Speaking to Georgia’s Republican Party last weekend, Donald Trump made the case that storing America’s nuclear secrets in an unlocked bathroom was good, actually. “The only good thing about it is it’s driven my poll numbers way up,” Trump said in a defiant speech.
Trump was right, sort of. The indictment has helped him further consolidate his lead in a Republican primary that he has been consistently dominating for months. He has raked in millions after sending out dozens of fundraising emails decrying a politically-motivated “witch hunt” from “misfits, mutants, Marxists, & communists.” (That said, he raised nearly twice as much in a similar fundraising push earlier this spring after being indicted for hush money payments sent out during the 2016 election.)
But there are growing signs that being indicted for endangering America’s national security is damaging Trump politically, even if it isn’t harming his chances of securing the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released earlier this week found that 61 percent of voters believed the indictment was “serious,” as opposed to just 28 percent who viewed it as “not serious.” The number of voters who believed that he should be charged was somewhat lower: Just 48 percent, compared to 35 percent who believe the Department of Justice should have refrained from charging the former president.
Given the early stage of the Republican primary, Trump’s strong support among Republicans has driven much of the coverage of the indictment. But the ABC/Ipsos poll also pours some cold water on this as well: 38 percent of GOP voters believe that the charges are serious, a significant if not overwhelming number. But as David Leonhardt writes for The New York Times, Trump’s numbers among Republicans and Independents are trending in the wrong direction. “The number of Republicans bothered by his legal problems seems to be growing,” Leonhardt writes. “So is the number among independents. More voters are bothered by the case against him — on charges of taking classified material and trying to conceal that he did — than by the earlier New York State charges related to hush money for a sexual encounter.”
These are both very bad signs for Donald Trump, even if the indictment has only made him stronger in the Republican primary. To win a general election against Joe Biden, Trump will need to consolidate support among both skeptical Republicans and Independents, even if Biden remains stubbornly unpopular. The indictment, moreover, may get worse for him, not better. Democrats have largely stayed silent about it and have not aggressively pressed the case that Trump wantonly and recklessly endangered America’s national security but that may be changing—a growing number of advisers and aides are frustrated by Biden’s kid gloves approach to the indictment and it’s likely that the party will take a more aggressive tack in the coming days and weeks. And the indictment isn’t going anywhere: The case against Trump will proceed slowly over months and may stretch well into the 2024 election. Trump’s problems are only going to get worse, in other words.