The primary reason why former President Trump is soaring in 2024 nomination polls is that rank-and-file Republican voters are outraged over the flimsy, politicized prosecution with which he's been targeted by Manhattan's left-wing District Attorney. It's an understandable impulse. When a leader of a tribe is under assault -- especially unfair assault -- from the opposing tribe, members of the tribe rise to his or her defense. And in acutely tribal times, having the right sorts of enemies is as valuable a political commodity as anything else -- seemingly eclipsing accomplishments and policies, and overwhelming any number of vulnerabilities. Polls show that most Americans support the indictment, even as most believe it's politically influenced.
Nate Silver shorthands this reaction as a "lifetime achievement" mentality, under which a majority of people dislike Trump enough to believe that he surely deserves some sort of indictment, even if this particular one might be substantively suspect. That's not how our criminal justice system is supposed to work at all, of course, and it's why conservatives of nearly all stripes view this spectacle as an abusive weaponization of that system for partisan reasons. And they're right. It certainly is a spectacle, all the more so because Trump reportedly wants it to be one:
"A law enforcement official tells Rolling Stone that the former president was offered a chance to surrender quietly and be arraigned over Zoom. Instead, Trump opted for a midday, high-profile booking at the Manhattan courthouse." https://t.co/kPOg9FOyVn via @RollingStone— Errol Louis (@errollouis) April 3, 2023
I'm a bit skeptical on that sourcing, but it aligns with other reports about Team Trump's giddiness over this indictment, and their desire to get as much mileage out of it as possible. It makes all the sense in the world for Trump to want a highly visible arraignment, replete with the most dramatic and extended perp walk imaginable -- including wall-to-wall televised, aerial coverage of his private aircraft departing Florida, then arriving in New York, followed by the motorcade snaking its way into midtown Manhattan, arriving at Trump Tower to the cheers of flag-waving supporters. If the goal was garnering maximum attention and building anticipation, they couldn't have choreographed it any better. And even if media members didn't desperately want him to be the GOP nominee again, which many of them plainly do, many of them still wouldn't have been able to resist the theatrics and the imagery of the whole show. One wonders how many small donations flowed into the campaign's coffers during those few hours alone. We do know that it's been a fundraising bonanza so far, overall.
If Donald Trump wants to be president again, step one requires him to win the nomination, and there's no better way to do achieve that than to trying to turn the proposition of supporting him for a third time a fundamental litmus test of tribal loyalty. Pay no heed to the myriad 'baggage' concerns, the litany of demonstrable electability weaknesses, or the increasingly overt desire of the opposition to face him again. The Bad People are trying to imprison our leader, so we must go all-in for him. If that's what Trump and his campaign are able to erect as a lasting and dominant decision-making matrix for center-right voters, he'd clearly be the overwhelming frontrunner to secure the nomination again. And if they succeed in that endeavor, then they'll fight to see another day and try to convince the (much more skeptical) general electorate that he deserves a second term after all, having been shown the door in 2020. That would be an uphill climb, and many of the circumstances that aided his improbable, needle-threading 2016 upset are no longer operative. But there's a real, if somewhat slim, possibility that he could win the White House again. But does he give his political coalition the best chance to do so? Quite a few Republican-leaning voters still aren't convinced of that. Democrats appear to have an emerging view on the matter, as well:
Polls done for the White House in recent weeks found Biden in a more favorable position against Trump than he finished in 2020 in all of the closest battleground states. The same polling showed Biden faring less well against Ron DeSantis.— Reid J. Epstein (@reidepstein) April 1, 2023
If 2024 becomes a two-man GOP race, and if having strategically-helpful haters is a powerful signal of in-group solidarity, doesn't Ron DeSantis have a strong case to make, based on those who loathe and fear him? We've written about how Democrats and media outlets gleefully amplify Trump's attacks on Florida's governor, with the DNC's rapid response director doing so (again) just a few days ago. Some of the more slow-witted leftists with national platforms have been turning subtext into bold text, saying outright that they strategically want Trump to succeed in the primary because they're more worried about DeSantis. A top Democratic research group has published a 500-plus page oppo 'book' on DeSantis, and they're urging journalists to check it out:
Dem PAC launching an opposition project aimed exclusively at DeSantis to try to boost Trump and recommending reporters use it for their stories, which you can confidently assume they will. https://t.co/HM4okzJsSq— AG (@AGHamilton29) April 3, 2023
This is also going to be updated in real time by my team! If you’re a reporter, I’d definitely bookmark this site:https://t.co/EXjwOsyHRr— Julie Alderman Boudreau (@juliealdermanb) April 3, 2023
The journo class doesn't need an invitation to dive headfirst into anti-DeSantis activism; they've been eagerly indulging in that pastime for years. When the current Trump indictment news cycle passes, will any of the current dynamics shift? Will DeSantis gain (if and when he enters the race) from his own 'negative partisanship' bona fides? I'll leave you with part of the governor's comments to a conference of conservative activists in Pennsylvania over the weekend, during which he also lit into Alvin Bragg:
🚨Ron DeSantis says there is no substitute for victory: “The winners make policy, the losers go home” pic.twitter.com/CevukjHoxS— West Coast Politics (@Coast_Politics) April 1, 2023
'No substitute for victory.' Expect that to be a central theme of a fully launched DeSantis campaign. Whether GOP voters will will buy what he's selling, particularly in contrast to Trump, very much remains to be seen.