republican nomination for president, claimed that he could “shoot somebody” and not lose votes. Trump has not shot anyone, but criminal charges, a civil suit for sexual assault, allegations that he pressured the Georgia secretary of state to overturn the 2020 election, that he incited the 6 January 2021 storming on the United States (US) Capitol and mishandled classified documents have done little to dent his popularity amongst Republican primary voters. Despite what appeared to be a strong primary challenge from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Trump is likely to win the nomination.

Why it matters

The Republican nominee has a strong chance to become the next US president. Although President Joe Biden’s popularity has improved since its 2022 nadir, he remains a weak candidate. Even the most positive polls put his favourability in the low 40s and are trending lowest given the poor state of the economy. Concerns over Biden’s age and health persist but have not prevented him from announcing that he will run for re-election. While Trump’s unfavourables are higher than Biden’s, he could still win a general election. Trump and DeSantis poll within the margin of error and even if Biden is favoured all signs point to a competitive 2024 race.


Trump’s criminal charges have done little to damp his popularity amongst Republicans. The New York charges centring around fraud and campaign finance violations have been portrayed as politically motivated. Republican voters see the lack of action despite multiple accusations against Hunter Biden – Joe Biden’s son – an indication of a politicised criminal process. Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene compared Trump to Nelson Mandela and Jesus – highlighting the narrative that Trump Republicans are pushing.

The charges against Trump have silenced many of his Republican opponents. Almost all Republicans have attacked the charges. Niki Hailey – also running for the Republican nomination – stated that they were about ‘revenge’ while DeSantis claimed the prosecution was ‘un-American’.

DeSantis’s campaign is struggling even before being officially announced. He attempted to define himself as Trump-like in policy but different in character and gained support over his zeal in fighting a culture war. However, he has struggled to push a positive message. Republican voters increasingly feel that he is disconnected from their concerns and Trump has trained his attacks on DeSantis. He nicknamed him ‘Ron DeSantimonious’ – a name that resonates given that he does not appear likable or genuine – and also targeted DeSantis for his past support to cut Medicare and Social Security while a pro-Trump group is running ads mocking DeSantis for eating pudding with his fingers.

Perhaps more usefully for Trump is that the anti-Trump Republican vote will be split between several candidates. It is plausible, perhaps even probable, that these divisions will allow Trump to win most of the early primaries – giving him a significant lead before the field is narrowed down.

Risk outlook

If Trump wins the nomination it sets up a tight contest for the 5 November 2024 presidential election. In the longer term, it may also be deeply damaging to the Republican Party. The Party would appear so beholden to Trump and Trumpism that even a defeat in a presidential election, a poor 2022 mid-term performance and criminal charges cannot dislodge him.