Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Maybe This Time Will Be Different

The first polls taken after Donald Trump's federal indictment seem to say that he is not losing much support among Republicans and will probably be the Republican presidential nominee. But David Leonhardt of The New York Times has a somewhat different take on the polls.

Here is a recent poll from ABC News/Ipsos:

ABC News poll of Trump's indictment

Now here is the interesting part. Democrats are completely united that Trump's charges are serious (91%-5%) whereas Republicans are badly split (38%-50%). Also on the question of should Trump be charged, Democrats are united (86%-5%) whereas Republicans are split (16%-67%). In politics, it is always better when your side is united and the other one is divided. This offers an opportunity to use the issue as a wedge and drive some of the opposition away from their party.

Headlines that merely reported that a majority of Republicans (67%) don't want to see Trump charged ignores the fact that 16% do want to see him charged and 17% aren't sure. If 33% of Republicans are potentially up for grabs, that's a lot. Elections are close these days and if a third of Republicans flip or stay home on Election Day, that's enormous. Even if half of these come grudgingly back home, it's still a lot of unhappy Republicans, especially in states where elections are decided by 1 point or less.

Here is another chart. It shows that among all groups, Americans think the new charges are more serious than the New York State charges about filing false business reports. The jump among Republicans is especially large:

Change in public opinion from the first indictment to the second one

We are not surprised since it is easy to think of the hush money charge as a bookkeeping error. Giving Stormy Daniels money to stay silent wasn't a crime and if Trump's campaign had simply reported something like: "Stephanie Gregory (her maiden name) was paid $150,000 for her assistance with the campaign" there would not have been charges. The second indictment (holding defense documents in an unauthorized location) is more clearly a crime for most people. What we are thinking is that the likely Georgia indictment (trying to overturn an election) is going to move all the arrows above even further to the right, since it is very easy to understand and very clearly a crime, not to mention there are three credible witnesses and an audio recording.

Here's another view of whether all of this will hurt Trump's chances to get the GOP nomination. Veteran political observer Charlie Cook doesn't think so. He thinks the main dynamic within the Republican Party is feeling like a victim and Trump encourages his supporters to think of themselves that way with him as their savior. Even if his supporters are split on the indictments, there is no other candidate who caters to their victimhood at all, really. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) says that the Disney Company is woke and he will put them back to sleep again, but he doesn't keep telling his supporters how awful they are being treated these days and how he will save them. His pitch is much more intellectual, but that is not what most Republicans want nowadays. They want politicians to tell them how horrible it is that the deep state has oppressed them. That's not DeSantis' pitch at all.

If you don't understand how the rank-and-file membership of the proud party of Ike, St. Ronnie, the Bushes, John McCain, and Mitt Romney has come to feel like a bunch of victims then you don't understand how Trump changed the Republican Party. He drove out most of the affluent college-educated professionals (who liked the idea of low taxes) and replaced them with working-class people seething with white grievance that the professionals never had. In essence, the parties have swapped huge segments of their respective bases. The share of the Republican vote among people without a college degree has jumped from 49% in 2014 to 62% in 2022. The share of the Republican vote among people with a college degree dropped from 38% to 25% in the same time period.

And the shift is continuing. In effect, Trump is remaking the Republican Party into one that worships him above all else. Political parties are not static. They change and the Republicans are becoming more angry, which fits Trump's style perfectly. Just as they see themselves as victims, they see Trump's indictments as evidence that he is a victim, too, just like them. More indictments may peel off a few more GOP primary voters, but probably not enough to deny him the nomination against a field that simply doesn't get it. DeSantis and Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and the other wannabes aren't touting their victimhood and desire for revenge. But that's what the base wants. (V)

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