Trump’s big week of wins compounds Democratic frustration

by blissketoreviews

For former President Donald Trump, it’s been one of the best weeks of his political career. 

First, Thursday’s poor debate performance by President Joe Biden sparked a panic among Democrats, with scores of columnists and strategists calling for a new nominee, drowning out concerns over Mr. Trump’s own debate misstatements and falsehoods. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a defendant charged with obstructing an official proceeding when he entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – throwing into question prosecutions and convictions of other Jan. 6 defendants.

Why We Wrote This

Sweeping U.S. Supreme Court rulings that boost Donald Trump, combined with his debate performance being far less scrutinized than Joe Biden’s, have left many Democrats feeling back on their heels.

But Mr. Trump’s biggest windfall came on Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled that the president has “absolute immunity from criminal prosecutions” for official acts taken as president. Lower courts will have to determine whether Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election constituted official or unofficial acts, but it’s highly unlikely he will stand trial for any of it before the November election, if ever.

“This is the best week Trump’s had in months,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. Still, that doesn’t mean the overall race dynamic has been “flipped on its head.” Voters remain polarized, and opinions of the candidates have been largely fixed since Day 1.

For former President Donald Trump, it’s been one of the best weeks of his political career. 

First, Thursday’s poor debate performance by President Joe Biden sparked a full-fledged panic among Democrats, with scores of columnists and strategists immediately calling for a new nominee, drowning out concerns over Mr. Trump’s own debate misstatements and falsehoods.

The following day, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a defendant who was charged with obstructing an official proceeding when he entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – throwing into question both ongoing prosecutions and previous convictions of other Jan. 6 defendants. “The Supreme Court ruled that Biden’s Department of Justice has wrongly prosecuted hundreds of Americans for peacefully protesting on Jan. 6,” the former president trumpeted at a Friday rally in in Chesapeake, Virginia, to loud cheers from the crowd.

Why We Wrote This

Sweeping U.S. Supreme Court rulings that boost Donald Trump, combined with his debate performance being far less scrutinized than Joe Biden’s, have left many Democrats feeling back on their heels.

But Mr. Trump’s biggest windfall came on Monday, when the Supreme Court endorsed an expansive view of presidential immunity. In a 6-3 decision, the highest court ruled that the chief executive has “absolute immunity from criminal prosecutions” for official acts taken as president. The case will go back to the lower courts to determine whether Mr. Trump’s various efforts to overturn the 2020 election constituted official or unofficial acts, but it’s highly unlikely Mr. Trump will stand trial for any of it before the November election, if ever.

To the court’s dissenting justices, the ruling effectively makes the president “a king above the law” – an expansive view that Mr. Trump appears to share. In a fundraising email, he wrote, “I have TOTAL IMMUNITY on official acts.” Hours after the court ruled, Mr. Trump’s legal team filed a motion to overturn his recent Manhattan conviction, citing the immunity case, and on Tuesday the judge announced that his sentencing in that case would be delayed until Sept. 18.

Gary Roush of College Park, Maryland, protests outside the Supreme Court, July 1, 2024, after court decisions were announced in Washington.

All of this has created a one-two punch for Democrats in a matter of days. The presidential debate appeared to increase Mr. Trump’s odds of retaking the White House, just as the U.S. Supreme Court – with the help of three justices Mr. Trump appointed – protected him from accountability, and vastly expanded the powers of the presidency in ways that will allow him to better execute his agenda if he wins. It’s left many Democrats feeling both despondent and resigned to what they say seems like yet another example of Mr. Trump getting to play by a different set of rules.

“Everyone else has to pitch a perfect game – and all Donald Trump has to do is exist. And I can tell you as someone who has worked on a presidential campaign trying to defeat Trump unsuccessfully, that’s really hard,” says Democratic strategist Joel Payne, who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Some of it is luck; some of it is by design. … The design is having Mitch McConnell hold open an additional Supreme Court seat [until Mr. Trump could fill it]. The luck part is that Joe Biden’s age, for whatever reason, showed on stage at a very inopportune time.” 

Small but significant shifts

In many ways, this week stands in sharp contrast to the preceding few months. At the end of May, a New York jury found Mr. Trump guilty on 34 felony counts in his hush money trial, the first-ever criminal conviction for a former U.S. president. Many independent voters, who are likely to decide this election, said the conviction made them less inclined to support Mr. Trump, who saw a small dip in the polls.

Last Thursday’s presidential debate on CNN, held months earlier than usual, was an opportunity for the Biden campaign to try to capitalize on that momentum. Some Democrats even hoped the president could seize the lead for the first time, after trailing Mr. Trump for much of the year.

Those hopes vanished after Mr. Biden’s halting and feeble performance. The best-case scenario for Mr. Biden, which his campaign was fervently pitching to reporters in the hours after the debate, was that the polls would show little movement.

Initial signs indicate that, at least when it comes to the head-to-head matchup, that prediction may prove correct. On Tuesday, a CNN survey taken after the debate showed Mr. Trump leading by 49% to 43% – the same exact lead he had held over Mr. Biden in April. With voters so polarized, very few appear open to changing their minds, and experts say opinions of the candidates have been largely fixed since Day 1.

“This is the best week Trump’s had in months,” says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. But that doesn’t mean the overall race dynamic has been “flipped on its head,” he adds.  

Roger Strassburg wears a cowboy hat as he watches the presidential debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a debate watch party June 27, 2024, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

At the same time, Tuesday’s CNN poll found that Mr. Biden’s approval rating had fallen to just 36%, the lowest of his entire presidency and a bright-red warning sign for an incumbent. And just 43% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they believed Mr. Biden was the candidate with the best chance to win in November; 56% said they’d be better off with someone else.

On Tuesday, the first sitting Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas, publicly called on Mr. Biden to withdraw from the race.

Looking for an opportunity to change the conversation in their favor, the Biden campaign has seized on Monday’s Supreme Court ruling to try to highlight one of the main themes of both Mr. Biden’s 2020 and 2024 campaigns: protecting democracy. 

“Today’s ruling underscores the stakes,” said Quentin Fulks, deputy campaign manager for the Biden-Harris campaign, on a call with reporters Monday. “If anything, this can be used as an amplifier, and the American people will see it as an amplifier, to justify what we have been saying – which is the fact that Donald Trump wants to be a dictator.”

But even here, Mr. Biden may be fighting an uphill battle.

Although voters in the six swing states most likely to decide the election rank “threats to U.S. democracy” as a top voting issue, according to a recent poll, they do not see Mr. Biden as the best candidate to protect it. Instead, 44% believe Mr. Trump “would do a better job” handling the issue, compared with 33% who chose Mr. Biden.

“Trump has been very successful changing the narrative around Jan. 6,” says Marjorie Hershey, a political scientist at Indiana University Bloomington. He has relentlessly put forward an alternative view of the events of that day, repeatedly calling those arrested for their actions “patriots” and even “hostages.” The recent Supreme Court rulings will likely only bolster these arguments.

Democracy may always have been a somewhat squishy issue for Mr. Biden to center his campaign on, says Professor Hershey – particularly compared with something like inflation, which Mr. Trump has made a key component of his campaign.

“It’s not easy to make an abstraction – like protecting democracy – a top agenda item,” she says. “Abstractions just aren’t up there with day-to-day concerns.”

The view from voters

At Mr. Trump’s rally in Chesapeake on Friday, many voters said they were supporting Mr. Trump because of the economy and immigration. Democracy didn’t seem to be a top concern.

Story Hinckley/The Christian Science Monitor

“I don’t think that Jan. 6 is the big elephant in the room anymore,” said Heather Connors, a job coach for special education students in Virginia Beach, as she waited in line for refreshments at former President Donald Trump’s rally in Chesapeake, Virginia, June 28, 2024.

“I don’t think that Jan. 6 is the big elephant in the room anymore,” said Heather Connors, a job coach for special education students in Virginia Beach, as she waited in line for refreshments. 

“I don’t have issues with democracy. I’m a Black American, and if I want to vote, I vote,” said Giovanni Dolmo, a veteran who is running for mayor of Norfolk. “What I’m having issues with is my groceries, my mortgage, my gas. … Those are my issues, and Biden is not handling those issues.”  

Still, there is a chance that Monday’s ruling could have the mobilizing effect on Democrats that the Biden campaign hopes it will. 

Stacey Mars, chair of the Greenville County Democratic Black Caucus in South Carolina, admits that she didn’t watch the debate, since she knew nothing could happen in those 90 minutes to change her vote. But after Monday’s court ruling, she says she feels a renewed enthusiasm for Mr. Biden’s campaign.

“The Supreme Court decision just made me want to dig in even more and make sure Trump does not get reelected,” says Ms. Mars. “If people want to get scared, fine. But let that fear motivate you to do something about it.” 

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