Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Trump’s GOP Strength Still Gaining Despite His Indictments

The latest Wall Street Journal poll confirms the trend that has been obvious in the race for the GOP’s presidential nomination since Manhattan Democrat District Attorney Alvin Bragg first charged Donald Trump with committing a felony on April 4. Each time another prosecutor files a new criminal indictment against the former president, more Republican voters get angry at the unjust treatment and rally behind Trump’s 2024 candidacy. Following the latest indictment from the Democrat District Attorney of Fulton County, Georgia, Fanni Willis, Trump’s support in nationwide polling of GOP primary voters has reached a new high of 59%.

Equally important is another finding from the same Wall Street Journal poll. In a head-to-head rerun of the 2020 presidential election, Trump and President Joe Biden are tied dead even at 46% each, which is as much an indication of the deep voter dissatisfaction with Biden as it is the political backlash against Trump due to his legal problems.

And when all voters were also asked to consider whether they might cast a protest vote for one of the obscure third-party candidates running for president next year, only 3% said yes, Trump and Biden remained virtually tied with about 40% each, and an unusually large number of voters, 17%, admitted that they are still undecided about what they will do on Election Day.

When self-declared Republican respondents were asked: “Do Donald Trump’s indictments make you more likely or less likely to vote for him, or have no impact on whether or not you would vote for Donald Trump?” three times as many (48% to 16%) said they would be more likely to vote for Trump rather than less likely, while the remaining 36% said that it would have no effect on their voting decision.

That result helps to explain why Trump has continued to extend his huge lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the other candidates for the GOP nomination. But when the same question was asked to independent and Democrat voters as well as Republicans, the result was the opposite. Taken altogether, only 24% of all those responding to the Wall Street Journal poll said they would be more likely to vote for Trump because of his indictments, compared to 37% who said they would be more likely to vote against him, and 35% who said it would have no effect on their decision, which, according to a Wall Street Journal editorial, is exactly the result that the Democrats want: “Keep the focus on Mr. Trump so he wins the nomination, and then convict him in trials before the general election in November.”

COULD TRUMP WIN EVEN IF HE IS CONVICTED?

The Democrat strategy appears to be based upon the assumption that Trump will be found guilty in at least one or more of the four trials being scheduled against him. However, if Trump is acquitted, or, more likely, if his trials are still unfinished by the time Election Day arrives next year, then the Democrat strategy could boomerang against them, especially if those trials are seen by the public to be unfairly rigged against Trump.

And there is yet another key question about the results of the Wall Street Journal poll which is much more difficult to answer. How many of those 37% of voters who said that they were less likely to vote for Trump if he were convicted, or the 24% of those who said they were more likely to vote for Trump following his conviction, have actually changed their minds about him?

Isn’t it, in fact, more likely that at this point, the vast majority of American voters have already made their choice between Trump and Biden, regardless of whether or not Trump will ultimately be convicted?

On the other hand, the results of the Wall Street Journal survey show that the indictments have only served to convince 60 percent of all Republican voters that the criminal charges being brought against Trump are politically motivated and without legal merit. They have also convinced a stunning 78% of all Republican voters who now say that Trump had a legitimate right to challenge the results of the 2020 election, while only 16% now say that he was wrong to do so.

THE DESANTIS CAMPAIGN IS STILL IN FREEFALL

Because they believe that Trump is being treated unfairly, about half of the Republicans who had previously been considering throwing their support behind DeSantis as a more electable candidate have now gone back to supporting Trump. With his level of Republican voter support having dropped from about 30% at the beginning of April to just 13% in last week’s Wall Street Journal poll, DeSantis’ presidential candidacy still appears to be in free fall following his competent, but uninspiring performance in the August 23 GOP candidates debate.

Even though there is now a consensus that political novice Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley both exceeded their expectation in the August 23 GOP debate, their respective poll numbers are still mired in the single digits, with 7% for Ramaswamy and 6% for Haley, as the rest of the GOP field has fallen even further behind Trump.

On the other hand, the poll continues to highlight the most remarkable feature of the primary race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. If any GOP presidential candidate other than Donald Trump had been indicted just once for a serious crime, his campaign would implode and he would immediately be forced to drop out of the race. But in Donald Trump’s case, the charges now being brought against him have only further reinforced his position as the frontrunner commanding more than 50% of the total GOP primary vote, and maintaining a prohibitive lead over his closest rival, who is still DeSantis, at about 40%.

Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who, along with Democrat pollster, Michael Bocian conducted the Wall Street Journal’s survey, admitted that he, too, was amazed by its results last week. “When we talk about how twisted and bent reality has become, that’s a really good example of it, because if, in fact, this were any other time and place, this race would not be happening this way,” Fabrizio said.

REPUBLICANS TURN AGAINST CHRISTIE FOR ATTACKING TRUMP

Not only has the intensity of Trump’s Republican supporters been further strengthened, but they have turned against those GOP candidates who have been most critical of Trump’s candidacy. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been Trump’s most outspoken critic, is now the most unpopular candidate in the GOP presidential field, with 73% of Republicans surveyed telling pollsters that they disapprove of him. Former Vice President Mike Pence has also lost a significant amount of Republican support after having boasted during the debate that he defied Trump by certifying Biden’s 2020 Electoral College victory on January 6, 2021. As recently as this past April, Pence commanded a favorable view among 54% of surveyed Republicans, but in a post-debate Economist/YouGov poll, 34 percent of Republicans said they thought Pence had done “poorly” in the debate. Also, in last week’s Wall Street Journal poll, he had the support of only 30% of Republicans surveyed and was opposed by 63%. Pence was also the choice of only 2% for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

Most observers also believe that while DeSantis did manage to hold his own in the Fox News debate, he was unable to use it to halt his long, slow decline in the polls and begin the turnaround that his campaign now desperately needs. On the other hand, DeSantis is still in second place and is not yet totally out of the race.

DESANTIS WILL GET A SECOND CHANCE

While his initial campaign strategy of trying to attack Donald Trump’s positions from the right for not being conservative enough has failed, with $85 million in his campaign war chest, DeSantis still has enough resources left to reboot his campaign and mount a second effort. With a new campaign manager and support staff, look for DeSantis to launch a new campaign message, with more emphasis on fighting inflation, rebuilding the economy, and bringing illegal immigration under control, and less emphasis on DeSantis’ controversial war against ultra-liberal “woke” policies in Florida.

Trump currently holds a very strong lead, but the race for the GOP nomination is not yet over. Despite his recent difficulties, last week’s Wall Street Journal poll found that some 70% of GOP voters still view DeSantis favorably. While that is down from his 84% favorable rating in April, it is still a larger share than any other GOP presidential candidate in their field, except for Trump. In addition, based largely upon the strength of their debate performances last month, both Haley and Ramaswamy now enjoy a favorable view by more than half of GOP primary voters. In addition, Trump’s current lead over his GOP opponents in the states of Iowa and New Hampshire, which will be the first to vote, is not quite as large as in the national polls.

While Vivek Ramaswamy, the candidate in third place who has been moving up behind DeSantis in the polls, continues to attract a lot of media attention, many GOP voters say they see him as too young and inexperienced to be considered a serious choice for president, and much more likely as an effective vice presidential candidate running on a ticket headed by Donald Trump.

There will be a second GOP debate on September 27, sponsored by the Fox Business channel and held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. It will give the GOP candidates, who meet the debate requirements set by the Republican National Committee, a second chance to impress the voters.

CRUCIAL EARLY TESTS IN IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE

In addition, Trump’s leading GOP rivals are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars on TV advertising in the early voting primary and caucus states, beginning with Iowa and New Hampshire, in what is likely to be their last chance to halt Trump’s momentum before he builds up an insurmountable lead in pledged GOP convention delegates.

The first real test of GOP candidate strength will be in Iowa, which will hold its Republican caucuses on January 15. A recent NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa found Trump in first place with 42 percent support, which, while still giving him a substantial lead over the other GOP candidates, is about 10 percent lower than his lead in the national GOP polls. Even more important for Trump’s rivals is the same poll’s findings that a total of 72 percent of surveyed Republicans in Iowa were either supporting someone other than Trump or at least open to that possibility.

Iowa and New Hampshire are states with a long, proud tradition of demanding that presidential candidates spend months on the ground personally meeting with local voters individually or in small group settings in order to earn their votes. Those candidates who are unwilling to make that kind of commitment in those two states are often among the first to be forced to drop out of the race, while even long-shot candidates who are willing to make that early investment in time and effort are often rewarded with rising poll numbers and campaign contributions.

Iowa may be the state where Trump’s GOP opponents will have the best chance of scoring an upset victory, or, at least, finishing much closer to Trump in second or third place than the polls are now predicting.

WILL IOWA’S EVANGELICALS VOTE FOR TRUMP?

In each of the last three contested Iowa GOP caucuses, the winners were candidates who appealed to the state’s large contingent of evangelical Christian voters, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. But while Trump has never pretended to be a devout Christian, he has earned much gratitude in the evangelical community for his success while president in putting a majority of conservative justices on the Supreme Court’s bench, and for his support for the religious rights of individuals and traditional Judeo-Christian values whenever they have come under government attack.

That is why, even though Trump has struggled in the past to earn the support of evangelical leaders in Iowa, his campaign is confident, based on its internal polling, that he will easily win the Iowa caucuses in January.

On the other hand, the newly re-organized DeSantis campaign is now focusing on the contests in both Iowa and New Hampshire as major opportunities to stage an upset and has been re-deploying its assets to those two states taken from its campaigns in Nevada, California, Texas, and North Carolina.

“Our goal is to build momentum and realize meaningful electoral success in Iowa — a state where all the pressure in the world lies on the former president to try to win his first Iowa caucus,” said David Polyansky, a top adviser to DeSantis. “Then to maintain this race as a two-person battle as we progress through New Hampshire, and then force the remainder of the field to start making some really tough decisions about their own viability going forward.”

The DeSantis campaign claims that its recent internal polling shows a reduction of Trump’s lead over the Florida governor in a head-to-head matchup to just 8 points. The campaign also claims that DeSantis’ support in New Hampshire, where the Florida governor has been running about 30 points behind frontrunner Trump, but roughly tied for second place with Chris Christie, has also ticked up since the August 23 debate.

DeSantis’ campaign and its supporters have managed to convince themselves that Trump is vulnerable to an upset in Iowa and New Hampshire, which could potentially transform the race for the GOP nomination. But as Dan Eberhart, a DeSantis donor, told the Washington Post last week, “If someone doesn’t stop Trump in Iowa or New Hampshire, it’s over.”

Such dramatic comebacks have happened before, most recently during the 2008 campaign, when Senator John McCain rebuilt his shattered presidential candidacy after Republican primary voters rejected his support for a bipartisan Senate bill calling for immigration policy reform.

TRUMP’S SUPPORTERS WILL REMAIN LOYAL TO HIM

Nevertheless, DeSantis and the other GOP challengers will be facing a very difficult challenge in trying to shake the stubborn loyalty of Trump’s grassroots support. In last week’s Wall Street Journal poll, 76% of those who said they are Trump supporters insisted that they are fully committed to him and will not change their minds, no matter what his challengers say, compared to only 25% of DeSantis’ supporters who said that they are equally committed to voting for him.

The typical attitude of the Wall Street Journal’s GOP poll participants was expressed by Rick Sarver, a retired 65-year-old electronic technician who lives in Spring, Texas. Sarver said that he sees no reason to consider any of the other GOP candidates beyond Trump, because, “They don’t know how to run the country like Trump knows how to run the country.” He then added that “the country was a whole lot better under Donald Trump [than it is today].”

Sarver also said that he has no respect for Biden’s Department of Justice because it has filed baseless criminal charges against Trump, and is starting to “turn our country into a banana republic.”

But what is probably the single biggest problem facing DeSantis’ struggling presidential campaign is the mainstream media’s fixation on Donald Trump’s legal woes, which, along with Joe Biden’s aging issues, is sucking up virtually all of the political oxygen in the current 2024 presidential campaign. As a result, Trump has continued to receive several times more free media time and press coverage than the DeSantis campaign.

DESANTIS MISSED HIS POLITICAL WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY

There was a relatively brief political window, in the immediate aftermath of the 2022 midterm elections, when DeSantis seemed poised to overtake Trump among Republican voters who were disappointed with the outcome and blamed Trump for having backed weak GOP candidates who lost winnable races in key states such as Georgia and Pennsylvania. But that political window of opportunity for DeSantis closed last April, immediately after Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, filed the first of four sets of largely bogus criminal indictments that turned Donald Trump from just another political candidate into a larger-than-life Republican martyr and “poster child” victim of Democrat election interference.

As a result, according to Quinnipiac’s polling of Republican primary voters, in just two months, Trump’s six-point lead over DeSantis in February grew to 31 points in May. With every new indictment lodged against him, the fury of GOP voters and their support for their embattled former president grew steadily stronger. It also made it more difficult for many Republicans to seriously consider switching to one of the alternative GOP candidates who, at least theoretically, might prove to be more attractive to independents and other groups of persuadable swing voters in next November’s presidential election.

According to veteran Republican political consultant Dave Carney, most of Trump’s GOP opponents have not yet figured out an effective way to attack him without alienating the majority of Republican voters who still see Trump, as, the party’s most effective leader. “No one has come up with a good idea…”

Carney adds that since Trump wasn’t at the debate, “[it] was a perfect opportunity to lay out your attack on Trump, and no one had the [guts] to talk about it. You know why? [Because] they don’t know what to do.”

GINGRICH CALLS TRUMP UNIQUE AS A POLITICAL LEADER

Former House GOP Speaker Newt Gingrich, who made a strong run for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination before losing it to Mitt Romney, also believes that Trump has proven himself to be an entirely new type of politician. “I keep trying to tell people, he is not a candidate. You can’t think of him as a candidate. He is the leader of a mass movement,” Gingrich said. “They are competing with a leader in a completely different world.”

As an example, Gingrich cites Trump’s ability to pose with a look of angry defiance for the mug shot that was taken when he surrendered himself at the Fulton County, Ga., jail last month. That same day, Trump’s campaign was able to circulate that photo in order to raise more than $10 million in new contributions from Trump’s loyal supporters.

As part of its 2024 presidential primary election coverage, the New York Times commissioned Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson to set up a focus group of 11 Republican voters in early primary states to get a feeling for the state of the race for the GOP nomination. According to Anderson, these 11 GOP voters “were not universally smitten with Donald Trump; some described him as ‘troubled,’ ‘arrogant’ or a ‘train wreck.’ About half of our participants said they were interested in seeing a strong competitor to Mr. Trump within the party.”

Yet despite these criticisms, none of these Republicans expressed any doubt that Donald Trump would be able to defeat Joe Biden in next November’s presidential election.

In her New York Times op-ed, cleverly entitled “The Thing Is, Most Republicans Really Like Trump,” Anderson also cites a recent CBS News poll which found “the ability to beat Joe Biden [to be] one of the top qualities Republican primary voters say they are looking for, and they think Mr. Trump is the best poised to deliver on that result. Only 9 percent of likely Republican primary voters think Mr. Trump is a ‘long shot’ to beat Mr. Biden, and more than six in 10 think Mr. Trump is a sure bet against Mr. Biden. Additionally, only 14 percent of Republican primary voters who are considering a Trump alternative said they were doing so because they worried that Mr. Trump couldn’t win.”

DIFFERING GOP VIEWS OF THE CURRENT POLITICAL REALITIES

The political problem for Republicans, according to pollster Anderson, boils down to one of radically different perceptions of the current American political realities. The more conventional view from the perspective of Trump’s GOP rivals and party strategists was expressed succinctly in the August 23 debate by Nikki Haley when she declared, that “we have to face the fact that Trump is the most disliked politician in America — we can’t win a general election that way.” Her comment drew a decidedly mixed reaction from the largely pro-Trump live audience for the debate in a Milwaukee convention hall.

Questions about Trump’s electability were also raised in a recent pitch to major Republican donors by Jeff Roe, a strategist for DeSantis’ SuperPAC, called Never Back Down. “We can’t lose to Trump. If Trump is the nominee, we are going to lose the White House. If we lose the White House, we are going to lose the Senate. If we lose the Senate, we are going to lose the House,” Roe warned. “We’re not playing around.”

This concern has also been the theme of anti-Trump ads sponsored by conservative groups associated with the Club for Growth and the Koch family which fear that in the end, Trump will not be able to beat Biden in the general election next year.

But the hostile reaction that Haley received after raising the Trump electability issue during the Fox News debate reflects the fact, according to Anderson, that the majority of Republicans who now say they support Trump despite his obvious shortcomings, see the current political situation very differently. “For now, they think that Mr. Biden is both enormously destructive and eminently beatable, and they think most Americans see him as they do. Given that, most Republicans aren’t looking to be rescued from Donald Trump. The fact is, they really do like him, and at this point, they think he’s their best shot. . .

“[These pro-Trump] Republicans both deeply fear a 2024 loss and can’t fathom it actually happening. . .

As a result, Anderson concludes, “They are undeterred by pleas from party elites who say Mr. Trump is taking the Republican Party to the point of no return. . .”

Instead, Anderson concludes, “Many of those voters think Mr. Trump is the safest bet they’ve got.”

HOW TRUMP MAY BENEFIT FROM BIDEN’S WEAKNESS

The latest findings by Democrat pollsters Douglas Schoen and Carly Cooperman also agree with the Republicans who feel that Joe Biden is such a weak and vulnerable candidate that he could be beaten by any credible Republican opponent, including Trump, despite the fact that he is currently facing multiple criminal indictments.

In an essay published by The Messenger, Schoen and Cooperman argue that Biden and the Democrats are basing their 2024 campaign on two highly questionable premises: “That voters will realize the benefits of ‘Bidenomics’ and that they will vote on hot-button [liberal] issues such as [the post-Roe v. Wade debate] and gun rights.”

Schoen and Cooperman point out that, “despite the fact that inflation has slowed since last year, [the voter] perception [of Bidenomics] is negative: less than one-fifth (19%) of voters say inflation has gotten better compared to this point last year, while 71% say it has gotten worse.

“Further, voters are not feeling the positive benefits of Biden’s signature legislative achievement — the Inflation Reduction Act — as well as the overall positive impact of his economic policy. By not acknowledging the tough times and the difficulties people are facing to make ends meet, the Biden administration’s rhetoric surrounding the supposed success of ‘Bidenomics’ is unpersuasive at best.”

On the other hand, the two pollsters note that Trump is making the argument that he has been indicted by Democrat liberal elites because they view him as the leader of a mass movement of working-class voters who do not share their “woke” ideology. Their “polling has shown that working-class voters have been steadfast in their loyalty to Trump, and there is some evidence that even voters of color have been moving in the direction of the former president, given their doubts about Joe Biden, which go beyond just the economy [to include] doubts about Biden’s age and fitness [and the ongoing special counsel investigation into the Hunter Biden influence-peddling scandal.]”

THE BIDEN CORRUPTION STORY IS FINALLY BEING TOLD

Meanwhile, the evidence that has already been accumulated by Republican congressional investigators and whistleblowers documenting the Justice Department’s Hunter Biden coverup and the corrupt influence-peddling schemes of the Biden family is reaching a tipping point. According to a new YouGov opinion poll, almost half of Americans now think that Joe Biden is corrupt.

New York Post investigative reporter Miranda Devine, who has been responsible for breaking many of that newspaper’s Biden corruption stories, writes that “somehow the avalanche of incriminating evidence spewing forth from the House Oversight Committee has managed to bypass the gatekeepers of the media and slowly permeate the public consciousness.

“Once people with eyes and common sense see the evidence about the influence-peddling racket operated by Joe’s son Hunter and brother Jim to make millions of dollars from shady characters in China, Ukraine, Russia, Romania, etc., while Joe was vice president, it is impossible not to grasp the corrupt nature of that business and Joe’s role in it.”

If House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his congressional Republicans do manage to get a serious impeachment inquiry going against Joe Biden, that could effectively neutralize the negative political effects of the indictments that have been brought against Trump, and completely transform the prospects for the outcome of next year’s presidential election.

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