The Real Reasons the Indictments Haven't Hurt Trump
Despite Trump's "Teflon Don" reputation, the reasons for his political survival have very little to do with him
A week after Trump’s third indictment, he remains atop the Republican field and in a statistical dead heat with President Biden in hypothetical 2024 matchups. On the one hand, we expect this sort of stability. Trump has been impeached twice, indicted three times, and survived numerous other scandals and gaffes that could end a political career. After eight years of this chaos, Trump surviving the unsurvivable is our baseline. On the other hand, WTF is going on? The man paid off a pornstar to cover up an extramarital affair, stole nuclear secrets and hid them from the government, and tried violently overthrowing the government after losing the election. Trump is currently scheduled to spend most of next year’s general election in court, facing trial for dozens of criminal charges that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.
And this weekend, he defied a court order by threatening multiple witnesses and attacking the prosecutors.
This all raises the question I get asked most often— “How does Trump get away with everything?”
Trump, with the aid of his obsequious media allies, spun a myth around his superhuman political abilities and his stranglehold over the GOP base. Under this narrative, no other politician could successfully navigate such turbulent political waters. Most pundits and press accepted this narrative, but it is dramatically oversimplified and dangerously incorrect. Trump’s enduring political strength is more about the forces shaping American politics than anything unique about Trump himself. Once again, Trump is the symptom, not the disease, plaguing our politics.
1. Political Polarization and Negative Partisanship
At the risk of oversimplification, nearly everything in American politics can be explained by interrelated phenomena of increased polarization and rising negative partisanship. For decades, American politics have become increasingly polarized — the number of swing voters dropped dramatically as Republicans and Democrats became more ideologically extreme and consistent. This polarization has been asymmetric. Republicans have become more radical than Democrats.
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