Are you ready for the media’s favorite bedtime story?
Once upon a time in America, Republicans were right on the verge of saying goodbye to Donald Trump. They were seriously looking for someone who could bring them all of Trump’s policies without Trump’s baggage, and were sorting through a wealth of alternatives. But then the nasty old Justice Department and mean special counsel Jack Smith decided to indict Trump. Because of that indictment, Republicans ran back to Trump, making him once again the favorite for the Republican nomination, filling his coffers with fresh donations, and raising the very real possibility that Trump will get the unique opportunity to pardon himself of any convictions. If only Democrats had left Trump alone, Republicans would have surely never nominated him again, but they didn’t. So there. And they all lived angrily ever after.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this story keeps coming up in articles, opinion columns, and everywhere on Fox News. It’s a repeat of the same stories that were told about Trump’s indictment in New York, only with an extra dash of how “Biden is the person really on trial.”
Every word of this story is absolute bulls**t.
This lazy media narrative keeps appearing in different forms, all of which are designed to lend Trump some Obi-Wan Kenobi power—strike him down, and he only becomes more powerful. But here’s what the actual data from Civiqs shows.
Only one thing has seriously affected Trump’s standing with Republicans since he left the White House and that was the vivid demonstration that he remains a loser at the polls. Not only did the “Red Tsunami” fail to appear in 2022, but those candidates supported by Trump also did especially poorly. For the first time, that result dropped Trump’s approval with Republican voters below 80%. Since then, Trump’s approval rating with Republicans has been slowly recovering, but if anything, the indictments only flattened the curve. There was no “rally ‘round the Trump” effect.
It’s not just that Trump’s overall favorability rating never saw any big “the FBI is picking on me” boost; as this report in The Washington Post shows, Trump’s position as the Republican frontrunner was never in doubt. Though the article is focused on the “fizzle” of Ron DeSantis’ entry into the race, what their data (taken from 538) shows is that Trump had the majority of Republican voters firmly in his pocket, and he still does. If there was any bump related to Trump’s indictment, it was very small and almost immediately gone. The other polls included in the article, from the Republican-centric Real Clear Politics, show Trump actually bleeding off a bit of his lead following both the New York and federal indictments.
The indictments weren’t even good for Trump when it comes to his wallet. Every time Trump gets in trouble, his well-oiled outrage machine reaches out to his massive email list with a cash ask. As stenographer Maggie Haberman wrote earlier this week, Trump’s team was just waiting to jump on this latest bounty.
His team has come to view federal law enforcement actions against him as a core part of its fund-raising strategy. Online fund-raising—which has long been the lifeblood of Mr. Trump’s political operation because high-end Republican donors largely shun him—has dried up for all Republican candidates over the past several years, including Mr. Trump.
But even the indictment barely moved the taps. Can being indicted become so boring that it can’t milk another $5 from a guy wearing a MAGA hat? Yes. The answer is yes.
While many sources were quick to note that Trump immediately began fundraising off his federal indictment and The New York Times dutifully reported his $6.6 million take, that money included $2.1 million from a fundraiser at the same Bedminster, New Jersey golf club where Trump previously showed off classified documents. That means his actual small-dollar take since the indictment was around $4.5 million. It’s still a lot of money, but it’s way down from the $12 million Trump reported in the days following his indictment in New York (not to mention that all these numbers are coming from Trump’s team, so apply plenty of salt).
Republicans have been facing a huge drop in online fundraising for over a year, a drop that many have attributed to Trump soaking up all the money by constantly, constantly, constantly going back to the well to beg his supporters for more cash. Those complaints came up again as the 2022 midterms neared and Republicans found themselves unable to raise competitive dollars. Other Republican candidates are desperately looking for ways to get at least a trickle of cash flowing their way, but as Politico reports, Trump’s relentless grifting doesn’t leave much for the rest of the pool. All of these numbers are absolutely trivial to the $500 million Trump raised following the 2020 election, showing just how tapped out this whole channel has become.
When the facts are added up, it generates a much less cozy narrative that doesn’t fit into a neat paragraph anyone and their AI assistant can crank out on demand.
Republicans were never seriously thinking about anyone but Trump. He’s been the leading candidate from the beginning and remains so, with an average 30-point advantage over the field.
The only thing that ever affected Trump’s popularity is the impression that he was a loser, and the only thing that might shake Republicans away from him is the idea that he can’t win.
Indictments have barely moved Trump’s numbers in any meaningful way, and have certainly not caused Republicans to come flooding back. They never left.
Indictments have not generated a fundraising bounty for Trump, who has raised just a small fraction of what he grifted from Republican donors following his 2020 election loss.
There’s absolutely nothing in the polls or the money to suggest that Trump has benefited from being indicted, or that President Biden has been harmed.
The TL;DR version might be simply this: President Biden and the DOJ are not on trial. Donald Trump is on trial.
Republicans aren’t concerned about Trump’s baggage getting in the way of the policies. They love the baggage and don’t have any policies. As Trump observed at a rally this week, talking about things like a tax cut puts Republican voters to sleep. It’s only things like attacking trans kids and tearing apart the government that interests them at all. The cruelty is the point.
Hate is the message. Trump is the messenger. Just as it’s pointless to try and convince Republican voters to vote “Republican light” by having Democrats run to the right, it’s pointless to try to position another Republican as the “reasonable alternative” to Trump. That is exactly what Republican voters don’t want. They have zero interest in “reasonable.”
But the biggest lump of BS in the media narrative might be what that “indictments are good for Trump” is meant to imply—that holding Donald Trump up to even a fraction of the consequences faced by any other American for committing some of the most serious federal offenses is politically costly, and that Democrats are going to pay.
Except they’re not. Looking at the same data from Civiqs, independent voter support for Trump is now eight points lower than it was following Jan. 6. His unfavorable numbers surged after the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, and they’ve never recovered.
No one should be afraid of holding Trump to account because of political reasons. Candidates and officials in both parties should be reminded of that.
And can we get a new bedtime story now? Please?
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.