Trump’s ability to surmount this latest tumult [criminal indictment] continues one of the defining patterns of his political career. Each time Trump has shattered a norm or engaged in behavior once unimaginable for a national leader—such as his praise of neo-Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election result and instigating the January 6 insurrection—most Republican elected officials and voters have found ways to excuse his actions and continue supporting him.
“At every point when the party had a chance to move in a different direction, it went further down the Trump path,” Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, told me.
Trump’s latest revival has dispirited his Republican critics, who believed that the party’s discouraging results in November’s election had finally created a pathway to forcing him aside. Now those critics find themselves in the worst of both worlds, facing signs that Trump’s legal troubles could simultaneously increase his odds of winning the GOP nomination and reduce his chances of winning the general election.
Coincidentally, the former president’s indictment came on the same day that Wisconsin voters sent the GOP a pointed reminder about the party’s erosion in white-collar suburbs during the Trump era. The victory of the liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz in an election that gave Democrats a 4–3 majority on the state supreme court continued a clear trend away from Republicans since Trump unexpectedly captured Wisconsin in 2016. En route to a double-digit victory, she won more than 80 percent of the vote in economically thriving and well-educated Dane County (which includes the state capital of Madison), more than 70 percent in Milwaukee County, and she dramatically cut the Republican margin in the Milwaukee suburbs, which the GOP had dominated before Trump.
Protasiewicz’s resounding victory followed a similar formula as the Democrats’ wins last November in the governorship races in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In all three states, Democrats beat a Republican gubernatorial candidate whom Trump had backed. Like Protasiewicz’s victory yesterday, each of those 2022 results showed how the Trump stamp on the GOP, as well as Republican support for banning abortion, has allowed Democrats to regain an advantage in these crucial Rust Belt swing states. Those Rust Belt defeats last November, as well as losses for Trump-backed candidates in Arizona and Georgia, two other pivotal swing states, sparked a greater level of public GOP backlash against Trump than he’d faced at almost any point in his presidency. [Continue reading…]