Can anything shake Donald Trump’s hold on the Republican nomination?
The polls are nothing if not consistent. They show Joe Biden and Donald Trump are the likely favorites to win their party’s presidential nomination. As of today, that matchup is close. Viewed nationally or by battleground states, Trump has the lead.
Polls show Americans overwhelmingly think the country is headed in the wrong direction; That Trump benefits from the perception that he’s best for the economy and kept the U.S. out of war. And Biden is perceived as being too old.
Of course, as bad as the polling has been for Biden, Tuesday’s off-year elections were big for Democrats in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. From the day-after coverage in the Washington Post:
“For Democrats, Tuesday’s results were an antidote to recent polls, national and in key states, showing Biden losing to Trump. “Polls Don’t Vote” quickly became a post-Tuesday mantra for the president’s allies and advocates, though Biden’s challenges are serious and will remain. Before anyone projects too far ahead, Tuesday’s results — concentrated in a few states and with voter turnout lower than it is likely to be a year from now when Americans everywhere will vote for president — are not a reliable indicator of what lies ahead.”
Of course, to face Biden, Trump first needs to secure the Republican nomination. Here again, the polls paint a consistent picture: That Trump is far ahead of his GOP opponents. This week, for the third time, he skipped a GOP debate. That’s probably the clearest sign of his command.
And that’s despite being four times indicted. Plus, he is in the midst of a New York civil fraud trial in which the judge has already found him liable. The only question being litigated there is the amount of money damages.
Meanwhile, efforts are being waged right now to deny him ballot access, based on an interpretation of the 14th amendment, which contends that he’s precluded from running because he engaged in insurrection.
Here’s the thing: The legal peril surrounding Trump has been to his benefit. His hold on the GOP has increased with every indictment. Right or wrong, the perception among Republicans – and some Independents – is that the establishment has coalesced to deny voters the opportunity to return Trump to office.
The Wall Street Journal correctly framed the resulting question with the headline, “Will Trump Be Indicted Into Office?” The unknown is whether this pattern would hold if Trump were not just indicted – but actually convicted.
Currently, Trump is scheduled to face trial next March 4th for alleged election interference before Judge Tanya Chutkan in federal court in Washington, DC. That’s right in the middle of Republican primary voting.
So what happens if Trump is tried and convicted next spring?
Well, there was some indication about that in the New York Times/Siena College poll that landed with a thunderclap this week – the one showing Trump leading Biden in five of six battleground states.
As the New York Times noted:
“If the former president is convicted and sentenced — as many of his allies expect him to be in the January 6-related trial held next year in Washington, DC — around 6 percent of voters across Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin say they would switch their votes to Mr. Biden. That would be enough, potentially, to decide the election.”
But is it so clear-cut?
Recently, Politico revealed that a conservative, anti-Trump PAC, “Win It Back,” tested four campaign ads intended to highlight Trump’s legal troubles. The ads were then shown to focus groups of Republican primary voters. Politico obtained 260 pages of data analysis revealing how they were received. None of the four moved support away from Trump!
In fact – three of them caused Trump’s support to grow. The most pointed of the ads featured a man saying this:
“I’ve been with Trump from the start, but truthfully, I don’t know what happens if he is convicted while running. What happens then? What would that look like? I don’t think any of us can see that crystal ball what that’s going to look like, other than just Biden cruises in. Let’s just say that can’t happen.”
That ad that raised the prospect of a Trump conviction – actually performed the worst in a hypothetical match-up against Ron DeSantis. The bottom line is that this sophisticated advertising effort to harm Trump with Republican primary voters by highlighting the prospect of his conviction actually helped him.
No wonder then the commercials were shelved. They never aired.
Using the perfect blend of analysis and humor, Michael Smerconish delivers engaging, thought-provoking, and balanced dialogue on today’s political arena and the long-term implications of the polarization in politics. In addition to his acclaimed work as nationally syndicated Sirius XM Radio talk show host, newspaper columnist, and New York Times best-selling author, Michael Smerconish hosts CNN’s Smerconish, which airs live on Saturday at 9:00 am ET.