Dem 51
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GOP 49
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The Gap Keeps Growing

Ronald Brownstein has an interesting column over at CNN. He says that what Republican primary voters want and what general-election voters want are far apart and the gap between them keeps growing. This means that what a politician says to get the nomination could prove fatal in the general election. Trying to be all things to all people almost never works. Voters are reasonably good at sniffing out phonies.

Case in point: Trump's indictments. Any Republican politician who wants the votes of Trump's base needs to defend him. Saying that it is up to the courts and the jury to determine his guilt or innocence doesn't fly with them. What is needed is a full-throated: "He is innocent and the Democrats are persecuting him." That will work wonders in the primaries, but will come back to haunt the nominee in the general election, especially with independents, most of whom think the charges are serious and a trial will not be a witch hunt. Polls show that three-quarters of them, along with four-fifths of college-educated white people, people of color, and voters under 45 do not want Trump to be president if he is convicted of any crime. Failure to defend Trump now could be fatal in the primaries, but defending him now could be fatal in the general election. What's a candidate to do?

History professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat of NYU, who studies authoritarian leaders, says the closest parallel with Trump is the late Silvio Berlusconi, who died on Monday. He was indicted for many crimes and put on trial many times. Each time his base rallied around him. He established personal loyalty to him as the litmus test for belonging to his party (Forza Italia). Any politician who rejected him personally was cast out of the party. This is what the other Republican primary candidates are about to discover, some of them the hard way.

Ben-Ghiat likens the multiple indictments and trials, both present and future, to the "truth commissions" established in places like South Africa and Chile, which catalogued the many misdeeds of the previous authoritarian regimes. In real time, they were very painful for many people, but in the end, they strengthened democracy in their respective countries.

Some observers think that if enough charges are filed against Trump in enough jurisdictions, Trump's supporters will desert him. That didn't happen to Berlusconi and probably won't to Trump. Berlusconi said that his enemies were after him and only his supporters could protect him. Trump is already saying the same thing. He will make the weaponization of the DoJ a major campaign theme. If his primary opponents agree with that, they could have a shot at the nomination if Trump falters, but saying that now could come back to bite them in the rear later on.

Bill Kristol said that maybe the only route for other primary opponents is to say they have faith in the legal system and Trump did a good job as president, but with Trump distracted by so many trials combined with the dismal election results in 2022, it is time for a new leader. (V)

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