Senate Republicans say former President Trump is consolidating his support in the Republican Party and now looks more likely to become the party’s nominee in 2024 despite his legal problems.
Trump has doubled his polling lead over his closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), since Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) indicted him on March 30. 
During that time, the former president has picked several prominent endorsements in Congress, including the support of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Steve Daines (R-Mont.). 
Republican senators and GOP strategists say Daines’s endorsement is a sign that Trump is viewed as the favorite to win the party’s presidential nomination in 2024. 
They say the leader of the Senate Republican campaign arm wants to have a good working relationship with him to maximize the chances of winning back control of the Senate. 
“I just think that his nomination is inevitable. I really do. He’s going to be the nominee. I’d be stunned if he’s not,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to discuss the primary and hasn’t yet endorsed a candidate.
“You’ve seen the numbers. I’ve talked to voters. People are beginning to recognize that. Steve Daines’s endorsement reflects that reality. He’s going to be the nominee, we want him to work with us,” the senator added. 
Trump led DeSantis by an average of 16 points on March 30, the day Bragg indicted him in New York, according to national polls analyzed by RealClearPolitics. By May 1, Trump’s average polling lead over his rival had grown to nearly 30 points. 
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is endorsing Trump’s presidential bid, said the former president “seems to be” consolidating his support in the party. 
“He’s certainly growing, if you believe in polling, and you hear it on the ground too. Part of it was a reaction to the New York prosecution. He became a victim of an out-of-control left-wing prosecutor and it gave him a bump,” he said. 
“Now does he sustain this? I’m supporting him but, you know, it depends on how DeSantis engages. Does he run? If he runs, what campaign does he run?” Graham added. 
Some Trump allies are speculating that DeSantis may decide not to challenge Trump after all given the former president’s huge polling lead. 
DeSantis said Friday he will make a decision “relatively soon.”
“You’ve got to put up or shut up on that,” he said at a news conference. 
A second Republican senator who has stayed neutral and requested anonymity to discuss the race agreed that Trump is the clear favorite heading into next year’s election. The senator said Daines wants to get ahead of the pack in endorsing Trump to increase the odds of working with him to help flip the Senate.
The lawmaker said “I assume Trump will be the candidate” on the Republican presidential ticket in next year’s general election.
The senator said a growing sense of Trump’s inevitability likely drove the recent decisions by Daines and Sens. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) to back Trump’s third White House bid. 
A Republican strategist said Daines wants to have a good relationship with Trump so they can work together to back the most electable candidates in next year’s Senate primaries.
“It looks like Daines is working to try to point Trump to some of the stronger candidates in Senate races,” the strategist said. 
One of the GOP senators who endorsed Trump privately expressed reservations about his electability in an interview with The Hill shortly after he launched his presidential campaign in November. 
The lawmaker said he wanted to wait to see if Trump could move past his obsession over what he claimed was widespread fraud in the 2020 election. 
Trump still regularly claims without evidence that he lost the last election because of fraud, but Senate Republican concerns about his electability against President Biden have waned. 
An Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 adults nationwide conducted April 29 to May 2 showed Trump and Biden tied in a hypothetical matchup while it also showed Biden ahead of DeSantis by 3 points.
“Not only Donald Trump doing well in the primary and he’s the clear frontrunner in the primary, he’s also beating Joe Biden in the general election, 47 to 43,” said Jim McLaughlin, Trump’s pollster, of his firm’s polls on a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 election.
“Our polling never had [Trump] ahead in the general in either 2016 or 2020,” he said. 
“A lot of folks don’t understand — it’s pretty amazing, people who are supposed to be smart — why Donald Trump is as popular as he is, especially amongst the base. The reason is because he had a successful presidency. [Voters] agreed with him on the issues,” he added. 
Trump has compiled 11 Senate Republican endorsements while DeSantis, who has yet to formally announce his plans to run for president, has yet to secure any strong Senate support. 
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) hosted a meet-and-greet event for DeSantis in Washington April 18. The only other senator to show up was Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who said afterward that he doesn’t plan to endorse in next year’s presidential primary. 
Some of Trump’s critics in the Senate GOP leadership argue that it’s too soon to declare Trump the party’s likely nominee in 2024. 
“I think the polls are going to be very fluid. They have been already. Coming out of November, DeSantis was ahead. Now Trump’s ahead. I just think there’s a lot of volatility in the electorate right now, and I think national polls are probably going to be a little misleading. Presidential stuff is all state by state,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who opposed efforts by Trump allies to object to the certification of Biden’s 2020 victory Jan. 6. 
Thune acknowledged Trump “has got a formidable position” and “he’s got a very loyal following” but argued, “I think there are an awful lot of people there that are up for grabs too.”
Cornyn, an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership, said “it’s very early.” 
Whit Ayres, a prominent Republican pollster, said the possibility of additional indictments against Trump by the Department of Justice and the Fulton County district attorney in Georgia could swing the race away from Trump, predicting that charges from those prosecutors would have more credibility than Bragg’s indictment. 
“People seem to have an inevitable tendency to jump to premature conclusions well before we know many of the key elements of a campaign environment,” he said in response to comments by some GOP senators that Trump’s victory in next year’s primary looks inevitable. 
“What might be the political effects of serious felony indictments backed up a mountain of compelling evidence?” he asked of potential felony charges that Trump incited the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and tried to interfere in the 2020 election in Georgia. 
“Are Republican voters really going to dismiss multiple credible felony indictments backed up by substantial evidence, if indeed they occur? They might, but I don’t know the answer to that,” he said.
Graham, one of Trump’s closest allies on the Hill, however, argued that Trump is running a more disciplined campaign, which will enhance his perceived electability in the general election. 
“The more he talks about the contrast between his presidency and that of Biden the better off he’ll be. You see that’s beginning to pay dividends,” he said.  
Asked about the chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm endorsing Trump, Graham said, “I think Steve understands — I know he has a close relationship with him — but he sees Trump as the most likely nominee.”
“It’s an acknowledgement of Trump’s power in the Republican primary world,” he said.