Podcast / Start Making Sense / Jun 5, 2024

The Trump Verdict and the Pundits—Plus, Trump and Women Now

On this episode of Start Making Sense, Marc Cooper critiques the conventional wisdom, and Katha Pollitt comments on female voters.

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The Trump Verdict and the Pundits, plus Trump and Women Now | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

The punditocracy has been arguing that the guilty verdicts in the Trump trial won’t matter much in the election – Marc Cooper disagrees, and explains what’s wrong about the conventional wisdom. 

Also: The Trump verdict and women voters: Exit polls have consistently shown women voting Democratic, and men voting Republican – especially with Trump. How much wider will the Gender Gap get, now that Trump has been found guilty-of lying about having had sex with a porn star? Katha Pollitt will comment.

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Former president Donald Trump enters a news conference at Trump Tower following the verdict in his hush-money trial at Trump Tower, on May 31, 2024, in New York City.

Former president Donald Trump enters a news conference at Trump Tower following the verdict in his hush-money trial at Trump Tower, on May 31, 2024, in New York City.

(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The punditocracy has been arguing that the guilty verdicts in the Trump trial won’t matter much in the election. Marc Cooper disagrees. He’s on this episode of Start Making Sense to explain what’s wrong with the conventional wisdom.

Also on this episode: Exit polls have consistently shown more women voting Democratic, and more men voting Republican—especially with Trump. How much wider will the gender gap get, now that Trump has been found guilty of lying about having had sex with a porn star? Katha Pollitt will comment.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

AIPAC vs The Squad, Plus State Constitutions Protecting Rights | Start Making Sense
byThe Nation Magazine

The Israel lobby AIPAC is spending millions to defeat Representative Jamaal Bowman in the New York state Democratic primary. That’s because he called for a permanent ceasefire back in October, and describes what’s happening in Gaza now as “an ongoing genocide.” Alan Minsky has our analysis fo the campaign–he’s Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America.

Also: at a time when Republicans have a lock on the Supreme Court, state constitutions can provide a basis not only for protecting abortion rights, but for criminal justice reform,voting rights protection, the right to public education and even, in some states, the right to breathe clean air. Eyal Press reports.

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Jon Wiener: From The Nation magazine, this is Start Making Sense. I’m Jon Wiener.  Later in the show: The Trump verdict and women voters.  Exit polls has consistently showed women voting Democratic,and men voting Republican – especially with Trump. How much wider will the Gender Gap get,now that Trump has been found guilty–of lying about having had sex with a porn star? Katha Pollitt will comment. But first: the punditocracy has been arguing that the guilty verdicts in the Trump trial won’t matter much in the election. Marc Cooper disagrees.  He’ll explain why – in a minute.

[Break]

The punditocracy says Trump’s guilty verdicts won’t matter much to voters. Marc Cooper disagrees. He’s a reporter whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, Playboy, Rolling Stone, The LA Times, The Village Voice, The LA Weekly, and The Nation. He also taught journalism at USC. And his terrific weekly column, “The Coop Scoop,” appears at Substack. Marc Cooper, welcome back.

Marc Cooper: Thank you, Jon.

JW: The conventional wisdom is that the convictions don’t matter because everybody already knew everything about the Stormy Daniels payoff. It’s old news. In fact, everybody already knew what they thought about Trump long before this trial and these verdicts. They’ve been watching him for eight years. They’re either for him or against him, and neither side is going to change their minds because of this. What do you say?

MC: Well, I’d say that the pundits also told us that the case against Trump was very weak, that it was going to be difficult to prosecute it, that the jury would never be able to understand the upgrade of the misdemeanors into felonies, that it would be a side show that nobody cared about.
The only part the pundits were right about is that, fortunately for Mr. Trump, this was not televised. If this had been televised, everybody would’ve been watching it every day. So the amount of people who actually followed this is small, I think, relatively. But people get their news in a fragmentary way, most people. They don’t do it the way we see it on cable tv, where you’ve got four experts who sit around and say, “Well, on the 11th minute of the testimony, he said this and it meant that.” They get fragments.

Of all of the Trump scandals, if you will, of all of the Trump eruptions, I think this one has probably broken through more than others, and what’s broken through is Trump was convicted of 34 felonies. People may not know what they are or why, but that’s the one sentence that’s getting through the ether.

JW: Some people argue that yes, that is getting through the ether, but the convictions may help Trump more than they will hurt him. Brett Stevens wrote this in The New York Times on Tuesday – let me quote Brett Stevens – “Trump fiddled with the book seven years ago to cover up a tawdry affair more than a decade earlier. He got convicted in a case brought by a progressive prosecutor in a liberal jurisdiction through an obscure law. The verdict plays into Trump’s argument that the system is out to get him.” So this makes him even more of an outsider and a rebel, which will boost the turnout of his base, especially the resentful, young, working class, white men. You call them “the white men pickup truck faction.”

MC: All I have to say is that I have some sympathy for Brett Stevens. He’s got a column that he has to fill, and he has to fill it with something. This is really filler. He has no idea, and frankly, I don’t either. All I have is common sense. What we’ve seen so far is the following: In the primary period of the last three or four months, roughly 30% of Republicans don’t want to vote for Donald Trump, and they’re looking to put their vote somewhere. They put it with Nikki Haley, and now she’s with Trump. Ta-da. What a surprise. Do I think that 30% of Republicans are not going to vote for Trump? No, I don’t think that, but here’s what I do think. I think it defies all human logic to think about somebody who’s already thrown the country into turmoil, whether you supported him or not: he’s an agent of chaos. Here’s somebody who’s mentally and physically and emotionally exhausted the country for the last nine years, literally. Here’s somebody who is in a clear state of mental impairment. He’s not the same as he was even four years ago. He’s in trouble upstairs, big time. And you’re going to tell me that somebody like that who’s got 34 felony convictions, who’s still facing three more criminal trials, who’s already lost two of the biggest civil trials in recent history is somebody who’s going to be elected President of the United States?

Well, he was elected in 2016. That’s true. But in 2016, he was a clown. He was a clown with a nasty edge to him. That’s not who he is today. Today he’s a bitter, nasty, resentful downer. He hates America. He’s into his American carnage mode. Everything is terrible, everything is awful, and those kinds of candidates never win. The candidates who win presidential elections are the optimistic ones.

JW: Another argument made by pundits is that these convictions are insignificant because January 6th is his real crime, trying to overturn the election results. This was at The New Yorker. Alex Shephard called the verdicts disappointing. He said, “All of the investigations, grand juries, impeachments, indictments have culminated in this, the Stormy Daniel’s payoff?” He said, “This is insignificant.”

MC: All of this did not lead to that. There’s a lot of this that’s still going on, and this was the first one to come to a head. The big bone I would pick here is with Merrick Garland. I think Merrick Garland blew the first 18 months of this administration by sitting on his hands and doing nothing about the upper echelons of the Trump Administration. It was neck deep into January 6th. He did nothing about it until he was forced to by the congressional hearing. That’s what’s pushed all of this right up against the election. Now, if Trump wins the election, and I will definitely grant that’s a possibility, he might win. I don’t think so, but he might. If he wins, then all of this means nothing, and he’s home free, probably, though two of his trials are state trials and they’re not that easy to quash. The worst thing is he’ll be convicted in the state trials, and he’ll be sentenced to serve when he’s 83 and dead. Okay?

Look, it was nobody’s decision for this case to go first. This case was the least significant of them all, but it was still highly significant. And I’m going to say why. Charges were not as dramatic as the ones that are in the other cases, but the process revealed a Donald Trump that we kind of knew was there, but not to this depth. We really saw this guy for the last number of weeks, and it was not a pretty picture. And it revealed him at the top of a conspiracy with the National Inquirer to buy and suppress information. It’s quite serious when you’re dealing with an election. The evidence in this case is very clear, what this guy did, and it’s not as serious as what he did on January 6th, but is there some rule that you have to prosecute in descending order?

JW: Yeah, and it may be that this payoff to Stormy Daniels, quashing her story right after the Access Hollywood tape came out, it may be this was the little bit that helped get him those last few electoral votes that made him president.

MC: It’s certainly possible. All we know is that that’s what he was trying to do, and he was trying to do it in a corrupt and illegal way. If he loses the election, this is what it’s going to be the rest of his life, so his life is going to be spent in courtrooms and appeals.

JW: A couple more of the arguments out there from our friends in the punditocracy, and these are about what the Democratic strategy should be with this background. A lot of our friends argue that if the Democrats want to win, it’s a mistake to talk about Trump as a convicted felon. They need to focus on what Trump would do if re-elected, on the future, not on what he did seven years ago. And for a lot of voters, what’s important to them is the rising cost of essentials like food and housing. Trump’s conviction isn’t going to shift those voters’ concerns. So it’s important not to talk about the convictions that make him a felon. It’s important to talk about what he would do as president as opposed to what Biden would continue doing as president.

MC: [Laughter]  I laugh because none of that describes how that happens. What is it about talking trash about Trump now? What is it about that that causes a decrease in the vote for Biden? I don’t understand.

And the other thing is this: you can do both those things. You can talk about the past and the future, and the talk about what a Trump Administration would be like.  And here’s the word I’m going to use: the character of a president is very important, and that’s what’s made Trump so repulsive to so many people, not just his policies. I don’t even know what his policies are. He’s a repulsive person.

JW: Yeah.

MC: And he would be repulsive under any circumstances. I don’t want to sound like goody two shoes here, but we like to think of our president as being somebody who is not that embarrassing.

JW: Nice way of putting it.

MC: And both of these guys had their problems in that regard, but Trump’s character, this trial put his character on garish display for two months.

JW: And let me add one thing to that. The effect of the verdicts on Trump will be to exaggerate and increase all his worst qualities as a campaigner.

MC: Absolutely. I’m going to suppose the following: We’ve already seen that this sentence did not push 3 million people into the street demanding that he –

JW: Withdraw, that he withdraw from the race.

MC: Right. Which could have happened somewhere else, possibly. Okay, so there was not some immediate massive reaction. What I think there is, is there’s a very quiet, small crack in the hull of the battleship. And the oil is leaking out a little bit at a time, and that leak is going to open up over the next few weeks and over the next months.
He’s not going to lose support among his base. His base was not going to grow because of this. His base will be motivated by this, but they’re already motivated. It doesn’t matter. They don’t need this to be motivated.

You’re not going to tell me that a person under these circumstances is going to get more votes rather than less. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s just not going to happen. Trump, in order to win, is going to need the swing vote in those swing states. He’s going to need those nice suburban ladies from your state in Minnesota to vote for him, and the nice suburban ladies in Virginia and in Wisconsin and Michigan. And he’s doing everything he can right now to alienate them. If he loses, forget about losing 30% of the Republicans to the Nikki Haley voters, whoever they were. He can’t afford to lose 3%, which I will guarantee you is already lost.

JW: This is another argument that we are told: Okay, so some Republicans, suburban women especially, will not vote for him now because of the verdicts, but that doesn’t mean they will vote for Biden. They might vote for third party. They might not vote at all. What do you say to that?

MC: This all comes from Democratic bedwetters, people who spend all night worrying about this could happen, that could happen. Yeah, that’s right. That could happen. We haven’t talked about Bobby Kennedy either. Right? I want to be clear. I am not saying that Donald Trump has definitively lost the election. What I’m saying is that he’s probably lost the election because of these convictions and what’s going to come after that.

JW: If fewer people vote for him, he’s less likely to be elected.

MC: Of course, of course. Who would sit there and say, “Oh yeah, this guy’s in a great position now. He’s going to really be getting a lot more votes?” No, he’s not. That’s not true. It’s not true. It’s not going to happen. You don’t get more votes by being indicted and facing prison and being exposed to somebody who’s running this incredible conspiracy to suppress information about your sordid personal life.

JW: One last piece of pundit wisdom, my favorite piece: it doesn’t matter what people say now about Trump being found guilty of 34 felonies. The real verdict will be how people vote on November 5th, and so “it’s too soon to tell.”

MC: [Laughter] Well, yeah, that’s a good line. Journalists should use that line. It’s too early to tell, Jon. Everything you just said is true. That’s right. It’s too early to tell. We’ll know on election day, for sure. Well, maybe. That’s the other thing. We’re thinking only about who’s going to win. How about who loses? What happens when Trump loses? And what’s that going to look like? It’s not going to be that much fun.
I think you actually said the most important thing in our short conversation today, and I’m glad you said it because I overlooked it. The way it’s affecting him is very important. I was being funny about it, but he’s clearly got a bad case of impairment going on. He’s missing a lot of words. He’s missing a lot of sentences. He’s freezing up. He’s slurring. But apart from that, he’s out of his mind and very extreme and doing a great job of alienating exactly those people he needs to win.

JW: Marc Cooper — his column, “The Coop Scoop” appears at Substack. Marc, thank you. You’re really good at this.

MC: Thank you.
[BREAK]

Jon Wiener: The Trump convictions – guilty of 43 felonies in the Stormy Daniels payoff case – are all about the politics of gender. For comment, we turn to Katha Pollitt. Of course, she’s a poet, essayist, and award-winning columnist for The Nation. Her writing also appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The New York Times. We reached her today at home in Manhattan. Hi, Katha.

Katha Pollitt: Hi, Jon.

JW: Let’s recall what this was about: Right after the Access Hollywood tape came out in 2016, according to the testimony of Michael Cohen, Trump said, “Guys may think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign. Women will hate me.” And it was at that point that they got the news that Stormy Daniels was about to tell her story of sex with Trump. So, he paid for her silence. He won the election, narrowly. Trump, throughout this trial, insisted he never had sex with Stormy Daniels, and he never paid for her silence. She had some pretty convincing testimony that they did have sex. So, who sides with Trump here and who believes the woman? Let’s start with Trump’s family.

Throughout the trial, Don Junior and Eric publicly defended their father, but Melania and Ivanka never appeared at his side during the trial, never said a word in his defense. The evidence, of course, was that Trump had sex with Stormy Daniels about a month after Melania gave birth to their son Barron. Ivanka had a single post on Instagram after the guilty verdicts. You’ve seen it. Fox News described it as a heartfelt message to her father. “I love you, Dad,” the message read, along with a heart emoji and a picture of young Ivanka with her father. Is anything missing from Ivanka’s post about the Trump Stormy Daniels payoff verdict?

KP: “I believe you, Dad.” “You were railroaded, Dad.” “The whole thing was rigged, Dad.”

JW: Yeah, she didn’t say any of those things. And the silence speaks volumes, they say. So there’s a huge gender gap in Trump’s immediate family over the charges of paying off Stormy Daniels. On a broader stage, there’s growing evidence that even before the trial the gender gap in American politics had become, in the words of Thomas Edsall, a gender gulf. Much of this is from Tom Edsall’s New York Times column. Young men have repeatedly been found in recent years to be apathetic toward voting, while young women in recent election cycles are constantly turning out to vote at higher rates than young men. Do you have an explanation for this phenomenon?

KP: Well, again, to plagiarize from Tom Edsall, young women have a lot of reasons to vote. Dobbs, Supreme Court ruling striking down Roe v. Wade mobilized a lot of people. There was Me Too, going back a few years. And there’s Donald Trump himself who every day demonstrates his contempt for women and his fake pseudo hypermasculinity. Women see that, talking about rigged, the system is rigged against them and they’re at great risk, and that motivates them to vote.

JW: And of course, there are more women than men in this country. They make up a larger proportion of the electorate. They’re more motivated to vote and more likely to vote Democratic. And according to these polls, it’s not just abortion for young women, two other issues are also salient, climate change and guns. And young men express far less interest in climate change and guns. Why would that be?

KP: Well, I wonder that too. I guess the reason they wouldn’t be so against guns is they’ve all got them.

JW: Okay. And they’re going to protect their women with these guns.

KP: Oh yeah, right. If they don’t shoot their women, they’re going to protect them. As for climate change, I don’t know, because that’s something that falls on everybody. But I think that probably young men are a little more disbelieving about climate change because of they’re more likely to be right wing and to imbibe all that propaganda that it’s all not happening.

JW: I looked up the statistics on the gender gap in 2020, the starting point for where we are today. Biden plus 15, that means the gap between women and men in their percent vote for Biden is 15 points. For young women, that is women under 30, the gap is 35 points. Pretty incredible. However, white women voted for Trump plus eight points. And evangelical women, we know of course they’re Trump’s base, but the figure here is even more astounding, plus 43. Your comment?

KP: Well, I think if you look at the white women figure, that’s because of the evangelical vote. I think if you took out the evangelicals, you would find that white women, like other women, are Democrats. So it’s really Jesus’s fault. Really, what is he doing? What does he think he’s doing here?

JW: If only we could get him on the podcast, or one of his spokespeople.

KP: That would be great. But one thing that was very interesting in the stuff that I was reading around this subject is that, get this, “Young men,” says this person called Lampert, “are not necessarily conservative in a traditional sense. And in the United States, young men are still more freedom-oriented than older men,” whatever freedom-oriented is, “but are more geared toward ambition, bravery, honor, innovation, loyalty, success, wealth and luxury.” So in other words, men are more obsessed with power and money, and women are more obsessed with having control over their bodies and freedom to be who they want to be. Those are very different orientations.

JW: And the other big difference according to the polls is that, this is a quote, “Nearly half of young men believe that American society has become ‘too soft and feminine.'” And of course, these are the people who Trump is appealing to. And it’s true. The Democrats want to help you get medicine, help you get to the doctor, and Trump is more interested in other things.

KP: Yeah, there’s a top Trump ally, Charlie Kirk, and he says, I love this quote, “Birth control ‘screws up female brains’ and makes women bitter, angry, and unattractive to men. And it turns them into Democrats.”

JW: Worst of all.

KP: But really? So it’s all the fault of birth control. I mean, honestly, it’s like they’re reaching for just any crazy old thing to say. But the threat to birth control is quite real, and this is part of the whole package of why women should not have reproductive control.

JW: Yeah. And let me underline here, this is about birth control, not about abortion rights. On the question of the gender gap and Trump, I couldn’t help noticing the article in The New York Times about Trump’s first public appearance after his guilty verdict. It was Saturday night in Newark at the UFC, Ultimate Fighting Championship fight, where a virtually all-male crowd came to see what The New York Times described as “a brutal three-hour cage fight. A violent spectacle, blood-spattered brutish and brawny, where a fighter from California named Kevin Holland and a fighter from Poland named Michal Oleksiejczuk beat each other to a pulp, inches from Mr. Trump’s face. The former president watched with interest as the American got the Pole on the ground, secured his right arm, and appeared to yank it out of its socket.

The victorious American then emerged from the ring, walked over to Mr. Trump, bent down and shook hands, leaning into hear the former president tell him something, and clapped his left hand on Mr. Trump’s shoulder. That moment was projected onto the colossal video screens high above the ring. The crowd roared, Klieg lights swiveled onto Trump and his entourage, and the sound system amped up the base that was thumping now with The White Stripes revenge song, ‘I’m going to fight him off, a Seven Nation Army couldn’t hold me back.’ Trump stood up, stood around to face the crowd, pumping his fist, and the arena answered back, ‘USA. USA. USA.’”
Do you have any comment, Katha?

KP: Well, you just wonder how men and women are ever going to get married. Who would want to be married to these men? What is it – “the world must be peopled” – as in some famous play. I’m forgetting the quote.

JW: “The world must be peopled.” That’s from “Much Ado About Nothing.” I looked it up.

KP: The world must be peopled. and people have to get together somehow. Not everybody can be gay, lesbian, or something else. And you just wonder, how is it going to happen? There were just a few women in the thing, and they were for Trump, it mentioned in the article. They were for Trump too. And the thing that was amazing to me is the imperviousness of the Trumpees to anything bad about him. I suppose we’ll get a chance to see if the same thing is true of Democrats at the Hunter Biden trial. The difference being Hunter isn’t running for President.

JW: Yes. So it seems to us that the effect of the guilty verdicts will be that more women will vote for Biden, or at least fewer women will vote for Trump. Do you think we’re going out on a limb here?

KP: I think that is likely to happen. So then it’s going to be a question of turnout. Because when people are feeling depressed and anxious and like, “Oh, he’s so old, and what has he ever done for me?” Then they might just stay home. And here I want to say, Biden has done a lot. People don’t know this. They don’t know about the insulin, affordable insulin. They don’t know about changes in healthcare that benefit people. They don’t know how hard he’s tried to get student loans canceled, and the Supreme Court wouldn’t let him do that. But still, he does what he can in other ways. And here he is arguably trying to corner Netanyahu into some kind of a cease-fire. And I just think, what do people want? What would count as, “Oh, he did something for me”?

JW: And on the other side of the gender gap, the question is whether this trial verdict will increase his turnout among the young, especially white, working-class men who go to the UFC championship fight.

KP: Well, one of the words that was in the Tom Edsall article to describe young men was apathetic. So I’m always surprised around elections when people say, “Oh yeah, I meant to vote. I just forgot.” Or, “I would’ve voted if I’d known he was on the ticket.” People just say the wildest things. I mean, I’m not an expert of any kind. I’m trying to think of something I’m an expert in. I’m failing.

JW: Poetry. That’s something.

KP: Poetry. I’m extremely anxious, and the prospect of being this anxious all the way until November makes me depressed.

JW: Katha, I think many of our listeners are with you in your concluding remarks. Katha Pollitt’s column appears in The Nation Magazine. You can read it at thenation.com. Katha, thank you for talking with us today.

KP: Thank you for having me, Jon. It’s always a pleasure.

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