I’ve been reading Eli Merritt’s fascinating new book, Disunion Among Ourselves. He starts with this missive: "The politics of those years were filled with distrust, polarization and, most strikingly, the centrifugal force of disunion." And no, Merritt was not writing about Marjorie Traitor Greene and the Russo-Republicans who would like to tear the U.S. apart. I should mention, though, that only 12 of the original 13 colonies were represented at the First Congress. The most conservative colony, Georgia, didn’t send a delegation. Merritt’s book is very much about the constant threat, primarily from Southern conservatives to tear the country apart even as it was being born. “Threats of secession,” wrote Merritt, “would remain a bedrock of American politics from the First Congress in 1774 until the formal conclusion of the Revolutionary War nine years later— and thereafter in similar fashion until the Civil War finally put the matter to rest.” At least until the Age of Trump and the Age of QAnon, and the advent of Marjorie Traitor Greene and her call for national divorce.
Traitor Greene, though, is so personally toxic that even the neo-fascist “Freedom” Caucus voted to kick her out of their nihilistic association last week. Her lord and master, it turns out, is also becoming increasingly toxic, at least in some circles.
Yesterday, Thomas Edsall’s NY Times essay was devoted to that toxicity of Trump’s that won’t hurt his battle for the GOP nomination but will kill any chance he has to return to the White House. “From 2016 to 2022,” wrote Edsall, “the number of white people without college degrees— the core of Donald Trump’s support— has fallen by 2.1 million. Over the same period, the number of white people who have graduated from college— an increasingly Democratic constituency— has grown by 13.3 million. These trends do not bode well for the prospects of Republican candidates, especially Trump. President Biden won white people with college degrees in 2020, 51 to 48 percent, but Trump won by a landslide, 67 to 32 percent, among white people without degrees, according to network exit polls.”
That isn’t slowing down Trump’s “disruptive quest for power,
At least not in the Republican primary. His Big Lie— that the election was stolen— is extremely salient on the right and “Republican voters reward politicians who perpetuate the lie, giving Republican candidates an incentive to continue to do so in the next electoral cycle.”
Politically, one of the most effective tools for mobilizing voters is to emphasize lost rights and resources.
This was the case after last June’s Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which eliminated the right to abortion and in the 2022 midterm elections mobilized millions of pro-abortion-rights voters. By that logic, the three decisions I mentioned should raise turnout among students, LGBTQ people and African Americans, all largely Democratic constituencies.
My Times colleague Jonathan Weisman argued in a July 1 article, “Supreme Court Decisions on Education Could Offer Democrats an Opening,” that the rulings give “Democrats a way to shift from a race-based discussion of preference to one tied more to class. The court’s decision could fuel broader outreach to the working-class voters who have drifted away from the party because of what they see as its elitism.”
In addition, Weisman wrote, “Republicans’ remarkable successes before the new court may have actually deprived them of combative issues to galvanize voters going into 2024.”
The education trends favoring Democrats are reinforced by Americans’ changing religious beliefs. From 2006 to 2022, the Public Religion Research Institute found, the white evangelical Protestant share of the population fell from 23 percent to 13.9 percent. Over the same period, the nonreligious share of the population rose from 16 to 26.8 percent.
Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University, found that the nonreligious can be broken down into three groups: atheists, who are the most Democratic, voting 85 percent for Biden and 11 percent for Trump; agnostics, 78 to 18 for Biden; and those Burge calls “nothing in particular,” 63 to 35 for Biden.
…[P]olling suggests Trump has an even chance, surveys do not fully capture the weight of Trump’s indictments and falsehoods on his candidacy and, as evidenced in competitive races in 2022, on Republicans who are closely tied to the former president.
Among the key voters who, in all likelihood, will pick the next president— relatively well-educated suburbanites— Trump has become toxic. He is, at least in that sense, Biden’s best hope for winning a second term.
Even before the votes are counted on Nov. 5, 2024, the most important question may well turn out to be: If Trump is the Republican candidate for a third straight time and loses the election for a second, will he once again attempt to claim victory was stolen from him? And if he does, what will his followers— and, for that matter, everyone else— do?
And that brings us to a new poll Edsall didn’t have when he was writing. Ankush Khardori, a former federal prosecutor, wrote that “Not much unites the country when it comes to Donald Trump. And the public’s reaction to the former president’s two historic indictments has largely fallen along the kind of polarized partisan lines we might expect. But in one area, there’s something much closer to agreement. “ A new Ipsos poll, he reported shows that “most Americans most Americans— including a large number of Republicans, who the former president is currently courting for his 2024 campaign— believe that the trial in the pending federal case against Trump for mishandling classified documents should occur before the GOP primaries and well before the general election… At this point, roughly half of the country believes that Trump committed the crimes alleged against him.”
Forty-nine percent of respondents— including 25 percent of Republicans— said that they believe Trump is guilty in the pending federal prosecution, which alleges that he willfully retained sensitive government documents after leaving office and obstructed a subsequent federal investigation. A nearly identical 48 percent of respondents— including 24 percent of Republicans— believe that Trump is guilty in the Manhattan DA’s pending prosecution, which alleges that Trump falsified business records in connection with a payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election in order to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual relationship between the two.
On the question of timing, however, there was more unity.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) said that the trial in the pending federal prosecution should take place before the presidential election next November— a figure that includes nearly half of Republican respondents (46 percent). A lower number, but a still-solid majority, said that the trial should take place before the Republican primaries begin early next year (57 percent of all respondents, including 42 percent of Republican respondents).
The findings could bolster the position of federal prosecutors, who have been pushing for a trial date as early as this December. Trump is expected to try to drag out the proceedings for as long as possible, particularly because he would likely be able to shut the prosecution down if reelected. But the federal statute that governs the setting of trial dates requires judges to account for not only the defendant’s interest but “the best interest of the public” as well.
What should happen to Trump if he gets convicted? Forty three percent said he should go to prison, but most were willing to spare him jail time. Nearly a quarter of respondents said that Trump should incur no punishment at all (22 percent), while 18 percent said he should receive probation and another 17 percent said he should face only a financial penalty.
…Among the broader public, a conviction in either case would be damaging to Trump’s electoral chances. An identical number— 41 percent of all respondents— said that a conviction in either the federal case or the Manhattan DA’s case would make them less likely to support the former president. Despite all the commentary that he’s Teflon Don, it’s clear that some of his missteps can cost him.
The results also suggest that the numbers could get worse as Americans learn more about the pending charges. Roughly one-third of respondents said that they are not particularly familiar with the allegations in either case.
That number could decrease as media coverage continues, particularly in the run-up to potential trials. A trial date in the Manhattan DA’s case is currently set to begin on March 25, though it is conceivable that, as a practical matter, Trump could have the nomination locked up by then if dynamics in the GOP primary do not change. So far, most of his opponents have struggled to articulate a message that distinguishes themselves from Trump while appealing to a voter base that is largely sticking with him despite his mounting legal problems.
The public’s preference for a relatively speedy trial date in the federal prosecution against Trump could prove tricky to accommodate. Many legal observers are skeptical that a trial is possible next year, particularly given the complexities of a case that involves classified documents and a defendant who has historically proven adept at mounting aggressive delay strategies.
Indeed, according to the most recent statistics available, the median time from filing to disposition in felony cases in the Southern District of Florida, where the federal case against Trump is pending, is nine months. But that figure is almost surely dragged down by the fact that the significant majority of federal criminal cases are resolved by guilty pleas and that very few trials in the district, if any, have posed the sort of complexities that the first-ever criminal prosecution against a former U.S. president will pose, particularly involving classified information.
Still, if prosecutors and the presiding judge want to look to the law and satisfy the public’s interest, they can point to the results from this poll.