In Iowa, Indictment Buoys Trump With GOP Voters

Donald Trump announced a seven-point plan to combat rising crime in America, including a "record" investment in police officers and a return to stop-and-frisk measures.
Screenshot: Donald J Trump Rumble Channel

By Jake Bevan for RealClearWire

When he took the stage Saturday evening in Washington, D.C., Donald Trump made sure the Faith and Freedom Coalition knew one thing. Amid an ever-expanding sea of alternatives, the 45th U.S. president remains one of a kind.

“I’m probably the only person in the history of this country that’s been indicted,” he said, allowing a brief silence to fall over the crowd, for maximum effect. “And my numbers went up!”

This declaration was a crowd pleaser, met with a standing ovation, chants of “U.S.A.!” and a starry-eyed Lindsey Graham. Trump’s bizarre boast also had the virtue of being true. A new NBC News poll, done jointly by Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies and Democrat Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates, showed him padding his already huge lead over second-place GOP challenger Ron DeSantis.

“For the first time in history, a former president has been indicted, and we can’t find a marker in this survey that it’s had an impact with his standing,” said Bill McInturff.

“Not only are [Republicans] sticking with Trump post-federal indictment, there are several signs that his support is growing or others are losing ground, particularly Ron DeSantis,” added Horwitt.

That dynamic may not bode well for Trump or the GOP in the 2024 general election. A recent post-indictment poll from Quinnipiac found only 21% of independents were “satisfied” with his explanation for why classified documents were stashed in his Mar-a-Lago estate. But Trump’s initial challenge is securing his party’s presidential nomination, and the first hurdle in that task is holding serve in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first delegates will be chosen.

But the response Saturday night might be comforting in the short term. It’s a strong indicator of how the president’s latest scandal may play in a crowded primary field – especially here in Iowa.

The cheering crowd were members or guests of America’s largest evangelical interest group. The Faith and Freedom Coalition casts an imposing shadow over Iowa’s political landscape, and its constituents are often the driving force behind a successful showing at the state’s crucial first caucus. In April, its Iowa chapter hosted the first “cattle call”-style event of the election, where a slew of candidates chasing the frontrunner began subtly chipping away at the former president’s hold on the group by pressing themes ranging from “decency” to “electability.”

Related: Make Iowa Great Again: Trump Joins the Party

In the months since, Trump’s baggage has multiplied, and his challengers have become more direct. But the evidence, scientific and anecdotal, suggests that they haven’t yet dislodged Trump among Iowa conservatives.

This seems in line with an early assessment by Tim Hagle, a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, who spoke to RCP earlier in the week. Though he said Trump may end up dealing self-inflicted wounds to his legal defense, Hagle predicted the indictment itself would make good fodder for his campaign.

“Trump is very good at changing the question,” Hagle said. “Changing the impression of what’s going on, and giving the impression that he’s being attacked. “What most Republicans want is someone that’s going to be a ‘fighter’ – even if that’s kind of become a cliche recently.”

Trump’s depiction of himself as the victim was probably helped by the dubious indictment by a local Democratic prosecutor in New York in early April. Trump’s arraignment – on a series of charges that even many Democratic legal scholars described as problematic – pertain to hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.

The document-related charges “may be more serious,” Hagle said, “but because of the highly political nature of the New York indictment, it’s going to be much easier for people to dismiss it.”

Proclaiming that America has descended into a two-tiered criminal justice system – one for well-connected Democrats, the other for Trump-associated Republicans – has become a GOP staple. And for obvious reasons, Trump is the motif’s most passionate advocate. On Saturday, he even read verbatim a text message from Hunter Biden in which the president appears to be shaking down a Chinese businessman.

“I’m being indicted for you!” Trump told the crowd in D.C., “and I believe that ‘you’ is more than 200 million people who love our country. This is a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.” The crowd cheered in agreement.

Related: Ron DeSantis Makes His Case in Iowa

Halfway across the country, RCP found this was also the prevailing mood at the Machine Shed Restaurant in Davenport. Not a glossy, million-dollar lobby group, but a political institution in its own right, the chain of diners – each decked with vintage advertisements, signs, and farm equipment – is a mandatory stop for Republican hopefuls in Iowa. This particular location gave Donald Trump an enthusiastic welcome when he made a surprise visit back in March.

It remains MAGA country. And the restaurant, a careful shrine to Heartland sincerity, also hosted a pretty cynical brand of politics on Thursday. One example was Keith Klug, a retired steel mill worker from Davenport, and a regular caucus voter. He’s been following the DeSantis campaign with some interest since the governor arrived in town last March. But right now, following the indictment? “I’m a Trump guy.”

Klug had much to say about what he sees as obvious political bias at play in the latest set of allegations against Trump. He spoke at length about the character of those leading the charge against him. But when it came time to discuss whether the case against the former president was true, he was blunt.

“We don’t care,” he said, speaking for conservative Iowans. “We can go down the list of who’s corrupt in D.C. And they’ve been after him for how long?”

Others at the diner felt the same outrage. A retired financial advisor who identified himself as “Bob” freely admitted that Trump had acted inappropriately, but felt the larger story was a perceived double standard.

“I know it shouldn’t be done,” he said of Trump’s alleged actions. “But it would bother me much more if the Bidens, the Democrats hadn’t done it also.”

When RCP asked Bob if the recent guilty plea by Hunter Biden disproved the “double standard” within the DOJ, one woman couldn’t contain her outrage, and interjected, “They didn’t do a thing to him!”

Though she requested to remain anonymous (“My kids are all liberals,” she explained), she did elaborate: “They would have crucified Trump if he did half of that.”

Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

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