The Trump Indictment May Saddle the GOP With a Loser

Former Attorney General Bill Barr is many things—but dumb isn’t one of them. During the recent National Review Institute Ideas Summit, he speculated that the indictment of former President Donald Trump was designed—by the Democratic Party—to secure Trump the 2024 Republican nomination.

“I think the impetus is really to help Trump get the nomination, focus the attention on him for two years, have this thing swirling around, plus whatever else comes, which I think will be damaging to whoever gets the nomination,” Barr said.  

Indeed, Trump surged ahead of his closest challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in 2024 election polls. In Barr’s view, the Democrats are betting that a Republican ticket led by The Donald will lead the GOP to yet another loss. The wager is straightforward and based on what Democrats saw in 2018, 2020, and 2022: Trump is no longer interested in or capable of building a winning coalition as he did in 2016.

Multiple polls show that a majority of Americans support Trump’s indictment, even though most believe Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against the former president (for paying “hush money” to porn star Stormy Daniels regarding an alleged affair) is politically motivated. A recent CNN/SSRS survey is typical in displaying the deep dislike of Trump held by a majority of Americans: it showed that 76 percent of Americans believe politics played at least some part in Bragg’s charges, and yet 60 percent approve of them anyway.

All that remains of the Trump of 2016 is the MAGA cult of personality. This cult may benefit Trump personally but it hurts Republicans politically—to the extent that they actually care about winning, rather than simply fundraising off of Trump’s populist base.

Last night in Wisconsin Republicans got a foretaste of the pain to come in 2024. Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz, backed by billionaires like George Soros, defeated her conservative opponent, Dan Kelly, to win a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, ending 15 years of conservative dominance. The state’s high court now looks poised to strike down a voter ID law and bring back absentee-ballot drop boxes.

Kelly’s defeat signals long-term, national implications for the Republican Party far more consequential than any of the legal challenges now facing Trump. Kelly lost in part because he was portrayed to his detriment as an anti-abortion hardliner. But Kelly was also framed as a Trump surrogate who was instrumental in the legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results. 

“A Donald Trump ally who advised Republicans on legal efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential race has advanced to the Wisconsin Supreme Court general election, putting him one step closer to a seat on the powerful bench,” NBC News blared on Feb. 21.   

On March 31, Ben Wikler, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, tweeted: “Democracy itself is on the ballot. If a lawsuit to overturn the 2024 Presidential election reaches our state Supreme Court—as it did in 2020—Dan Kelly would choose MAGA over democracy. He advised the fake elector scheme in 2020. Don’t let him on the court.”   

Wikler included a link to an Associated Press story republished through PBS Wisconsin about how Kelly was paid by state and national Republicans to advise on election issues in 2020.  

During the final campaign finance reporting period between Feb. 7 and March 20, Protasiewicz raised more than five times as much money as Kelly. An article in Wisconsin Watch reported that Protasiewicz had “a lopsided advantage in direct donations.”

While the right indulged in sharing memes of Trump with red laser beams emitting from his eyes captioned “Retribution 2024”—the political equivalent of autoerotic asphyxiation—Democrats were focused on their ground game in Wisconsin. Their hard work paid off.  

Naturally, Trump’s minions took to social media to argue that Kelly lost because he was a terrible candidate who did not prostrate himself before the former president to beg for an endorsement. Trump himself glibly celebrated Kelly’s defeat in a Truth Social post, writing, “How foolish is a man that doesn’t seek an Endorsement that would have won him the Election?”

Trump didn’t say anything about how this loss would affect conservatives in Wisconsin, the people he and the GOP claim to represent. Perhaps he isn’t intelligent enough to understand the ramifications of what just transpired. 

In reality, it was Kelly’s already-established association with Trump that contributed to his loss. Trump had endorsed Kelly in 2020 Wisconsin Supreme Court election, and Kelly had lost then, too, just as Trump had lost the state in the general election.

In audio recordings obtained by the Associated Press from a former Republican campaign operative, members of Trump’s campaign conceded Democrats had outworked them in Wisconsin during the 2020 election, beating them fair and square. They praised the turnout efforts of their victorious opponents and then resolved to blame widespread voter fraud for their loss.

“Here’s the drill: Comms is going to continue to fan the flame and get the word out about Democrats trying to steal this election,” said Andrew Iverson, who was the head of Trump’s campaign in the state. “We’ll do whatever they need (inaudible) help with. Just be on standby in case there’s any stunts we need to pull.”

In other words, Trump’s campaign deliberately lied to Republican voters about why he lost the state. They could get away with that because it was what Trump wanted to hear.

Barr is right: the Democrats want to face Trump in 2024. Not only because he’s likely to lose again, but because he deceives his own side. If Trump can’t be honest with his own people about why he lost and fix the mistakes, there is no reason to believe that 2024 will be different than 2020.

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