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What if Donald Trump is indicted (again)?
Gaming out the possibilities.
The assumption in Washington these days is that it’s a question of when not if Donald Trump will be indicted for his retention of classified documents.
Two grand juries have been empaneled. Trump’s legal team has met with the Department of Justice. He has been told he is a subject of the investigation.
The writing does appear to be on the wall.
The harder question to answer, though, is what it all means politically (if anything!). After all, Trump has already been indicted once — by a Manhattan grand jury — over alleged hush money payments made to a porn star, and his numbers not only didn’t dip but actually improved. (The indictment came down in early April.)
There is some talk of late that this classified documents investigation is a) more serious and therefore b) more potentially damaging to Trump.
That thinking is based on the idea that this is a federal investigation led by a special counsel. It involves the retention of classified documents that, in some cases, could have endangered national security.
This is serious stuff — no doubt. But I ask again: Does it matter politically?
I am of the mind that Trump nailed his hardcore supporters’ mentality when he famously/infamously said that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote.
There is a base of people within the Republican party who are going to be for Trump no matter what — with the “no matter what” very much including future indictments and even jail time.
For this group, everything that is happening to Trump is evidence of a Deep State conspiracy against him. He is guilty only of being a free agent, not beholden to anyone or anything.
Trump, of course, is stoking that idea. Here’s what he put on Truth Social earlier today:
Wow, this is turning out to be the greatest & most vicious instance of ELECTION INTERFERENCE in the history of our Country. Remember, I’m leading DeSanctimonious BIG in the Polls but, more importantly, I’m leading Biden by a lot. Also, & perhaps most importantly, they are launching all of the many ￼Fake Investigations against me RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF MY CAMPAIGN, something which is unheard of & not supposed to happen. DOJ, FBI, NEW YORK A.G., NEW YORK D.A., ATLANTA D.A. FASCISTS ALL!
So, that voting bloc exists. And will continue to exist. The question is how large it is.
NBC tried to answer that question by asking voters what they made of the investigations into Trump. Here’s what they found:
Now, that poll was done in April. Which was directly after Trump’s first indictment but long before it became clear how serious that classified documents investigation had become. So, take from that what you will. My guess is if they did it today, you’d get similar results.
The reality is that if 7 in 10 Republicans really view the investigations as purely a political tool aimed at handicapping Trump then, well, the nomination fight is already over. There’s simply nothing that could happen between now and next year — including another indictment (or two!) — that will move enough Republicans off of Trump for anyone else to have a chance.
But, if that number is lower — I’ve heard all variety of Republican consultants speculate that the “forever Trump” vote is around 35%-40% of the party’s electorate — then there is at least the possibility that the mounting allegations have some effect on his chances of being the nominee.
That theory goes like this: The cumulative weight of the allegations against Trump do, at some point, become too much for some number of Republican voters to tolerate. They decide to jump ship and go looking for someone Trump-y but without the increasingly heavy baggage of Trump.
That is, in two sentences, the case for Ron DeSantis.
But, again, if past is prologue, the allegations against Trump — and even a second indictment — seem more likely to make little to no difference in the race than they do of fundamentally changing it.
The people who are for Trump will (still) be for Trump. Those in the Republican party who are sick of him or believe he is unelectable will seize on the allegations as further proof of their points. And the people who don’t feel strongly will probably ignore it all, which, again, is a good thing for Trump.
Now, the general election is an entirely different animal. To win, Trump needs to win — or come very close to winning — independents. (He won them by 4 points in 2016 and lost them by 13 points in 2020.)
And it’s impossible for me to see ANOTHER indictment helping Trump’s prospects among independents. In fact, it’s very hard for me to imagine another indictment not actively harming Trump’s chances among independents. And making him unpalatable to them — even if they aren’t thrilled with President Joe Biden’s handling of, well, everything.
So, no, I don’t see a second indictment hamstringing Trump to the point where he loses the Republican nomination. Amazing but true.
But, that’s terrible news for Republicans because such an indictment makes Trump an even less attractive general election candidate for the very people he badly needs to win.
It’s a conundrum that I’ve seen no evidence anyone in the GOP knows how to solve.
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