The one argument Democrats are hoping can persuade GOP voters away from Donald Trump

Democratic observers tell Salon they are rooting for Republicans to seize on the "Trump can't win" argument

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 23, 2023 5:45AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | United States of America cracking to pieces (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | United States of America cracking to pieces (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has announced that he will surrender to law enforcement on Thursday in Atlanta, where will be arrested and processed for crimes connected to his Jan. 6 coup attempt. A bond amount of 200,000 dollars has been set for the ex-president. On Tuesday, Trump "joked" on his Truth Social disinformation platform that perhaps he was going to flee to Russia and seek refuge with Vladimir Putin.

Trump has also been lashing out, lying and raging at the prosecutors, special counsel Jack Smith, President Joe Biden, the "deep state" and various other "enemies" as he shows (more) signs of publicly decompensating and manifesting impotent rage at not being able to fully control his destiny. For many pro-democracy Americans and other people who want Trump removed from public life, these indictments and the ex-president's unstable behavior are something to be happy about because they are seen as evidence that he is weakening and shaken. It is a sign that the country is one step closer to escaping the Age of Trump and all the troubles it has unleashed.

But, alas, those hopes must still be reconciled with inconvenient facts. 

Trump may be cornered, but by virtue of his temperament, upbringing, and overall personality, he will never quit or surrender. As Trump's biographers and others close to him have documented, the ex-president views life as a war and state of perpetual conflict, one that he is determined to win at all costs.

In an attempt to make sense of what comes next in this truly historic and unprecedented moment with Donald Trump and his criminal indictment(s) in Georgia, wishcasting and forms of denial by the country's news media and political elites about the true depth of the country's democracy crisis, and what potentially comes next, I recently asked a range of experts for their thoughts and insights.

Their answers have been lightly edited for clarity: 

Paul Street is an independent progressive policy researcher, award-winning journalist, and historian. His new book is "This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America".

I'm feeling disgusted, horrified, uncertain and hopeful all at the same time. I am disgusted that US American political culture is still dominated by the fascist leader Donald "Take Down the Metal Detectors" Trump. That someone as degenerate and sadistic as Trump is far and away the leading presidential candidate for one of the nation's only two viable parties after all the shit he pulled during and since his monstrous presidency ought to be widely understood as a great badge of national shame.

The Trump presidency was a fascistic nightmare (as I documented in my 2021 book This Happened Here) that predictably culminated in an attempted coup against US democracy, such as it is.  It's revolting almost beyond words that we are still in "the Age of Trump" and that this vile age could include a second Trump administration.

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It's sickening and scary that four indictments, including two federal ones and two for Trump's brazen attempt to subvert and cancel an election and install himself as an authoritarian ruler have not only failed to knock him off the top of the Republican ticket but have solidified his position as the rightmost party's frontrunner.

It's disturbing that Trump is tied with Joe Biden in the latest 2024 match-up polls – this in a country saddled with an ancient, democracy-flunking Electoral College system that requires the Democratic candidate to beat his Republican opponent by four to five percentage points in the popular vote to take or keep the presidency.

It's alarming that Donald Trump is promising vengeance against his political enemies if he regains power, that he has threatened and demeaned legal authorities trying to do their jobs in response to his fascist criminality ("IF YOU GO AFTER ME I'M COMING AFTER YOU"), and that he is now surrounded by an army of policy wonks who have worked up detailed plans ("Agenda 47") for the full Republican Party's fascist takeover of the executive branch and an unprecedented expansion of executive branch power.

"The truth is the vast majority of America is not following the Republican primary at all yet."

It is chilling to contemplate the dark potential of Trump regaining power alongside both the Christian Fascist Supreme Court that he and Mitch McConnell created and a Congress that could well fall under full right-wing control in 2025 – this in a nation where half the nation's powerful state governments are under neofascist/Christian white nationalist domination. Much of the Trump party's base is itching for civil war and in possession of a wildly disproportionate share of the nation's firearms including no small number of military style weapons

The uncertainty is due to the unprecedented nature of all this. We have little to go on from American history when it comes to predicting how this will turn out. We've never had a president who tried to use his office to cancel an election he lost, to try to stage a long rolling coup before, during, and after the election – to block the much-heralded "peaceful transfer of power." Donald Trump is the first U.S. president who tried to overthrow U.S. democracy and rule of law. And he is the first former president to face any criminal indictments at all, much less four sets of felony indictments including two sets resulting from his putsch attempt

I see a lot of evidence-free wishful thinking going on when I scroll around social media and listen to MSNBC and NPR. Many decent people seem to have convinced themselves that Trump is done because of the indictments. All good now, so back to sleep. Some of them seriously imagine Trump going to jail before the election and supposedly therefore being unable to run for the presidency. Many folks see the indictments as an impossible barrier for him. Lots of decent folks want to think that "the system" is working in ways that means they can, yes, finally say goodbye to Trump.

There are two problems here. The first difficulty is that the multiply accused rapist Trump is by no means checkmated by the American system. Trump is not yet faced with a single charge that would ban him from the White House if convicted.  He has turned the indictments into fundraising gold, no small matter under a plutocratic political system that has created "the best democracy that money can buy." Much of the country is numb to the Trump drama.   

It seems unlikely that Trump can be tried and convicted in time to stop him from regaining power and canceling all federal charges against him and from pardoning himself and others involved in his high crimes.

Meanwhile, the wannabe fascist strongman's opponent Biden looks more and more like a sitting duck with each passing day that the venomous, hate-spitting reptile Trump dominates the news. Biden's shockingly low approval numbers rival those of Jimmy Carter at the same three-year point in Carter's one-term presidency.

The archaic Electoral College is weighted to the right and the party of Trump is working hard to tilt the system further their way from the precinct level up with an army of legal weapons to be deployed during and after the 2024 elections.   

Jared Yates Sexton is a journalist and author of the new book "The Midnight Kingdom: A History of Power, Paranoia, and the Coming Crisis."

I'm concerned. Beyond concerned, actually.

While the indictments continue to mount, Trump's supporters are getting more and more desperate, and alertness is waning. This story that everything began with Donald Trump in 2016 and will simply go away if he's dealt with is one of the most dangerous narratives we've had. Targeted communities and people living in Republican-controlled states know this problem is only compounding and celebrating these indictments like they're Super Bowl victories instead of battles in a much, much larger theater of war is going to be the end of us.

Mark Jacob is the former metro editor at the Chicago Tribune.

Anyone who thought indictments of Trump would cause large numbers of Republican voters to instantly abandon him was fooling themselves. He's trained his supporters to accept criminality. He's trained them to ignore facts. But there will be a slow erosion. Eventually, people get tired of it. The question is whether that erosion will become pronounced enough to stop Trump from getting the nomination. The Republican Party is in a trick bag: The GOP leadership knows Trump is a loser, but the Republican base refuses to quit him.

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My biggest fear is that major news media get so caught up in the Republican political horse race that they forget that virtually all the GOP candidates are threats to our democracy and are out of step with what the majority of Americans want. If Trump's support starts to crumble and another Republican ascends the news media will be tempted to depict that person as a rising star rather than a rising fascist.

Major news media need to expose No Labels for what it is: an attempt to create a third-party bid in order to take votes away from Biden and help a Republican get elected. It seems obvious to me that this is what No Labels intends, but the media have such love of the horse race that they may not present it that way.

Rachel Bitecofer is a political analyst and election forecaster.   

I've argued this whole time that criminal indictments are likely to assert some gravity on Trump's bid for the Republican Party's nomination once we get deep into the fall of 2023 and primary voters begin to turn in. Folks point to Trump's expanded polling lead since the first indictment as evidence that indictments help, rather than hurt, him in terms of Republican voters but as an expert on presidential nominations I'd argue the verdict is still very much out about that. The bulk of people that will cast ballots in the Republican Party's 2024 primary have not tuned into this cycle yet and won't do so until late fall as the Iowa caucus gears up and the candidates start to debate.

It can be very hard for people who regularly follow current events and politics to accept the idea that the majority of Americans have not thought about it. But the truth is the vast majority of America is not following the Republican primary at all yet.

My assumption is that the closer we get to the Iowa caucus the more nervous Republican 2024 elections much or at all. Once the primary season gears up Republican voters will be hearing A LOT about the risk of losing to Joe Biden that comes with nominating Donald Trump especially when it comes to the suburbs and swing voters Republicans need to win back to have a shot at retaking the White House.

As an expert on human and mass behavior so I can tell you with great confidence that most humans at most times see their own interpretation of events as opposed to what is actually happening-that's part and parcel of the human experience! That said, for me, the most dangerous form of wish casting I see is the belief that the threats to democracy and the rule of law face will somehow disappear if Donald Trump loses the nomination. The cancer inflicting the Republican Party might have started with Trump, but it has metastasized throughout the entire Republican Party. Whether Trump is on the ballot in 2024 or not, democracy and the rule of law will be.

Jill Lawrence is an opinion writer and the author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock."

Donald Trump's four criminal indictments and the dozens of crimes they allege have unfolded like a piece of music building to a deafening roar—from hush money and business fraud, to possessing presidential records and obstructing recovery efforts, to conspiring to defraud America, disenfranchise its voters and obstruct the congressional vote to finalize Joe Biden's 2020 win, and, finally, the sweeping, 98-page racketeering indictment last week charging that Trump headed a "criminal enterprise" to overturn Biden's win in Georgia, with 18 named co-defendants and 30 unindicted co-conspirators. It usually takes time for developments to sink in with the public, but already there are signs that this spectacular pile-up could lead to an elusive, long-awaited tipping point.

Wishcasting and denial have been real problems, both in 2016 when I and many others assumed Trump could not win, and again in 2020 when we did not grasp his will to use lies, threats, schemes, and strong-arm tactics to keep power. But at the same time, at least right now, there's no reason to be a bed-wetter (Democratic strategist David Plouffe's classic term for nervous Nellies). In a Quinnipiac Poll released Aug. 16, 68% of Americans—including 58% of Republicans—said a person convicted of a felony should not be eligible to be president. By then Trump had been charged with 91 felonies in four months. In addition, nearly a quarter of Republicans in a Democratic poll shared with Semafor said the charges would make them less likely to vote for Trump – more than enough to swing a general election, according to the pollster, Joel Benenson.

One thing that sticks with me is a comment Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, made last week in Muncie the day after the Georgia indictment dropped. He said the GOP should move on from Trump and find another 2024 nominee, "someone who can actually win" the general election. I wrote in June that the "unelectable" excuse is a "moral cop-out," but now—after two more Trump indictments and two more months of tight Biden-Trump polls—I'm rooting for Republicans to seize on that craven and possibly wrong Trump-can't-win argument and cut him loose. Who would fill the vacuum? We may have a better idea after the first GOP debate on Wednesday. I just hope Ron DeSantis doesn't score a surprise triumph. I don't expect to agree with most Republican policy ideas, but I am looking forward to at least a few years of a party leader who isn't committing outrage after outrage against democracy, decency, or both.

Miles Taylor previously served as chief of staff at the US Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, where he published the widely read "Anonymous" essay in an attempt to warn the public about the extreme dangers that the now former president represented to American society. His new book is "Blowback: A Warning to Save Democracy from the Next Trump".

Donald Trump's fate should be decided in a jury box then the ballot box. But Americans shouldn't hold their breath. There are a lot of ways where could end up in political catastrophe — not just a bad political situation, but an actual constitutional crisis. We already have a leading candidate for the presidency who's out on bail, and in some scenarios, he could still be running while incarcerated. We are also going to see turbulence from third-party candidates entering this race, states preparing to disqualify Trump from the ballot, and more calls for violence on top of the spate of assassination plots authorities have disrupted against elected leaders, judges, and local officials.

If people thought 2016 and 2020 were bad, they ain't seen nothin' yet. This election could test democracy's guardrails like never before. But as always, the choice is ours.

Trumpism is bigger than Donald Trump. If he's tried, convicted, jailed, and disqualified from the presidency, it will be a false comfort. His movement has grown beyond his control and is now representative of the wider Republican Party. Look no further than the U.S. House, which is beholden to hyper-populist MAGA interests, rather than traditional conservatism. Senior GOP officials still tell me privately they're living in fear and worried the party will never go back to normal. That's music to MAGA ears — and should be focusing for us in understanding we have a generational challenge of rooting out political extremism.

Five years ago, I blew the whistle on presidential misconduct in The New York Times from within the Trump administration. I thought he was a dangerous aberration. I was wrong. Donald Trump is emblematic of a populist phenomenon that has taken down other democracies — and that we've been warned about for 2,000 years since antiquity. The solutions have also been heralded for that long. We need to urgently reform our democracy to reintroduce competition and choice and make it harder for anti-democratic politicians — who are unrepresentative of the moderate majority — to win races. If we don't, then we should be prepared to forfeit political freedom. Full stop.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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