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Recent legal and political challenges could derail Trump's 2024 presidential run

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

All these legal challenges could derail Donald Trump's 2024 presidential run. And as many in the Republican Party appear to be moving away from him, where does this leave him? To help answer this question, I'm joined via Skype by former Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida. Welcome.

FRANCIS ROONEY: Thank you for having me on.

MARTÍNEZ: All right, so the January 6 committee voted unanimously on Monday to recommend those criminal charges against the former president. Short term, long term - what do you think this means for his future, politically?

ROONEY: Well, you know, I think he's like an expired asteroid. He's - his star is fading. After that constitutional comment, I think he lost a lot of people who said, this is a bridge too far. And then the midterms, where only Donald Trump could mess it up this bad for Republicans, amidst inflation and a terrible economy, and we didn't gain any - many seats at all? And he recruited all those bad candidates. I think it's time for some new leadership. And I think people in the Republican Party are starting to realize that there's people like Ron DeSantis, Glenn Youngkin, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott - a lot of really good people out there. We don't need to be burdened by the baggage of Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: So if you think the comments about the Constitution were bad, do these charges effectively become a backbreaker?

ROONEY: Well, I don't know. You know, I'm not a lawyer, OK? I've studied that January 6 stuff. And I don't know if what he did was legally actionable or not, but I think the committee is right to say it probably wouldn't have happened without him - so, you know, the old but-for proximate cause test. But I don't know if it's legal or not. But it certainly tarnishes him, I think, with most Americans. Not - maybe not his 30% base, but the rest of the Americans.

MARTÍNEZ: Thirty percent - you still think he's got that 30%?

ROONEY: He probably - well, down here where I live, he does for sure.

MARTÍNEZ: Down in Florida?

ROONEY: South Florida, yeah.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, in addition to the January 6 attack, Trump could also face some charges for mishandling classified documents. If the DOJ decides not to prosecute, though, you think that could mean a kind of a victory for him and his supporters?

ROONEY: I'm not sure the cost of - the classified documents case will stand out. It depends on, maybe, what he took. You know, there have been inadvertent classified document departures or takings or hidings or whatever for years. And - now, he took it to a new level in terms of the volume of documents. But an awful lot of classified documents are really not national security sensitive. And Sandy Berger, under Clinton, took real national security, highly sensitive documents and wasn't prosecuted at all. Nor was Hillary Clinton, for having her remote server with classified documents on it. So I don't know. That one, to me, is weaker, maybe even than the January 6.

MARTÍNEZ: We followed up on former Congressman Rooney's comments earlier this morning. And, in fact, Sandy Berger, who was the national security adviser in the Clinton White House, was prosecuted in 2005 for removing classified materials from the National Archives. He pleaded guilty and was fined and sentenced to probation and community service. Now we'll return to our conversation.

I know you said you're not a lawyer, but you think that Trump, legally, might not face many or any consequences from either thing.

ROONEY: It's possible, for different reasons, that he might not. I mean, I think that the January 6 case, like you say, like the committee said, I think, accurately, that it wouldn't have happened without him. Now, is that proximate cause enough? I don't know. The classified would be more of - nobody else has been prosecuted for that. Why should he?

MARTÍNEZ: Now, during an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press NOW" last month, you said this. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS NOW")

ROONEY: The world has moved beyond Trump, but there are a certain number of very conservative Republicans who don't seem to have that figured out yet.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned the 30% that you say that Donald Trump has. It seems like that number is a little bit higher. Why do you think so many conservative Republicans remain loyal to Donald Trump?

ROONEY: Well, when I was campaigning, I would talk to a lot of these very hardcore Trump people. And they would tell me they feel they are the forgotten ones, the people that the culture, the diversity, the progress of our country, our role in the world has left them behind. And they're angry about it. And I think that Bannon and these guys - and Miller - realized this and capitalized on it by getting Trump to run. He's the kind of guy that could rev people like that up, you know? He's kind of a demagogue, and that's what they're looking for. Look what's happened all over Latin America. We're getting the same thing from a lot of frustrated people.

MARTÍNEZ: So the release of his taxes may be no effect, if any at all, on his GOP followers?

ROONEY: Probably not on his GOP followers. But I think a lot of people are going to be interested to find out how much tie - how many ties to Russia he had, if it shows his loans and things. I've heard some pretty negative rumors that he was very indebted to Deutsche Bank and some Russians.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, we always hear that being president makes that person the head of their political party. Trump's the most recent GOP president, and he's running for president again. Is Donald Trump the head - still the head of the Republican Party?

ROONEY: Well, he still has his base. And that's a scary thought because I don't think he can win. If he somehow were to run - he says he's running, but I don't know about that - and he were somehow to get the nomination, I don't think he'll win. I mean, the Democrats would have to come up with somebody horrendous for him to beat them. And we have so many good young Republicans out there, like Glenn Youngkin, like Ron DeSantis, et cetera. We need - it's time to move on to people like that.

MARTÍNEZ: That's former Republican Congressman Francis Rooney. Thank you for the time.

ROONEY: Thanks for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS CHRISTODOULOU'S "NOW I AM BECOME DEATH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.