Republicans were wrong. Trump’s legal troubles have hurt him in a general election

The ex-president is in deep trouble when it comes to independent voters. It could hurt his chances against Joe Biden

Eric Garcia
Friday 25 August 2023 19:08 BST
Trump's post-arrest interview awkwardly breaks up and cuts out

In the weeks leading up to former president Donald Trump’s first indictment in New York County, plenty of Republicans said that such action would help his re-election prospects. Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned “for Democrats it’s counterproductive, politically.” Elon Musk posted on X, then known as Twitter, that “If this happens, Trump will be re-elected in a landslide victory.”

It’s true that the indictments have done little to move Republican primary voters. A CBS News poll released on Sunday before the debate showed that 62 per cent of Repulican voters would back Mr Trump were the primary contest held today and 77 per cent say that the four indictments against the former president are politically motivated.

Indeed, when your humble reporter was in North Carolina in the days after Mr Trump’s second indictment related to his handling of classified documents, some supporters told me that the indictment made them support him.

It is unsurprising that Mr Trump’s indictments can consolidate when he faces legal troubes given that he spent much of his presidency demonising the Justice Department and calling investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election a “witch hunt.” That turned a sizeable amount of the Republican populace against law enforcement.

Republicans seem to think that the rest of the electorate will act in the same way they do when it comes to Mr Trump’s legal travails, but there is little evidence that is the case. A new survey from Politico Magazine and Ipsos showed that three in five people say Mr Trump’s trial regarding his handling of sensitive documents should happen before the 2024 election.

In addition, the poll showed that a majority of independents think that Mr Trump is guilty in three of the indictments against him and a plurality believes he is guilty in the case of falsifying business records related to his hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.

All of that should set off alarm bells for Republicans. They desperately need independents on their side to have a decent shot to win back areas that Mr Trump cost them not only in swing states like Arizona, Wisconsin and Georgia, but also in swing House districts such as in Long Island, New York and Orange County, California.

Mr Trump often likes to say that polling shows he is beating President Joe Biden. Mr Biden is indeed incredibly unpopular, especially for an incumbent president. But the poll showed that while 36 per cent of respondents have a net favourable perception of Mr Biden, 27 per cent of respondents have a net favourable opinion of Mr Trump.

Similarly, a Fox News poll from last week revealed that Mr Biden narrowly beats Mr Trump. That might be enough to keep Mr Biden in the running were Mr Trump to be the nominee – and judging by most surveys and polls, he holds a wide double-digit lead against his nearest competitors.

Former President Donald Trump is shown in a police booking mugshot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office
Former President Donald Trump is shown in a police booking mugshot released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office (via REUTERS)

Of course, these numbers came before Mr Trump’s most recent arrest and the mugshot released from the Fulton County jail in Georgia. In response to the investigation, House Republicans announced their investigation of District Attorney Fani Willis, whose own investigation triggered the indictment against Mr Trump and 18 other co-conspirators.

If Republicans wind up looking like Mr Trump’s legal defence team, voters might be repelled from voting for them, which could in turn cost the GOP their majority in the House. This is to say nothing of the GOP’s potential plans to impeach Mr Biden, which many voters would see as (pun intended) trumped-up charges.

Furthermore, the negative headlines will likely not relent as the campaign continues. Ms Willis has proposed a trial date of 4 March of next year, which would be right before Super Tuesday. Mr Trump’s trial for his documents case will take place in May, when the GOP nomination will likely already be decided if Mr Trump sweeps the early contests.

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