Calm down, everybody! Trump is not going to be helped by his indictments

Donald Trump has never won the popular vote. His election in 2016 was a fluke, in which he only overcame Hillary Clinton’s nearly 3 million vote lead because of a few thousand swing voters in purple states. Since then, he’s been an electoral albatross around the GOP’s neck, helping them lose in 2018 and 2020 and even, in 2022, nuking Republican chances in many elections they would have otherwise won.

Most Americans hate Donald Trump. 

And yet, somehow many people keep imbuing Trump with almost magical powers to spin political straw into gold. Now we get to enjoy the spectacle of some of the dumbest people in politics issuing the same galaxy brain take that Trump will somehow benefit from being smacked with reportedly more than 30 charges by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The more legal trouble he gets into, the more Trump’s narcissism and self-pity cloud his understanding of what his voters see in him.

“I think it’s gonna backfire,” assured Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

“If there is I mug shot of Donald Trump, it will be in dorm rooms and on t-shirts, making him a hero,” predicted Fox News’ Pete Hegseth.

The guy currently ruining Twitter also felt what will push a majority of Americans to fall in love with Trump is criminal indictments. 

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Watching right-wing media hype this like it’s Christ’s crucifixion makes one worry that they really do think criminal indictment helps Trump. Articles, like this one, headlined “Good news for Trump: Indictments have historically helped candidates win” at the Washington Post, certainly don’t help. But, if you actually read past the headline on the Washington Post piece, you’ll see that Politico contributing editor Jeff Greenfield does not actually show that indictments make politicians more popular, so much as he demonstrates that they don’t traditionally lose voters over it. However, as Greenfield’s colleague Alexander Burns wrote at Politico last month, “Trump needs to grow his support, not merely rev up people who already care deeply about his every utterance and obsession.” Whining incessantly for two years is not going to make Trump more popular.

MAGA doesn’t worship Trump so much as they weaponize him.

I’m going out on a minor limb here, but there’s also a real chance that this eventually starts to erode the enthusiasm for Trump in MAGA-land. Not at first, of course. He’s benefiting from the well-established right-wing victim complex right now. And probably not enough for him to lose against the has-beens and creeps that are running against him in the primary. But there’s a scenario where, by the time November 2024 rolls around, even some Republicans will be exhausted, unable to muster the turnout he got in 2020. 

There’s this widespread assumption in the GOP and even in the media that Trump’s popularity with Republican voters is due to his charisma as if he has a cult leader-like hold over his people. Maybe some of his followers, sure. But he’s really not that charismatic and his voters mostly know he’s a boor. MAGA doesn’t worship Trump so much as they weaponize him. He’s a fascist and a clown, which is exactly what they value about him. They think those qualities will help their agenda. 

What is that agenda?

First, MAGA is a revanchist movement for conservative whites who believe they are entitled to a stranglehold on power. Growing racial diversity, urbanization and women’s liberation have turned them into a minority. They worry, for real reasons, that the power they feel is their due cannot be achieved any longer through democratic means. What Trump offered them was a fascist’s contempt for rule of law and democracy. He spent most of 2020 signaling blatantly that he would attempt a coup if he lost. The seeding of false claims of election fraud helped rile up his voters because they saw him as the candidate they needed to destroy a system that doesn’t benefit them as much as it used to. 

The second most important part of the MAGA agenda is, pathetically, “owning” the liberals. Because Trump’s ego only grows as his already meager intelligence degrades, he is especially annoying to people they hate. His grossness was his appeal because it was a form of revenge on the rest of the country. Trump gets this, which is why he calls himself “your retribution” when speaking to his fans. 

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But with these indictments coming down, and hopefully more to come, Trump’s campaign message has shifted from “I’m the asshole you can use to punish your enemies” to “woe is me.” He’s not their authoritarian savior, but a self-declared victim who needs their help to get out of the messes he created. This shift was hilariously captured by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., going on Fox News and crying for Trump like he’s Sarah McLachlan singing over sad dogs.

“Stand up and help the man,” Graham begged, telling grandmothers to empty their pockets to fund “billionaire” Trump’s legal bills. “Pray for him. Go to Donald J. and give money so he can defend himself.”

Note what’s not in this plea: Any thought to what they might get in return for their support. Whatever else you might think about Trump’s gross campaign strategies in 2016, he was smart about one thing: He understood his relationship with his potential voters was transactional. He would brag at campaign rallies that he was “greedy, greedy for money” his whole life, but now, he claimed, “I want to be greedy for” his voters. His voters knew he was a liar, a fraud, and a criminal. But he suggested he would use those talents for their benefit, and they got on board with that shady deal. 

But the more legal trouble he gets into, the more Trump’s narcissism and self-pity cloud his understanding of what his voters see in him. They like him when he’s bullying people and bragging, but not so much when he’s whining. Trump rallies are an interesting indicator of this. People will line up for hours ahead of time, and they clearly enjoy hanging out with each other, eating snacks, and vibing with their fellow MAGAheads. But when Trump himself starts speechifying, they get bored and leave. And who can blame them? All he does is whine about his problems. When he does get to the parts of the speech where he talks about how he will supposedly help them, he sounds checked out. You can tell he cannot wait to get back to his favorite theme: No one has suffered more than Donald J. Trump. 

Despite all the threats from Trump and Fox News disguised as “predictions” that there would be a massive MAGA uprising in response to the indictment, mostly it’s been crickets. Even in his home state of Florida, the “crowd” that turned out to support Trump Thursday night wouldn’t be enough people for a bowling league. 

When Trump told his supporters to “PROTEST” in Manhattan last month, in what he clearly hoped was a preventive strike against indictment, barely anyone showed up:

On Friday, the New York Times published a “guy on the street” article interviewing Trump supporters. Many of them were, unsurprisingly, unwilling to admit liberals are right about Trump and were doubling down defensively. Others, however, reluctantly admitted they were getting sick of it all. “I can’t believe he’s still running for office,” one complained. No doubt the fatigued Trump voters are still a minority, but one that should worry him, as he’s already unpopular and can’t afford to lose any more support. 

MAGA is an authoritarian movement organized against democracy, not a cult of personality around Trump. They are happy to boo him or ignore him when he says stuff they don’t like, such as “vaccines work.”  He’ll probably win the GOP nomination, but only because no one else in the field really captures what MAGA voters want, which is a repulsive criminal to defeat the hated (and imaginary) liberal establishment. But don’t mistake that for blind worship of the man. 

None of this is an argument for complacency in 2024. Republicans still have massive systematic advantages that allow them to “win” elections while losing the popular vote. Unfortunately, the anti-MAGA majority will have to rally as they did in 2020 to keep this monster out of the White House. (Unless, fingers crossed, he’s in prison!) But one thing people can safely not worry about is that Trump’s chances of winning have gone up because of an indictment. Most Americans will continue to hate him. And there’s a small but very real chance his crybaby act finally starts to sour some of his support in the Republican base. 


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