Donald Trump’s trial on conspiracy and obstruction charges in the 2020 election is slated to begin in Washington, D.C., on Mar. 4. That’s a Monday. The next day is “Super Tuesday,” when 16 states and territories are set to hold their Republican presidential primaries. That includes California, where 169 delegates are up for grabs, and Texas, which has another 161. Another huge slate of delegates is set to be selected on Mar. 12.
Considering how likely the start of the trial is to be delayed by Trump’s appeals over immunity, and Trump’s commanding lead among Republicans, it’s entirely possible that Trump could secure the Republican nomination before the first word of testimony is delivered in any of his four upcoming criminal trials.
The first step in the election fraud case has begun, with mailers going out to call potential jurors to court for a pre-screening on Feb. 9. That process will likely continue on schedule even as other dates have been put on hold while Trump drags his call for “absolute immunity” through the appeals court and, inevitably, in front of the Supreme Court.
However, unless Trump wins a wholly unexpected ruling from the lopsided court, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is likely to move things along briskly. Even if Trump’s federal trials are delayed, the New York state case involving Trump’s allegedly illegal accounting for hush money is also set to begin in March. Trump has given up on trying to get that case moved to federal court, so it’s not likely to be delayed by the Supreme Court ruling.
Sometime near the end of March, Donald Trump will likely be sitting in a federal courtroom hearing testimony on a series of felony charges or celebrating securing the 1,215 delegates necessary to secure the Republican nomination. And he may be doing both at the same time.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post repeated the oft-cited idea that it was his multiple criminal indictments that pulled Republican voters back together in their support for Trump. According to the Post, Trump has made those indictments a “rallying cry.” The outlet quotes Marc Short, an advisor to former Vice President Mike Pence who blames the indictments for the inability of other candidates to gain ground against Trump. “The party came back to him over the indictments,” said Short. And that’s the story the Post is pushing.
It’s a convenient narrative, but it’s not what the data from Civiqs shows. A look at the past year of Trump’s favorability ratings among Republican voters shows that they did not come back together under Trump following his indictment—because they never abandoned Trump in the first place. His indictment didn’t even cause a ripple in his support.
Image original https://images.dailykos.com/images/1261001/original/ScreenShot2024-01-02at8.49.39AM.png?1704207071 Caption: Indictments made no difference to Trump’s popularity among Republicans.
It may be a remarkable sign of Trump’s cultish hold on the party that a criminal indictment did nothing to decrease his standing, but it was not a matter of Republicans gathering back together once someone pointed a legal finger at Trump. They never left.
On the other hand, the story of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the campaign trail is one of steadily declining approval. That’s even more true of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Despite frequent claims that Haley is somehow looking stronger against Trump, her favorability among Republicans continues to fall, down 14 percentage points since she announced her candidacy. As for Pence, his ratings were—and are—laughably bad. He both entered and exited the race underwater.
That doesn’t stop the Post from insisting that the indictments helped Trump. Which is, unsurprisingly, the narrative that Republicans have been pushing all along. Both Short and the Post suggest that it was a mistake for the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to move first in indicting Trump because Republicans saw that case as “thin” and “political.”
“I really think it was a political mistake for the New York D.A. to go first,” said Short. “It’s the weakest case. It allows him to paint with a broad brush.”
Neither the paper nor the Republican advisor seem interested in saying who made this mistake. Both seem to simply take for granted the idea that charges against Trump are being coordinated as a political effort to interfere with his campaign. Neither seems to contemplate that Bragg filed charges first because he had been investigating the case for months and was ready to move forward, while timid actions within the Department of Justice meant that special counsel Jack Smith had still not finished preparing his cases against Trump.
Following Republican losses in the 2022 midterms, Trump’s popularity with Republicans dropped from 81% to 73%—hardly a huge crash. Since then, Trump has recovered about half that popularity. That’s all that’s been required to beat a weak field consisting primarily of candidates whose favorability was much lower than Trump’s before they declared their candidacy. The only Republican candidate who went into the campaign season riding high was DeSantis, who had been buoyed by lionizing accounts in right-wing media that painted him as Trump’s clear successor. DeSantis’ campaign has sagged because Trump failed to step away, and because people got the chance to meet DeSantis.
Republican voters didn’t surge back to support Trump after the indictment. They just never stopped supporting him. The question now is whether they will ride-or-die with Trump as he heads into trials that could land him multiple felony indictments.
Right now, the Georgia case has yet to get a trial date. The Florida case, under Trump-appointed and Trump-loving Judge Aileen Cannon, is unlikely to go to court before the general election. The New York case is tentatively set for March, but there seems to be a broad assumption that date will slip. When it comes to the criminal trials, that leaves just the Washington, D.C., case, which is scheduled for Mar. 4, but almost certainly won’t go off on that date.
All of that means there’s likely to be another round of delays—as Trump files appeals on the basis that a major-party nominee shouldn’t be tried before the election.
Author: Mark Sumner