Tuesday, December 20, 2022


To hear Maggie Haberman tell it, Donald Trump is a diminished figure now mainly for two reasons: his own bad judgment and the work of the January 6 committee:
As the summer and the House Jan. 6 committee’s hearings began, former President Donald J. Trump was still a towering figure in Republican politics, able to pick winners in primary contests and force candidates to submit to a litmus test of denialism about his loss in the 2020 election.

Six months later, Mr. Trump is significantly diminished, a shrunken presence on the political landscape. His fade is partly a function of his own missteps and miscalculations in recent months. But it is also a product of the voluminous evidence assembled by the House committee and its ability to tell the story of his efforts to overturn the election in a compelling and accessible way.
Among the "missteps and miscalculations" Haberman has in mind, I presume, are his selection of midterm candidates who couldn't manage to win. But New York magazine's Ed Kilgore questions whether the committee's work had any impact on midterm voters:
There isn’t much evidence that the committee’s more explosive findings or their skillful dissemination in the hearings had any tangible effect on this year’s elections (as it was widely assumed they were designed to). The findings weren’t discussed much by either Democratic or Republican candidates, though it’s unlikely that threats to democracy would have become a major campaign theme without the committee’s work. Yes, to the extent that Republican underperformance in the midterms may have been partially attributable to swing voters unhappy with MAGA extremism, the committee’s findings may have also contributed materially to that impression. But the committee seemed to be more concerned with what might happen after the midterms to Trump and his criminal associates.
I have my doubts about both of these narratives.

Kilgore believes the hearings had no impact on the midterms because candidates didn't talk about them much -- "though it’s unlikely that threats to democracy would have become a major campaign theme without the committee’s work." That's quite a qualification.

And neither Haberman nor Kilgore mentions the biggest reason for the failure of Republican candidates, Trump-endorsed or otherwise: the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. Politico recently noted the results of a post-midterms focus group made up of unaffiliated and Republican women in Maricopa County, Arizona.
The women were frustrated and embarrassed by the election. They described Trump as a “central and unwelcome figure” ...

But when it came to abortion, it was personal: When the moderator asked if the women themselves or someone they knew had an unplanned pregnancy or abortion story, every single hand in the room shot up.

For them, it wasn’t just about a medical procedure. “It’s about control, controlling women and suppression of women,” said one independent voter.

“It’s a slippery slope,” said another, a Republican. “If they are demanding control here, where does it end?”

... The focus groups [were] described in a memo obtained by POLITICO ...

“Aside from Trump,” the memo stated, “abortion was THE central issue of the campaign.” What the women “considered extreme abortion positions,” plus Trump’s “influence,” it said, “took Republican candidates out of consideration for many of these women, including women who consider themselves pro-life.”
Imagine the midterms if John Roberts had succeeded in persuading one Republican Supreme Court justice to support an incremental approach to the Dobbs case. Trump's assault on democracy would still have been a midterm issue, but it's unlikely that abortion rights would have been. A number of terrible Trump-endorsed candidates who lost their races by a few points might have won. We might have had Senator Herschel Walker and Senator Blake Masters and Governor Kari Lake. House Republicans probably would have won a more comfortable majority. Trump's win-loss record might have been mixed, but he could still say he'd picked a lot of winners. And his post-midterm blunders -- the dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, the ridiculous NFTs -- wouldn't have seemed like the acts of a loser slipping into irrelevance.

So Trump is partly to blame for his recent decline in popularity, and the January 6 committee gets part of the credit, but so do Sam Alito and the rest of the Republican Supreme Court hard-liners.

Also, Trump's decline wouldn't be quite so precipitous if the Republican propaganda machine hadn't begun closing ranks around Ron DeSantis. Republican voters are reconsidering their loyalty to Trump because they think they can -- they have an off-ramp.

So there are many reasons Trump is "diminished" now. But let's hope Trump is a weight around the party's neck for at least another election cycle, whether he wins the presidential nomination or not.

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