Ding, Dong, the Witch Still Leads the Polls

by Matt Taibbi | May 31, 2024

The Guardian coverage of Donald Trump’s hush-money guilty verdict read:


“We got him … Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end of this grifter … This is the beginning of the end, folks,” the man, who identified himself as Bill Christeson, told reporters.


Another man waved a yellow sign that read: “God, strike Trump dead. Judge, free him.”

The end? Of what, the election? Isn’t Trump still winning that, to the point of inspiring waves of panic editorials, and likely to gain more now? With the verdict, America continued down the path of separate realities:

On MSNBC Rachel Maddow, wearing a look of childlike glee, read off a list of past polls suggesting a goodly percentage of Trump supporters might change their votes now that he’s been criminally convicted. (She mumbled over an NPR headline about how the verdict would “likely only move a small number of votes”). Rachel then opened discussion to a panel including Jen Psaki, who brushed aside polls to say the thing that’s hard to measure is “the emotions of it,” wondering if Trump voters might be turned off to some level beyond the numbers, if he goes on complaining about the “rigged system.”

“And ‘We’ve gotta get rid of all the judges,’” chimed in Chris Hayes, imitating Trump.

Hayes went on to argue that a big impact of the conviction would come at the level of “are people aware… just empirically, are people or not?” He concluded most people were not aware that the former president faced criminal charges, and a week from now, people will in fact know Donald Trump was convicted of multiple felonies, hearing the magic words for the first time. “And,” he said, “I’m curious to know what that does.”

No part of the “emotions of it” discussion touched on how many Americans who don’t even like Trump might now be tempted to vote for the guy, given how obvious a snow job the case was. The New York indictment was a bespoke prosecution designed specifically for Trump, a Falsifying Records in the First Degree charge that required the “intent to commit another crime.” According to prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, the other offense was New York Election Law Section 17-152, “Conspiracy to promote or prevent election,” defined as “Any two or more persons who conspire to promote or prevent the election of any person to a public office by unlawful means.”

Even Maddow’s MSNBC called this legal theory of District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s “eyebrow-raising” and “novel,” which should tell you a lot. The notion that paying hush money to a porn star (which you are legally allowed to do, irrespective of whether your spouse should let you get away with it) constitutes “conspiring” to “prevent the election of any person” is the Mother of All Stretches.

Hillary Clinton got mere fines for a far more serious records offense in an almost exactly similar context: calling the funding of the infamous Steele dossier “legal and compliance consulting.” That’s hiding a role in an electorally significant public fraud, and though I’m not sure that offense warranted jail, it’s certain Trump’s “crime” didn’t, if Hillary’s doesn’t even go to court. This was one non-crime, serving as the predicate for conspiracy to commit another non-crime, which incidentally was artificially split in pieces to add years and penalties. The 34 counts are another absurdity, one reporters continually forgot yesterday to cover up by pretending the case was about multiple acts and not one deal (the Globe and Mail: Trump convicted of trying to “hide a US$130,000 payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels”).

What do these people imagine will happen now? Where do they believe Trump voters will go? Do they think the anger that drove his campaign in the first place will evaporate? Do they realize Trump surged ahead in all the battleground states during this trial? Don’t they see where this is headed?

No. Washington pols always see elections through a rearview mirror, imagining candidates create supporters, not vice versa. It comes from the belief that voters are sheep and have no beliefs beyond what their political betters instruct them to feel. Therefore, one controls them by controlling leaders. But Gene McCarthy didn’t surge in 1968 by convincing people to oppose the Vietnam war. Voters were there. Buchanan and Perot didn’t inspire bitterness about the loss of manufacturing jobs, the unemployed did, and Bernie Sanders in 2016 didn’t invent post-bailout blue frustration. Voters lead the way. Politicians arrive to take advantage. It’s always how it works.

The Maddows and Psakis really believe racking up a felony conviction for Trump somehow ends the story, or marks the “beginning of the end,” as the Guardian’s man-on-the-street put it. But guaranteed, it will just piss people off more. So will the inevitable hypocrisies, already occurring, about the stigma we’re to suddenly attach to “justice-impacted individuals,” as the State of Illinois labels probation-eligible offenders. You will hear complaints that the felon Trump is still allowed to vote, and politicians who once argued passionately that criminal convictions should be no professional albatross will now sound law-and-order themes:


I’ve long made the mistake of believing there’s a 4-D chess angle to all this I’m not seeing, that somehow it isn’t what it looks like on the surface: a political effort to jail an opponent for a technicality, done to influence voters they don’t understand. I’ve refused to believe anyone could be stupid enough to think that would work. But it doesn’t seem like it can be anything else but what it looks like. They really are that dumb, and God help us.

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