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Trump’s most important ally is the political economy he has created

For most Americans, the point of investigating the riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6 is simple: understanding what happened and holding those responsible accountable. This includes former president Donald Trump, who most Americans think should be criminally held accountable for the events of that day. Trump’s relentless dishonesty about the election and the appeals to his supporters to go to Washington that day were the necessary conditions for the sequel.

For many elected officials, the point is one step further. Not only do they hope to dissect what happened, they hope to make Trump’s guilt inevitably obvious. The Senate’s failure to convict Trump after his second impeachment last year means he is free to run for office again. To prevent him from becoming president again – and for him to have access to the power he held in January. 6, 2021 – his opponents must destroy the chances of him winning the second election. This, former senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) Told the Economist, is the “golden chalice” of Republican Rep. Liz Cheney – who explains the danger posed by the second Trump presidency very clearly without such a presidency.

But the challenge Cheney, vice chairwoman of the House Jan. 6 select committee, and her allies have to overcome is not really skepticism or indifference from voters. It is a political economy that has grown from the years of converting Trump and Trumpism to cash.

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On Tuesday, the New York Times released a poll, conducted by Siena College, that it promoted as showing that half of Republican voters are “ready to leave Trump.” This is an attractive shorthand for finding that Trump earns less than 50 percent of support in a hypothetical Republican primary contest – a position that is not novel. Multiple polls over the past year have shown him close to or less than 50 percent on the undeveloped 2024 Republican field.

The ambiguity of the field itself is an important consideration. Trump’s strongest opponent in these polls is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), along with the various people behind their leaders. But when it comes to 2016, Trump is only supported by about one-third of the Republican electorate. That support grew as his nomination became more inevitable and opponents dropped. There is an important difference between the apathy of Trump today and the strong opposition to Trump in April 2024. Not all voters who support someone other than Trump or DeSantis today will go to DeSantis ’column later.

What could do the biggest damage to Trump is a feeling that renominating him would doom the GOP to failure in the general election. Cheney and the House select committee could damage Trump’s status simply by weakening him, arguing that there would be potential Republican nominees without the baggage of an attempt to overturn a valid, democratic election.

The poll shows that there has been some collapse in support for Trump since the hearings began on Jan. 6 last month – but not really among Republicans. YouGov’s weekly poll for the Economist shows that the percentage of independent viewers of Trump dropped from 42 percent at the start of the hearings to 29 percent in the most recent survey, conducted after explosive testimony from former White House staff. that Cassidy Hutchinson.

Among Republicans, there has been a brief drop in the percentage of people who looked at Trump closely – but it has since recovered.

Why? Hard to say. It could be just a mouthful of that one YouGov poll. But it is also clear the case that Trump’s position is being reversed by the conservative media, especially Fox News.

Last week, I showed how little attention Fox News paid to the Jan. 6 committee’s findings and to Hutchinson’s testimony in particular. They released his testimony live, during the day, but then moved their subsequent coverage mostly in an effort to reduce or diminish what he showed. Fox News spent more time talking about the steering wheel of the presidential limousine-a focal point of efforts to undercut Hutchinson’s story-than talking about Trump’s awareness of weapons in the majority. on the Ellipse shortly before the Capitol was occupied.

This is how Fox News has long worked. It presents news or conducts interviews that contradict its view on the right side of the world and then leaves it to opinion shows (and, often, the malleable part of its news) to reframe the discussion. I wrote this in 2019 when the town hall network hosted with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Viewers of the show heard an interesting rejection of the Fox-Trump universe from the senator-and viewers of all who followed saw a curated, more complementary picture of the discussion. A similar pattern opened just this week. This is how the network works.

Consider this detail from the Times writing of the Siena College poll:

“If Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Trump face off in the primary, the poll suggests that support from Fox News could prove valuable: Mr. Trump holds a 62 percent to 26 percent advantage over Mr. DeSantis in the Fox News viewers, while the gap between the two Floridians is 16 points closer to Republicans who primarily receive their news from another source. ”

Why is Trump’s fare better to Fox News viewers? In part because of self-choice: Trump supporters are more likely to opt to watch Fox News coverage than those who are skeptical of Trump. But it’s also because Fox News understands that its viewers want to see favorable narratives for Trump. When the network chose not to air the first hearing of the House committee, host Laura Ingraham described the decision is as important as supplying the network audience.

There was a moment when the Fox News narrative and Trump’s conflict were dramatically contradictory. After the 2020 election, the network reported the fact – that Trump had lost. But that doesn’t resonate with the network’s audience, and many viewers (though not na many) began to tune out. The path of least economic resistance is simply playing with Trumpism. After all, even if only 40 percent of Republicans are desperate for Trump’s return, that’s tens of millions of potential viewers of Trump-positive content.

Fox News is not the only conservative institution with this problem. The Republican Party itself has learned a lesson Trump has understood for years: His fierce support base is more than willing to open its pocketbooks when asked. The party has raised tens of millions of dollars using Trump’s name. It even raised money promoting Trump’s private business, the social media site Truth Social.

“How do you stay neutral when the single greatest money-raising driver uses Trump’s name?” a Republican official told Politico for an article exploring the party’s nature of conflict. How can the Republican Party remove itself from Trump’s cash flow when it is supposed to host a flawless contest with potential rivals? In 2020, the party is not ashamed to clear the field for Trump, then the incumbent. In the months before 2024, it reinforced Trump’s primacy as a Republican brand for its own purposes – whatever the possible impact once the main battle has begun.

Appropriately Trump’s biggest political force is the political economy he has created. Fox News-the most popular media outlet on the right-is disincentivized to undercut him. So is the party itself. Although his base is receptive to Trump-skeptical narratives (which some research shows), there are market forces that keep the narratives buried.

If Trump seeks the nomination in 2024, it’s unclear how the premiere will unfold. DeSantis was a strong candidate, but so was former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker at one point. What we can see in 2024 is a kind of funhouse-mirror version of what we saw in 2016: Trump with enough support to withstand early contests and be a consensus candidate. The difference is the Republican galaxy has tried to hinder its development, a school of tuna coming together for survival against a MAGA-hatted shark devouring them by morsel.

Now, the establishment is remoras, riding symbiotically with Trump, picking up what scraps the shark left behind.

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