Leading up to the 2022 midterm, the media devoted gobs of ink to the Republican fantasy that crime would be a major driver of the "red wave" that ultimately wasn't.
If Republicans, particularly in swing states and districts, have been plotting their path to gin up crime fears again this cycle, they now have a major hurdle: Donald Trump.
Trump, facing the prospect of jail time as he combats a damning criminal indictment, has little choice but to turn the world on its head in true Orwellian fashion in order to convince his cultists that up is down, the world is flat, and he is a perfectly innocent man who is shockingly facing yet another criminal indictment.
"It's a political prosecution like something straight out of a fascist or communist nation,” Trump told supporters Tuesday evening at a Bedminster fundraiser following his arraignment. "If the communists get away with this, it won’t stop with me. They won’t hesitate to ramp up their persecution of Christians, pro-life activists, parents attending school board meetings, and even future Republican candidates."
With the help of his Republican compatriots, Trump is actively working to turn his own existential threat into a sweeping existential threat for his cultists. Trump’s tack goes beyond vehemently proclaiming his own innocence to turning the nation’s law enforcement entities into a “deep state” enemy of the people.
Some version of "they’re not coming after me, they’re coming after you and I’m just standing in their way" has been standard Trump fare for several months now.
Rather than do the obvious and declare Trump a national security menace given the ample evidence, Republicans are aiding and abetting his efforts to undermine the rule of law throughout the country.
The MAGA-centric House Republicans are plotting ways to undercut special counsel Jack Smith, perhaps by attempting to have him testify about the criminal case against Trump.
On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is pledging to take absolutely no stance on what is arguably the worst national security breach committed by a president in the history of the republic.
Asked Tuesday if he would still support Trump as the nominee if he were convicted, McConnell offered, "I am just simply not going to comment on the candidates—we've got a bunch of them and I'm simply going to stay out of it."
The problem for Republicans is a phenomenon that is already shaping the 2024 contest: Their base is totally out of step with the rest of the country on Trump's indictment.
A recent CBS News/YouGov poll conducted last week (partially after the indictment news dropped) found that while 80% of likely GOP primary voters believe Trump, if convicted, should still be able to serve as president, 80% of Democrats believe the exact opposite, as do a 56% majority of independents and roughly three-fifths of college-educated whites and voters under 30.
The same poll found that outside of Republicans, overwhelming majorities of voters believe Trump absconding with highly sensitive military secrets poses a national security risk, including 91% of Democrats and 69% of independents.
In short, both base voters and swing voters already agree with Democrats on the threat posed by Trump's actions and the disqualifying nature of such a breach. Battleground Democrats simply need to keep driving that message home, as Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, a former CIA officer, did on CNN Wednesday.
"The fact that any member of Congress would be saying anything other than, 'We need to have the case go through the court system, we need to understand fully what happened,'" she said. "The fact that they would defend this treatment of classified documents is deeply detrimental to our national security."
That's the message Democrats should be pushing in the half dozen states that will determine control of the Senate, as well as the 18 Biden districts currently represented by Republicans.
As one senior Biden adviser told CNN of battleground Republicans, “Given the very Democratic nature of some of these districts, they’re going to have to weigh their political futures against party loyalty on a relatively consistent basis."
At the time the aide was discussing debt ceiling negotiations, but that dynamic will continue to hold true on multiple fronts, including the question of whether Republicans want to saddle themselves with defending a guy who brazenly and recklessly endangered the national security of the country he was once charged with protecting.
Donald Trump is facing even more legal jeopardy and the sharks in the Republican Party seem to sense there is some blood in the water. Chris Christie has made his campaign all about going directly at Trump, and Ron DeSantis seems to be closer and closer to becoming completely isolated from the field.