Christie leads among Republicans who believe Trump indictments are legitimate — but few Republicans do

Here’s the good news for former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: He’s the preferred candidate for president among Republican voters who feel the indictments against former President Donald Trump are legitimate.

Here’s the reality: Most members of the Republican Party don’t feel that way.

The latest FDU poll, released this morning, still shows Trump with a commanding lead among the potential Republican nominees.

Overall, Trump had the support of 58% of the likely Republican primary electorate, including those who are leaning toward one candidate or another — far ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had the support of 15%. No other candidate was in double digits.

Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence, the two candidates who have most notably spoken out against Trump, were each polling at 5%.

Only about 1 in 6 Republican primary voters (17%) said the indictments against Trump are legitimate. But among the group who said the indictments are justified, the numbers are very different. In that group, Christie led the pack, with 25% support, with DeSantis and Pence close behind (at 19% and 16%, respectively).

In what may be the most surprising stat: Trump retained the support of 10% of those who said that the indictments against him are justified.

To examine the effect of the recent spate of indictments on support for Trump, an experiment was embedded in the poll. Half of respondents were asked about the indictments before being asked if they would consider supporting someone other than their initial choice; half were asked about the indictments only afterwards. All told, 48% of Trump supporters said they would consider supporting someone else for the nomination.

But, when Trump supporters are reminded about the indictments, they became 11 points more likely to say that they’re open to supporting someone else (an increase from 43% to 54%). In effect, reminding voters about the indictments reduced the size of the “only Trump” wing of the party from 32% to 25%. In contrast, the “never Trump” wing of the party, currently supporting a different candidate, and saying they will not consider supporting Trump, consisted of 21%.

“All of these legal problems are having an effect,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the director of the poll. “But, even if Trump lost all of his supporters who say they’re open to someone else, he’d still be in the lead.”

Cassino summed up Christie’s position this way:

“Christie is doing a great job of reaching Republicans who think that Trump did crimes,” he said. “The problem is that there just aren’t enough yet of them to even get close in a Republican primary.”

Cassino said the reason for Christie’s numbers may be because of another factor: He’s getting air time for his willingness to criticize Trump.

“Right now, visibility is the name of the game in the Republican primary,” Cassino said. “Candidates can’t break out unless they can get media coverage, and Trump is sucking all of the air out of the room.

“Criticisms of Trump have gotten Christie and Pence a lifeline, but, so far, it’s not enough.”