Donald Trump’s defenses against his four indictments are, characteristically, absolutist.
The phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), which undergirds Trump’s newest indictment, was a “perfect phone call.” The 91 criminal charges against Trump aren’t just overzealous but born of meritless “witch hunts.” Bristling at a question about a hypothetical plea deal in Georgia, Trump said, “We did nothing wrong.”
These comments are part of a sales pitch even the GOP isn’t truly buying.
Increasingly, few Americans actually believe Trump did “nothing” wrong, according to new polling. And while Republicans overwhelmingly say they don’t think Trump broke the law, most — even a very strong majority — fault him in some measure.
In an Associated Press-NORC poll, 1 in 5 or fewer Americans said they believed Trump did “nothing wrong” in each of his four legal cases. Of his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, 21 percent said he did “nothing wrong.” In both the classified documents case and the Georgia case (the poll was conducted before this week’s indictment there), it was 15 percent. And just 14 percent said Trump did “nothing wrong” in the Manhattan case involving an alleged coverup of hush money payments.
In the first three cases, around half said Trump did something illegal, while the rest chose the middle option: “unethical.” (Only about one-third saw illegality in the Manhattan case.)
The poll echoes two CNN polls in recent months that have shown just 15 percent of Americans said Trump did “nothing wrong” in the classified documents case. It also comes the same day a separate survey, from Marist College, showed just 22 percent overall said Trump had done “nothing wrong” in the various cases he’s facing.
Those numbers are the lowest of Trump’s political career.
Last year, we recapped 17 polls that asked this question about a variety of Trump controversies. Only once did Trump’s “nothing wrong” number dip below 20 percent — on the relatively small-bore and less-publicized issue of his charitable foundation allegedly misspending money.
A big reason for the drop now? The decline in Republicans who subscribe to Trump’s nothing-to-see-here claims.
While majorities of the GOP opted for the “nothing wrong” option for most of Trump’s presidency — 68 percent even said so after the Mar-a-Lago classified documents search a year ago — that number has dropped below a majority in virtually every recent poll.
The Marist poll showed 44 percent of Republicans said Trump did “nothing wrong” with regard to his various investigations. The CNN poll showed 34 percent said that about Trump’s classified documents indictment. And an earlier CNN poll this year showed just 21 percent said the same with regard to the hush money payments.
These numbers actually might undersell just how many Republicans see something unsavory in Trump’s actions.
We asked NORC to combine the data to see how many people said Trump did “nothing wrong” in all four cases — the truest of the true believers in Trump’s denials. It was just 7 percent of Americans overall and just 16 percent of Republicans.
So while 44 percent of Republicans in the Marist poll said Trump did “nothing wrong” when asked generally about the cases against him, that number drops substantially when you drill down and ask about the cases individually.
In the NORC poll, 28 percent of Republicans said Trump did something “illegal” in at least one case, compared with the 16 percent who said he did “nothing wrong” in all four cases. So more Republicans said he committed a crime than said he was blameless.
What that suggests: Despite the GOP standing by Trump, there is a significant and growing universe of right-leaning voters who object to his actions in these cases. They might continue to stick with Trump out of partisan loyalty or even a belief that he’s being persecuted — only about 1 in 10 Republicans in these polls generally believe he broke the law — but that doesn’t mean they approve.
It’s difficult to see this tipping the scales against Trump for a large number of them. But it doesn’t need to to have significant impact on the 2024 general election. Even dissuading a few percentage points’ worth of voters who would otherwise back the GOP nominee could swing a race in our increasingly tight American elections.
And some of those voters do appear to be dissuadable. The AP-NORC poll also shows 63 percent of Americans said they would definitely not or probably not vote for Trump, compared to 54 percent for President Biden. (In each case, 11 percent said they would “probably” not vote for the candidate — the rest were “definitely” not.)
The tight 2024 polls suggest that many of the 11 percent who said they “probably” wouldn’t vote for Trump nonetheless opt for him in a head-to-head matchup with Biden.
But those voters are going to get a heavy dose of something (or -things) they might not like about Trump in the months ahead. And their reaction to it could go a long way in determining who has the role of commander in chief come January 2025.