Robert Reich: The Trump Curse – OpEd


In February, Ron DeSantis led Donald Trump 45 percent to 41 percent in the Yahoo/YouGov poll. But Trump’s indictment has reversed the race. Just after Trump said he would be arrested, he moved into the lead — 47 percent to 39 percent. Now, after his arraignment, Trump’s lead over DeSantis has widened — 57 percent to 31 percent.

What’s going on? Trump’s high-decibel howls of anger and grievance and his vitriolic charges of a “deep state” aligned against him are rallying Republicans to his side. He is blaming his indictment on a racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory. He has threatened the judge, the prosecutor, and their families with violence. And of course he continues to repeat his Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

But the commotion isn’t increasing Trump’s odds of being elected president in November 2024. To the contrary, it’s reducing those odds. 

Remember, only about 28 percent of American voters identify as Republican. And as Republicans move back to Trump, another group of voters that will likely determine the outcome of the 2024 election is turned off by his vitriol. 

I’m talking about independents.

Those who describe themselves as independent compose over 40 percent of American voters — a larger percentage than either self-described Republicans or Democrats (see chart, below). This independent share of the voting population is on the rise, as young people decline to identify with either party. 

You wouldn’t know any of this from media coverage of politics, which focuses almost entirely on the deepening, bitter conflict between red and blue America. Hey, conflict sells. 

Not that independents are moderates. They simply dislike angry partisanship. 

Independents also oppose the Republican Party’s stances against abortion, transgender people, gun controls, and the climate.

In Wisconsin, where about the same number of voters have registered Democrat as have registered Republican, independents make all the difference. Tuesday’s victory of Judge Janet Protasiewicz — flipping control of the state’s supreme court to liberals for the first time in 15 years — was presumably due to independents who favor abortion rights and oppose the state’s radical gerrymandering.

Nationally, independents helped stop the “red wave” in the 2022 midterms (albeit by a slim margin of 49 percent to 47 percent), breaking their tendency to vote against the party holding the White House in midterm elections. Why? Because most independents loathe Trump and everything he has imposed on America — including an army of election deniers and an anti-abortion Supreme Court.

In 2020, independents preferred Biden over Trump, 52 percent to 37 percent.

True, independents haven’t been wildly enthusiastic about Biden. They’ve worried about the economy, and, like other voters, tend to blame or credit the occupant of the Oval Office for the economy’s performance.

When Trump’s star was fading and DeSantis’s brightening, it seemed possible that some independents might be drawn back to the Republicans in 2024. But if Trump is the Republican candidate, as seems increasingly likely, most independents will support Biden, as they did in 2020. 

Trump’s indictment (presumably to be followed by other indictments) is reminding independents of Trump’s broader attack on democracy that culminated January 6, 2021. (In the four weeks following the attack, so many voters abandoned the GOP that about 50 percent of Americans briefly identified as independents.) Trump’s latest rounds of incendiary posts and speeches are reminding independents that he represents everything they most detest about American politics.

So, as fast as Trump blasts his way to the Republican nomination, he’s turning off independent voters who will be crucial in the general election. 

The prospect of a 2024 contest between DeSantis and Biden might seem less terrifying than one pitting Trump against Biden, but the latter is more winnable by Americans — including independents — who favor democracy over autocracy.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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