How Will an Indictment Change Trump's Standing with the Voters?
A question that is on the mind of many people is: "What will be the political fallout if Trump is
indicted?" Nobody knows, of course, but we may begin to learn in a few weeks. Almost everyone expects a
short-term bump for him and lots of money coming in, but the long-term effect is hard to gauge. The other Nate
(Cohn) who normally deals in numbers, data, and polls, is trying to
what he knows and make an educated guess of what might happen.
Here is an outline of what he is thinking:
- The Mar-a-Lago search: Cohn thinks this is the best analogy to an indictment.
The FBI got a warrant to search his property and executed it. It found evidence of a crime. This is not the
same as an indictment, but the news was essentially "Trump committed a crime" (holding defense documents
outside an authorized facility and lying about it). Think of it as indictment-lite. Trump's supporters and
conservative circled the wagons and called it a witch hunt. They could do exactly the same thing with an
indictment. The event had no affect on Trump's polling.
- But a new line would be crossed: That said, an indictment crosses a new legal
line. Trump has never been formally accused of a crime that will lead to a trial and his possible conviction.
For some of his less enthusiastic supporters, this could be a signal to look for a new champion.
- The base knows him already: Trump has already had enough scandals to kill nine
cats, from the Hollywood Access tape to Stormy Daniels and so much more. There is a core group of supporters
that will never, ever leave him. Ever. Also not for an indictment.
- There is no upside: Last weekend, Chris Christie noted that there is no upside
to being indicted. It might not be fatal, but there probably are precious few voters who currently dislike
Trump but as soon as he is indicted will jump on the bandwagon. The ones already on it won't jump off,
but very few Trump haters will suddenly realize that he is honest man and the government is unfairly picking
- He's not superman: Everyone thinks Trump is invulnerable and all the bullets
just bounce off, especially after the FBI executed the search warrant. His polling is currently in the mid
40s. That doesn't scream "invulnerable." Opponents could say: "Do you want to take a chance nominating a guy
who might be in prison come Election Day 2024? Could he function as president in prison? It's too risky." Some
people might buy that, especially when there are multiple Trumpy alternatives out there.
- His weakness: It is one thing to rally your base by crying "witch hunt" when
you are at 55%. It's something else when you are in the 30s or 40s. If Alvin Bragg's indictment is quickly
followed by Fani Willis' indictment, and maybe a scathing report from special prosecutor Jack Smith, that could convince enough
of this supporters that he can't win a general election, even if they still love him. They really want to win
and if they think Ron DeSantis is ideologically acceptable, even if not perfect, and he could beat Joe Biden,
Trump's base of support could drop to 30%. You don't win elections at 30%. Trump is already so low that
bleeding even 10% of Republican voters could be the tipping point.
Cohn also notes that how Trump responds to the indictment(s) could also be important. If Bragg's only
charge is failing to report an election contribution in kind, nobody is going to understand that, especially
if his defense is that he paid hush money to Stormy Daniels simply to keep Melania from finding out. If the
charge includes claiming a $420,000 deduction for fake legal fees and thus committing tax fraud, more people
will understand that and may disapprove. Also, will Trump actively try to rally protesters? Will they get
violent? These are only the known unknowns, but they are all we have now. (V)
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