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Yes, Virginia, the Indictments Do Matter.
There has been a good deal of hand-wringing among Democrats and false exultation among Trump Republicans, both of whom seem to want to pretend that the recent spate of felony indictments will have no impact on the 2024 elections…and that they might even help. Trump himself has bragged of how accusations of felonious, even seditious, conduct will pave his way to return to the White House. As a result, he has been successful in prodding his suckers…uh, supporters…into sending him lots of money, which he has thus far used to pay his, but not his co-conspirators’, legal bills.
But the indictments will matter, and it appears they may matter a lot.
A recent poll conducted by Ipsos for Politico…hardly a left-wing outlet…gives a sense of the trend. It showed that 61% of those polled wanted Trump to stand trial for subverting the 2020 election before the 2024 election takes place, something Trump has shown he is desperate to avoid. While a predictable 89% of Democrats were in favor, so were a surprising 33% of Republicans. Of greater significance, 63% of Independents wanted the trials completed before they voted, against just 14% who did not.
Even more damning for the former president, 51% of the respondents believe he is guilty of the charges, which includes 53% of Independents, against only 20% who, for the moment, think he is not guilty.
Politico concluded that “it would be unhelpful for Trump’s presidential bid if he is federally convicted of a criminal scheme to steal the last election at the same time that he is asking the American people to send him back to the White House,” with “considerable room for the numbers to get worse.” Other polls have shown that Trump’s support among Independents has eroded with each indictment and a trickle of Republicans who have indicated that they would prefer someone else heading the ticket.
Currently, with none of the trials beyond the pleading and mug shot phase, Trump’s favorable rating, according to FiveThirtyEight, is pretty much stuck at around 40% and his unfavorables are equally solid, near 55%. While polling must be taken with many grains of salt, even if these results only approximate the actual mood of the country, Trump’s current position is none too enviable within the electorate at large.
Given that we are entering a new phase of Trump’s legal odyssey, it would be useful to take a step back and try to project how this new reality show—let us call it The Defendant—will play out over the course of the next fourteen months and what impact it might have if he is the Republican nominee.
It is distinctly possible that none of the trials will be concluded before the 2024 election—and even if they are, appeals will be pending—but whatever the status, Trump’s behavior will be all too predictable. Because he is, as Chris Christie described him, “a petulant child,” his focus as he campaigns, likely his sole focus, will be on perceived injustice, which will take the form of blustering about persecution and complaining how he is being victimized by Joe Biden, the Justice Department, and mainstream media, all the while continuing to insist that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Insults will abound and he is likely—certain, actually—to test the patience of every judge presiding over one of his cases. Even his own appointee, Aileen Cannon, will not be spared unless she blatantly stacks the deck in his favor, which she has indicated she will not do.
As to policy, other than stating he will create the best economy the world has ever seen, end the Ukraine War in one day, cow the Chinese into favorable trade arrangements, and solve the environmental crisis, which does not really exist, he will likely avoid hard issues almost entirely. Abortion? What’s that?
Then there are the inevitable scenes of Trump sitting at the defense table in one or more courtrooms as extremely persuasive evidence, some supplied by Trump intimates, is laid out for the jurors and the public to see. While his supporters will rage, everyone else will be reminded with every image, either real or sketched, that the person who again wants to be president might be little more than either a thug or a cheap con man. The months will drag on and the tawdry spectacle will never be allowed to recede from the public consciousness. Even if his lawyers succeed in wheedling him out of some of the charges, the evidence that he is at his core dishonest will be hard to gloss over.
Does anyone really think all this will make him more appealing to voters who rejected him in 2020, before any of the events he will constantly whine about even took place?
Finally, overlay this scenario with what Trump would have to do to win the presidency. There are only a handful of states in play and, other than North Carolina, Trump lost every one of them in 2020. To win this time around, he will need to flip three, perhaps four of these.
An argument can be made that two of them, Georgia and Arizona, are actually red states that only elected Democrats because Republicans put up fatally weak candidates—all of whom were handpicked by Trump. Pennsylvania and Michigan, however, have trended blue and there is little reason to see why that would reverse. Wisconsin, which Trump likely must win, was extremely close in 2020, but seems to be trending blue as well. In addition, all three of those states have large university student populations, hardly Trump’s prime real estate, especially with Republicans committed to outlawing the abortions that some of them may well need.
It is, therefore, difficult to see how four felony trials will gain the man either sympathy or votes. Far more likely is that they will lose him both.
Those accused of the sort of crimes with which Trump is charged invariably insist that they cannot wait for their day in court. Few of them actually mean it.
Neither does Trump.