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Trump’s Fifth Avenue strategy for 2024

It was perhaps not the venue one might have expected for Donald Trump to offer his most famous assessment of the sturdiness of his support.

He was standing beneath the enormous pipe organ at the front of the B.J. Haan Auditorium at Iowa’s Dordt College in January 2016. The organ isn’t only decorative; Dordt is a Christian school, and the auditorium is used for religious services.

But on that day, Trump was addressing a different omnipotent deity.

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” he said. “It’s, like, incredible.”

Thou shalt not kill, but if thee do, worrieth not about thy polls.

At the time, it was taken as a melodramatic statement of enthusiasm, one that seemed accurate on its face but which was unlikely to be tested. Since Trump lost the 2020 election, however, the possibility that Trump supporters might be asked to evaluate their support for a candidate credibly accused of illegal behavior has become a reality.

Trump was indicted in Manhattan in April and faces possible criminal charges related to his handling of documents with classification markings and for his efforts to retain power despite that loss. Washington Post-ABC News polling released this week shows that most Americans think Trump should face criminal charges in each of those cases, as well as for his role in fomenting the violence that unfolded at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

There is a catch, of course: While Democrats overwhelmingly think Trump should face charges, Republicans overwhelmingly don’t.

In 2023, Trump’s comment about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue takes on a different sheen. Were it to happen, we now understand that the response from his base wouldn’t be “Trump shot someone, but I’m OK with that.” It would, instead, be “the fake-news media are lying about Trump shooting someone and leftist prosecutors are pressing charges to keep him from running in 2024.” It’s not simply that Trump’s supporters accept his improper behavior. It’s that many of them don’t view his behavior as improper, often because they dislike or disagree with those who are pointing out the impropriety.

Even with that said, though, there is an element of indifference to Trump’s potential criminal culpability. The Post-ABC poll included hypothetical matchups between President Biden and Trump as well as between Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

Overall, Biden trails both Republicans — Trump by 7 points and DeSantis by 5 points. Among those who think Trump should face charges for trying to overturn the 2020 election results, Biden has an overwhelming lead over both Trump and DeSantis.

But about 15 percent of those who say Trump should face charges also indicate that they would probably or definitely vote for Trump over Biden anyway.

You can see the robustness of Trump’s baseline of support here. There’s not much difference between how he fares against Biden and how DeSantis fares against Biden among those who think Trump likely committed crimes. It’s, like, incredible: About 1 in 7 people who think that Trump should be criminally sanctioned for trying to subvert American democracy also say they’d probably vote for him to be president in a contest against Biden.

That’s the Fifth-Avenue crowd, the Trump supporters for whom criminal conduct is no barrier to support. Again, that’s not our saying Trump committed a crime. It’s them saying he should be charged. But also be president instead of Biden.

On Tuesday, a political action committee associated with former Wyoming representative Liz Cheney (R) released an ad insisting that Trump is too dangerous to be granted the presidency again.

This is a continuation of Cheney’s work on the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot. Then, her stated outcome was to demonstrate Trump’s lack of fitness to again be commander in chief.

It’s hard to imagine the ad will be particularly persuasive, though that might not be the point. There are certainly Americans who are unfamiliar with the breadth of Trump’s efforts and culpability for the riot; Trump’s media allies have seen to that. But many of those who are aware of Trump’s actions have already formed opinions of them and of him — generally, it’s safe to say, in opposition to his candidacy. Some portion of the public, though, thinks Trump incited the riot and doesn’t really care or see it as prohibitive in the way that Cheney would want.

The aim of the anti-Trump ad, which will air in New Hampshire, may be to spur anti-Trump Republicans to cast ballots in the primary rather than convince anyone of what he did. But if the 2024 election is between Trump and Biden, the results may come down to fewer than 100,000 votes in a handful of states, as was the case in 2016 and 2020.

If that happens, the difference may be that 8 percent of the public who thinks Trump should be charged for trying to overturn the election and who think that he is a better candidate for president than Joe Biden.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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