Trump is now facing 91 charges across four jurisdictions that carry significant prison sentences, but he remains the unquestioned front-runner in the race for the presidency, with massive double-digit leads over his closest rivals.
And Trump’s critics are wrestling with the reality that he’s waging his comeback on his own terms, dominating the GOP field despite the unprecedented legal peril he faces and grave misgivings from some of the party’s top leaders.
That dynamic was on vivid display this weekend at the Gathering, a two-day conference in Atlanta that drew a half-dozen White House contenders where Trump loomed large despite organizer Erick Erickson’s preference to avoid mention of his name.
Some, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, tiptoed around mention of Trump and his mountain of legal problems. Business executive Vivek Ramaswamy promised to pardon Trump on “day one” if he’s elected, calling the indictments a politicization of the justice system.
Only former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie leaned into criticizing Trump, saying he’s doomed to lose Georgia — and the White House — if Republicans choose him as their nominee for a third consecutive presidential campaign.
“There’s nothing more selfish than what he’s doing,” said Christie, who is lagging in single digits in most public polls. “He’s been charged with four different crimes. And yet he still persists in insisting that he has to be a candidate for president.”
Yet with Trump’s huge leads in most public polls, Georgia Republicans are also coming to grips with the likelihood — or at least the growing possibility — that he’ll be back atop the GOP ticket in 2024.
Already, many state Republicans and activists are vowing to back Trump if he’s the nominee, casting any conservative contender as better than four more years of Biden in the White House.
“I was on Team Trump, but I’ve had it with him. I have to begin to wonder why he can’t accept reality,” said JoEllen Artz of Rutledge, one of hundreds of conservatives at the conference. “Do I really want him to be president? No, but I’ll still vote for him. Anyone who runs on the Democratic side represents even worse.”
Of course, her sentiment also underscores the party’s challenge in Georgia, one of a handful of politically competitive states on the 2026 map.
Former football star Herschel Walker’s troubled campaign for the U.S. Senate — promoted by Trump — collapsed last year as legions of Georgians who cast ballots for other GOP statewide candidates split their ticket to back Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock in the Senate campaign.
And a bloc of moderate and independent voters revolted against Trump in 2020 to help flip the state to the Democratic column for the first time since 1992. Georgia Democrats envision another battleground victory — particularly if Trump is atop the ballot.
“Republicans can plug their extreme, out-of-touch agenda of cutting Medicare and Social Security, banning abortion nationwide, and raising costs for families all they want,” said U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the state Democratic Party.
“But Georgians already rejected MAGA extremism in 2020,” she said, “and we’ll do it again in 2024.”
Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC
Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC
For now, many state Republicans are engaged in a tightrope act, neither condemning Trump nor praising his actions. Georgia House Speaker Jon Burns, whose fractious caucus includes far-right conservatives and mainstream Republicans, tried to navigate those competing pressures in a letter this week to members.
“I agree with Governor Brian Kemp’s statement released on Tuesday: ‘The future of our country is at stake in 2024 and that must be our focus,’ ” he wrote.
Any hint of disloyalty to Trump can bring backlash, too. After Kemp publicly rebuked Trump’s lies about a “rigged” 2020 election in Georgia, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene warned it could spur an ultraconservative revolt — and publicly mused over a Senate bid in 2026 when Kemp may seek the office.
“He could be stopping what (Fulton District Attorney Fani Willis is) doing, as a Republican governor, but instead he came out and wants to basically argue with President Trump all in an effort to defend his own ego,” said Greene, one of Trump’s most ardent Georgia allies. “And Republican voters in Georgia are not going to be very forgiving of that.”
Kemp’s tried to find his own balance. Like other Republican leaders, he’s pledged to support Trump if he win’s the GOP nod. He tells Republicans they can “believe whatever you want about the 2020 election” — so long as they focus on the 2024 vote.
“If we don’t win, we don’t get to govern,” Kemp said. “We don’t get the pencil. It’s that simple to me.”
Staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report.