Along the bridge to Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Saturday, a small group of supporters gathered in defence of the former president as he prepared to face criminal charges in Manhattan next week.

Some brought flags, others had posters, one carried a large cross. They cheered as passing cars honked in approval, and jeered after one showed a photograph of Trump behind bars.

Dirk Frazel, who had driven five hours down Florida’s Atlantic Coast from his hometown of Saint Augustine to offer free hot dogs to the group, lashed out at the “Democrats” behind the probe.

“I think that in their blood lust, in their chaotic rage, they have committed a fatal error, in terms of setting a precedent for the prosecution of all past presidents and members of the government. And I think it opens up Pandora’s box,” he said.

Dirk Frazel drove five hours to show his support for Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago © James Politi/FT

Since receiving word of the indictment, Trump has remained inside his lavish estate, expressing his fury on social media and attacking the “witch hunt” that will force him to fly to New York on Monday and face his arraignment on Tuesday.

The indictment brought by district attorney Alvin Bragg may not be the only one: Trump is facing investigations by federal prosecutors over his role in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and his mishandling of classified documents. He is also facing an inquiry in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

But among Trump’s diehard supporters and closest advisers, there is no shame or recrimination about his legal woes. They insist he will prevail both in court and at the polls as he aims to clinch the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and win back the presidency from Joe Biden.

“[Trump] has an uncanny ability to remain motivated and hard charging, when I think the average person would just curl up into a ball,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, in Palm Beach on Saturday. “There’s a clear focus from his end on what the endgame is here. And that’s to get back to the White House.”

Among Republicans in Palm Beach County, one of Florida’s largest, it is clear that Trump has been solidifying his political standing in recent months, even though his main rival in next year’s Republican presidential primary is expected to be Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor.

Supporters fly flags on a boat to show support near Mar-a-Lago on Saturday. © Getty Images

According to the polling average, Trump has a lead of 45.7 per cent to 28.9 per cent over DeSantis, although early primary state surveys have shown the Florida governor to be more competitive. Meanwhile, Trump has launched a massive fundraising drive on the back of the charges and many congressional Republicans have closed ranks behind the former president.

“After this charade occurs in New York the support will be greater than ever,” predicted Larry Snowden, a retired wireless executive who heads a fan group recently renamed “Club 47” from “Club 45” on the expectation Trump will be the 47th president.

“I’m a defender of Donald Trump because I understand that what they did to him, they would do to the next person,” said Sid Dinerstein, the former Republican party chair of Palm Beach County.

“The only Republicans who are not upset by this are the Liz Cheney Republicans and they don’t matter,” he added, referring to the former Wyoming lawmaker and Trump critic who sat on the congressional committee probing the January 6 attack.

Kevin Wagner, a political-science professor at Florida Atlantic University, cautions that it is far too soon to gauge the political impact of Trump’s legal problems, because “this is not the end, this is the very beginning, including what the indictment says”.

“For the presidential race this is very early in the cycle, there’s a lot of time,” he added.

Among many US political analysts, the expectation is that even if Trump survives a primary challenge, his legal trouble could be deeply damaging in the general election, as voters balk at his alleged crimes. It is also unclear whether Trump would be able to mount an effective campaign during a trial.

On the waterfront of West Palm Beach, there was little sympathy for the former president.

“He’s in it for himself . . . he brought a lot of racism out . . . he’s just a clown,” says Gloria Ramirez, a nurse from Saint Lucie County, north of Palm Beach, and a Democrat.

She hopes the charges will prove to be “real and authentic and there will be consequences”.

Suzanne Lissandro, who works in publishing, added: “His supporters are diehard supporters, he’s got that group. But I don’t think that group is big enough to get him back in. There’s just too much that has happened in the past couple of years”.

In Trump’s orbit, however, many are increasingly confident that he can overcome the legal challenges. And they are especially dismissive of the challenge posed by DeSantis, who has not formally launched his campaign yet, and has been struggling to fend off Trump’s increasingly brutal and personal attacks.

Trump’s supporters believe the indictment has helped rally Republicans around the former president © AFP via Getty Images

The Trump campaign’s pollster John McLaughlin on Saturday released a survey conducted since the indictment showing Trump with a 30 point lead over DeSantis, compared to 12 points in January.

“I think DeSantis put himself out there way too far before he got his act organised,” said Miller. “I doubt that DeSantis is waived off from running. But I do think this could be finished before it starts.”

Some local Republicans are also unhappy with DeSantis’ response to the indictment.

Although DeSantis wrote a tweet criticising the charges as “un-American” and a “weaponisation” of the justice system, his earlier reactions were to lament the “manufactured circus” over the probe and saying he did not know “what goes into paying hush money to a porn star”.

Dinerstein said that was way too weak and a missed opportunity to gain credibility with Trump supporters.

“Should DeSantis win the nomination we would all have to see how many of the Trump people he holds,” he added.

“Ron DeSantis has been a great governor for Florida [but] it makes no sense for him to run this time around,” added Robert Kiger, another Republican from Palm Beach county who has served as treasurer to a number of political campaigns.

“2028 is a much more plausible scenario,” he said.

But the main message coming from Republicans in Palm Beach is that Trump remains a viable candidate, even as the legal system closes in on him.

“[He has] all these attacks from all these different directions. And he just seems to be getting stronger lately,” says Miller.

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