It is sometimes said that the prosecutions of former President Donald Trump are “backfiring” on Democrats. That is, instead of lowering Trump’s political support, they are raising it. That is indeed happening among Republicans and some independents. But many Democrats still hope the cumulative weight of multiple indictments — there will soon be four, when the Georgia case is added to the New York case and the two federal cases — will make it impossible for Trump to win the general election.
That is why there seemed to be a mini panic recently when a number of political observers pointed out that, in spite of everything that has happened, Trump not only has a very good chance of winning the Republican nomination — he also has a reasonable chance of winning the presidency again.
In any event, it is absolutely clear to all involved that the indictments, filed by an elected Democratic district attorney in New York City, by the Biden Justice Department, and soon by an elected Democratic district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, will influence the 2024 presidential campaign. People can debate whether that is the intention, or part of the intention, of the prosecutions. But there is no doubt that the cases will affect the campaign.
That is where a new poll from CBS News and YouGov comes in. The survey asked this question: “Which concerns you more right now: 1) That Donald Trump tried to overturn a presidential election, [or] 2) That the charges and indictment against Donald Trump are politically motivated, [or] 3) Both.”
Thirty-eight percent said they were more concerned that Trump tried to overturn an election. And then a precisely equal number — 38% — said they were more concerned that the charges and indictment against Trump are politically motivated. And then 24% said they were equally concerned by both.
There were differences among groups. More men than women were concerned that the charges are politically motivated. People under 45 were more concerned about Trump’s actions, while people over 45 were more concerned about political motivation. White people were more concerned about political motivation, while black people and Hispanic people were more concerned about Trump’s actions (although large numbers of the latter two groups, 38% of black people and 35% of Hispanic people, said they were equally concerned about both).
The bottom line is that many, many people see the Trump prosecutions as politically motivated. That does not mean they deny any Trump culpability. They just also see the obvious fact that the prosecutions have a large political component. They then believe, or suspect, that an action so clearly political might have a political motive behind it.
That could be leading many Americans to discount, and perhaps ultimately ignore, the news they hear about each new Trump indictment. A new report from Axios notes that, “The public’s attention to former President Trump’s legal drama has declined with each subsequent indictment.” That is, perhaps, the world’s least surprising news. It’s just human nature that when something is repeated over and over, we become less attuned to each new repetition. Especially when we think at least some of it is just politics.
That could be enormously frustrating to those Democrats most determined to remove Trump from the American political scene. In a recent appearance on MSNBC, the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin expressed bewilderment that Republican leaders have not abandoned Trump. If that does not change by next year, Goodwin said, then the only solution will be “organizing the country at all the levels so that [Trump] cannot win that election.” It is not entirely clear what that meant. In any event, here is how Goodwin addressed continuing GOP support for Trump:
“It’s still so hard to accept that. I thought after Jan. 6, when you saw McConnell speak, when you saw McCarthy speak, that that was going to be the beginning of the leadership turning against him. And then somehow, somehow it has not happened. And it can’t just be a few of them. And we’ve got to figure out, when is that going to happen, when is that going to break. And maybe the more this thing becomes clear what was done, you’ve got to believe that rational thought will come back in the minds of some of these people. But if not, then it’s going to take the overwhelming organization … organizing the country at all the levels so that he cannot win that election. If the party will not depart from him, then he has to be defeated, and the party has to be defeated.”
One does not have to listen too closely to hear the frustration in those words. Some Democrats argue that all this will change when the trials begin. “The audience will come roaring back, I would predict, as soon as major trials are underway and verdicts are close to being rendered,” an NYU professor told Axios. With renewed interest, the thinking goes, there will be renewed opposition to Trump as he is presumably found guilty of the various charges against him.
Maybe that will happen. Maybe it will not. But the fundamental fact remains: Millions of Americans see the Trump indictments as at least partially politically motivated. It is highly unlikely that the partisan Democrats and Biden administration officials behind the prosecutions will ever change that perception.