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    Reagan’s great America shining on a hill twisted into Trump’s dark vision of Christian nationalism

    In August 1982, Ronald Reagan’s father-in-law was dying. Nancy Reagan’s beloved dad, Loyal Davis, was an atheist – a troubling fact to the 40th president. So Reagan penned a private, handwritten note in which he recounted how the prayers of colleagues and friends had cured him of a painful stomach ulcer.

    Giving hope for what lay beyond, Reagan entreated the older man, “We’ve been promised this is only a part of life and that a greater life, a greater glory awaits us … and all that is required is that you believe and tell God you put yourself in his hands.”

    For decades, some of Reagan’s critics have questioned his religiosity, noting he rarely went to church. But the missive to his father-in-law reveals a deep and heartfelt faith. That faith also factored heavily into his political stands and policies, as I discuss in my book “Righting the American Dream: How the Media Mainstreamed Reagan’s Evangelical Vision.”

    In recent years, Donald Trump, another former president and the current Republican presidential candidate, has often spoken about his faith, posing for photo ops with right-wing preachers and praising his “favorite book” – the Bible.

    The latest such demonstration was a video in which Trump promoted sales of a pricey US$59.99 version of the Bible. “Let’s make America pray again,” he urged viewers. “As we lead into Good Friday and Easter, I encourage you to get a copy of the God Bless the USA Bible.”

    While Reagan and Trump – two of the most media-savvy Republican presidents – used religion to advance their political visions, their messages and missions are starkly different.

    Why religion plays a part in politics

    In my book, I explain that underlying American politics is a religious vision that links citizens to civic values. The most prevalent vision is that God blessed America and tasked its citizens with spreading freedom and democracy. It’s an idea that has undergirded Americans’ patriotism and inspired American domestic and foreign policies for decades.

    Reagan telegraphed belief in a God-blessed America by describing the United States as “a shining city on a hill.” Reagan flipped the original meaning of a Biblical phrase from a 17th century Puritan sermon. In Matthew 5:14, Jesus warns that the world will judge whether or not his disciples, a symbolic city on a hill, stick to their ideals. By adding “shining,” Reagan sanctified American exceptionalism and the United States’ role as a global model of freedom.

    Reagan described the U.S. as a ‘shining city on a hill,’ signaling American exceptionalism.
    J. David Ake J./AFP via Getty Images

    Once elected, Reagan sought practical ways to apply his faith in freedom, which, like many evangelicals, he believed came from God. By cutting taxes, ending industry regulations and privatizing government functions, he hoped to give individuals more economic and political freedom.

    Reagan’s love of freedom also fueled his hostility to the Soviet Union. He labeled its communist government “an evil empire,” because it denied its citizens freedom. Casting a geopolitical stance as a cosmic battle between good and evil, Reagan made defeating communism a religious calling.

    I argue that Reagan’s evangelical vision was mainstreamed through the media, which reported his interviews and public statements. This vision was not always apparent, but Americans liked his policies even if they missed their religious dimension. In other words, when Reagan proposed allowing the free market to determine the economy, limiting federal power and standing up for democracy worldwide, one didn’t need to be an evangelical to agree.

    A new religious vision

    Trump saw an opening for a new kind of religiously tinged politics when he ran for president in 2016. But unlike Reagan’s vision of spreading freedom and democracy here and abroad, Trump’s vision sticks closer to home.

    I would argue that Trump’s religious vision is rooted in white Christian nationalism, the belief that the white Christians who founded America hoped to spread Protestant beliefs and ideals. According to white Christian nationalists, the founders also wanted to limit the influence of non-Christian immigrants and enslaved Africans.

    Likewise, Trump’s rhetoric, mainstreamed by the media, portrays “real” Americans as white Christians. Many of these are men and women fearful that secularists and religious, racial and ethnic minorities want to replace, if not eliminate, them.

    By most measures, Trump is not personally religious, although supporters contest that claim. But he has convinced conservative Americans, especially white evangelicals, that he is “God’s instrument on earth.”

    When confronted with his financial misconduct, sexual crimes and outrageous lies, backers say that God works through flawed men. And evidence of that work – the U.S. Supreme Court overturning abortion rights, building the border wall and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – has won him their support.

    Trump’s mainstreaming of white Christian nationalism is evident in his latest scheme. The God Bless the USA Bible sports an American flag on its cover. Included with scripture is the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Pledge of Allegiance and the handwritten lyrics to singer Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” A portion of the sales will benefit Trump’s organization.

    Christianity and nationalism hand in hand

    Former President Donald Trump and his faith.

    Trump rejects America’s role as the “shining city on a hill” and its mission to spread freedom and democracy. His goal is to restore what he calls the “founding fathers’ vision.” It’s a vision shared by Americans who think the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, despite proof to the contrary.

    Religion can be a force for good or ill. Reagan believed that his religious vision would promote individual freedom and spread democracy worldwide. Americans may agree or disagree on whether he was successful and at what cost.

    But Trump’s religious vision – one that hawks Bibles, disparages democracy and mocks governance – isn’t one that Reagan would recognize. More

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    Talking to Americans reveals the diversity behind the shared opinion ‘the country is on the wrong track’

    If you pay any attention to politics and polling, you have likely heard that your friends and neighbors are not very happy with the direction of the country. You might not be, either.

    One ABC News/Ipsos survey in November 2023 showed three-quarters of Americans believed the country was on the “wrong track.” Only 23% believed it was headed in the “right direction.”

    And the survey was not an outlier. Poll after poll shows a sizable majority of the nation’s residents disapprove of its course.

    Have Americans – long seen as upbeat, can-do optimists – really grown dour about the state of the nation and where it’s headed?

    The answer, we think, is yes and no. Or, to be more direct, as the researchers who run the American Communities Project, which explores the differences in 15 different types of community in the United States, we believe the surveys are asking a question with no real meaning in the United States in 2024 – a question that may have outlived its usefulness.

    An ‘astonishing finding’

    “Do you feel things in the country are generally going in the right direction, or do you feel things have gotten off on the wrong track?”

    That question or one very much like it is well known to anyone who has glanced at a poll story or studied the data of a survey in the past 50 years.

    Residents of both urban and rural areas said the U.S. was on the wrong track – but for different reasons.
    Seahorse Vector/iStock / Getty Images Plus

    These public opinion surveys, often sponsored by news organizations, seek to understand where the public stands on the key issues of the day. In essence, they tell the public about itself. Political parties and candidates often conduct their own surveys with a version of the “right direction/wrong track” question to better understand their constituencies and potential voters.

    The American Communities Project, based at Michigan State University, uses demographic and socioeconomic measures to break the nation’s 3,100 counties into 15 different types of communities – everything from what we label as “big cities” to “aging farmlands.” In our work with the project, we’ve found a strong reason to be skeptical of the “right direction/wrong track” question. Simply put, the divisions in the country have rendered the question obsolete.

    In 2023, we worked with Ipsos to survey more than 5,000 people across the country in all those community types. We asked the survey participants what issues they were concerned about locally and nationally. How did they feel about the Second Amendment? About gender identity? About institutional racism? We found a lot of disagreement on those and other controversial issues.

    But there were also a few areas of agreement. One of the big ones: In every community we surveyed, at least 70% said the country was on the “wrong track.” And that is an astonishing finding.

    Agreement for different reasons

    Why was that response so surprising?

    The community types we study are radically different from each other. Some are urban and some are rural. Some are full of people with bachelor’s degrees, while others have few. Racially and ethnically, some look like America as it is projected to be in 30 years – multicultural – and some look like the nation did 50 years ago, very white and non-Hispanic. Some of the communities voted for President Joe Biden by landslide numbers in 2020, while others did the same for Donald Trump.

    Given those differences, how could they be in such a high level of agreement on the direction of the country?

    To answer that question, we visited two counties in New York state in January that are 3½ hours and several worlds away from each other: New York County, which is labeled a “big city” in our typology and encompasses Manhattan, and Chenango County, labeled “rural middle America” in our work, located in the south-central part of the state.

    In 2020, Biden won 86% of the vote in big metropolitan Manhattan, and Trump won 60% in aging, rural Chenango.

    When we visited those two counties, we heard a lot of talk of America’s “wrong track” in both places from almost everyone. More important, we heard huge differences in “why” the country was on the wrong track.

    “If something don’t change in the next election, we’re going to be done. We’re going to be a socialist country. They’re trying to tell you what you can do and can’t do. That’s dictatorship, isn’t it? Isn’t this a free country?” said James Stone, 75, in Chenango County.

    Also in Chenango County, Leon Lamb, 69, is concerned about the next generation.

    “I’m worried about them training the kids in school,” he said. “You got kids today who don’t even want to work. They get free handouts … I worked when I was a kid … I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. I wanted to be on my own.”

    In New York City, meanwhile, Emily Boggs, 34, a theater artist, bartender and swim instructor, sees things differently as she struggles to make ends meet.

    “We’ve been pitched since we were young, that like, America is the best country in the world. Everyone wants to be here, you’re free, and you can do whatever you want,” Boggs said. “And it’s like, well, if you have the money … I’ve got major issues with millionaires and billionaires not having to pay their full share of taxes, just billionaires existing … It’s the inequality.”

    A lifelong New York City resident, Harvey Leibovitz, 89, told us: “The country is on the wrong direction completely. But it’s based upon a very extreme but significant minority that has no regard to democracy, and basically, in my opinion, is racist and worried about the color of the population.”

    As a stand-alone question, ‘Is the country going in the right direction or on the wrong track’ is not very helpful.
    3D_generator/iStock/Getty Images Plus

    Opposite views in same answer

    To be clear, we are not saying that asking people about the direction of the country is completely worthless. There may be some value in chronicling Americans’ unhappiness with the state of their country, but as a stand-alone question, “right direction/wrong track” is not very helpful. It’s the beginning of a conversation, not a meaningful measure.

    It turns out that one person’s idea about the country being on the wrong track may be completely the opposite of another person’s version of America’s wrong direction.

    It’s easy to grasp the appeal of one broad question aimed at summarizing people’s thoughts. But in a complicated and deeply fragmented country, a more nuanced view of the public’s perceptions of the nation would help Americans understand more about themselves and their country. More

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    How rightwing beliefs shape your view of the past – while leftwingers look to the future

    The division between right and left around the world has rarely felt more polarised. Of course there have always been differences between people on the different ends of the political spectrum, but now it seems they are living in different worlds entirely. This is perhaps related to the tendency for those on the right to focus on the past and to strive for a world that once was and the tendency for those on the left to do the opposite.

    Take two of the most famous political slogans of recent times: Barack Obama’s “Yes we can” and Donald Trump’s “Make America great again”. While Obama’s message evokes glimpses of a prosperous future, Trump’s expresses a nostalgic outlook towards the past.

    In the UK, the successful Brexit campaign, which was largely led by conservatives, famously called on people to “take back control”, while the Labour party has just launched its local election campaign under the slogan “Britain’s future”.

    The pattern is similar around the world. In South Africa, the rightwing Freedom Front Plus has recently carried the slogan “Stop the decay”. For the upcoming presidential elections in Mexico, the leftwing National Regeneration Movement is mobilising voters with “United for the transformation”.

    In a recent study, I explored whether, within the general public, people on the right evaluate the past, present, and future differently compared to people on the left. I asked a sample of 1,200 people to judge different periods of history.

    They were asked about the period from 1950 to 2000, the present day and the near future (by giving their view on what society would look like in 25 years). I drew participants from the US, UK, Italy, South Africa, Mexico and Poland – countries with different economies, cultures and political regimes.

    Labour looks to the future.

    In every country, rightwingers evaluated the recent past more positively than leftwingers. In the US, Poland and the UK, by contrast, leftwingers were more optimistic about what humanity could achieve in the near future.

    Interestingly, the effect on the left did not emerge in Italy, Mexico, and South Africa. Therefore, while the right’s more positive view of the past seems to be shared across countries, the left’s higher optimism does not.

    The glorious past

    In one experiment for the study, a group of participants was prompted to look more favourably to the past. These participants did not appear to be more open to rightwing opinions after having done so. This suggests that the connection does not run in this direction. Being more nostalgic about the past does not predispose people to endorse rightwing beliefs.

    On the other hand, another experiment encouraged a group of participants to freely reflect on their political opinions. Rightwing participants from this group became more nostalgic about the past when given this prompt.

    Leftwing participants became less so. This suggests that endorsing rightwing opinions at the start leads people to be more nostalgic, while endorsing leftwing opinions does the opposite.

    One last experiment explored nostalgia in more detail. Here I considered two potential forms of nostalgia. Some people may be nostalgic about traditional communities, about the old hierarchical order, about stronger family ties and about traditional culture. Other people may be nostalgic about the state of the economy, hearkening back to a time when governments tended to intervene more.

    Is the right nostalgic about tradition, the economy, or both? In my experiment, it was people on the left, not the right, who were more nostalgic about the economy. Those on the right had greater nostalgia for tradition.

    The data does also show that the economic nostalgia on the left is not as strong as the nostalgia for tradition on the right, explaining why the right can, overall, be considered more nostalgic than the left.

    These findings help explain why it’s so common for rightwing politicians to appeal to voters with promises to take them back to the good old days, and for leftwing slogans to mobilise voters towards building a better future – and perhaps offers lessons to those politicians who’d like to reach across the divide. More

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    Albanese’s ratings surge in YouGov poll; Tasmanian poll suggests difficult to form government

    A national YouGov poll, conducted February 24 to March 5 from a sample of 1,539, gave Labor a 52–48 lead, unchanged since an early February YouGov poll. Primary votes were 37% Coalition (up one), 32% Labor (steady), 15% Greens (up two), 6% One Nation (down two) and 10% for all Others (down one).

    Anthony Albanese’s net approval jumped ten points to -6, with 50% dissatisfied and 44% satisfied. Peter Dutton’s net approval was down two points to -10. For the first time since the Voice referendum, Albanese’s net approval is higher than Dutton’s. Albanese led Dutton by 48–34 as preferred PM (45–38 in February).

    By 86–14, respondents supported Australians having a right to disconnect from work outside outside of hours. Dutton has said he would overturn Labor’s right to disconnect legislation if elected.

    On this pledge, 35% said they were less likely to vote for the Coalition, 17% more likely and 48% no difference. These “more likely/less likely” to support a party given X questions usually exaggerate the issue’s salience.

    In another encouraging national poll for Labor, the Morgan poll gave them a 53.5–46.5 lead, a 3.5-point gain for Labor since last week. Primary votes were 36.5% Coalition (down 1.5), 34% Labor (up 2.5), 13.5% Greens (up 1.5), 3.5% One Nation (down 1.5) and 12.5% for all Others (down one). This poll was conducted February 26 to March 3 from a sample of 1,679.

    The large majority of both the YouGov and Morgan polls’ fieldwork was before the Dunkley byelection. If this byelection had an effect on voting intentions, it won’t be part of these polls.

    Dunkley byelection near-final result

    With almost all votes counted in the federal March 2 Dunkley byelection, Labor won by 52.7–47.3, a 3.6% swing to the Liberals since the 2022 election. Primary votes were 41.1% Labor (up 0.8%), 39.3% Liberals (up 6.8%), 6.3% Greens (down 4.0%), 4.7% for independent Darren Bergwerf (up 0.9%) and 3.1% Animal Justice (up 1.0%).

    The primary votes of both major parties, but especially the Liberals, benefited from the absence of the UAP and One Nation, who had a combined 7.9% in 2022. The Greens’ result was poor.

    The swing to the Liberals was below the 6.1% average swing against the government in a government-held seat at a byelection. Owing to the loss of the sitting MP’s personal vote, government-held seats swing much more than opposition-held seats.

    An early February uComms poll for The Australia Institute had given Labor a 52–48 lead in Dunkley. A mid-February YouGov poll had given the Liberals a 51–49 lead.

    Tasmanian Redbridge poll: difficult to form a government

    The Tasmanian state election is on March 23. A Redbridge poll for The Financial Review, conducted February 16–28 from a sample of 753, gave the Liberals 33% of the vote, Labor 29%, the Greens 14%, the Jacqui Lambie Network 10% and independents 14%.

    Tasmania uses the Hare Clark proportional representation system, with 35 total lower house seats elected in five seven-member electorates. A quota for election is one-eighth of the vote or 12.5%.

    Analyst Kevin Bonham’s seat estimate from the Redbridge poll is 13–14 Liberals, 10–12 Labor, 4–5 Greens, 2–3 JLN and 2–6 independents. While the Liberals would be the largest party, it would be difficult for either major party to reach the 18 votes needed for a majority.

    There were two polls taken in the first week of the election campaign that had the Liberals much better placed to form a minority government.

    NSW Resolve poll: Coalition support surges

    A NSW state Resolve poll for The Sydney Morning Herald, presumably conducted with the federal Resolve polls in December and February from a sample of 1,035, gave the Coalition 38% of the primary vote (up six since November), Labor 34% (down two), the Greens 12% (down one), independents 12% (steady) and others 5% (down two).

    Resolve doesn’t give a two party estimate until close to elections. The SMH article says “Labor is trailing the Coalition”, but the likely effect of preferences would give Labor about a 51.5–48.5 lead according to The Poll Bludger. Resolve’s polls have usually been much better for Labor than other polls, but the February federal Resolve poll had a slump for Labor.

    Labor Premier Chris Minns had a 35–16 lead over the Liberals’ Mark Speakman as preferred premier (35–13 in November).

    NSW Secularists’ national YouGov poll

    The Secular Association of New South Wales has sent me details of a national YouGov poll conducted for them. This poll was conducted February 15–21 from a sample of 1,087.

    By 55–45, respondents said they were not aware that their state has its own constitution separate from the federal constitution. Those who said they were aware of their state’s constitution were asked if they had seen or read it. Just 13% said they had read their state’s constitution, which is 6% of the overall sample.

    For the third and final question, voters were told that Australia has no formal recognition of separation of government and religion, then asked if they would approve or disapprove of a constitutional amendment to formally separate government and religion in their state.

    Voters approved of this proposition nationally by 51–20. Smaller subsamples in the eastern seaboard states had approve leading by 48–21 in NSW, 48–22 in Victoria and 50–21 in Queensland. The history of referendums suggests caution, as often big poll leads for a proposal collapse before referendum day.

    US Super Tuesday confirms it’s Trump vs Biden

    I covered the March 5 United States Super Tuesday primaries for The Poll Bludger. Donald Trump had big wins, and will win the Republican nomination after Nikki Haley withdrew. Joe Biden also dominated the Democratic primaries. In national general election polls, Trump is usually ahead by low single-digit margins.

    I also covered the February 29 United Kingdom Rochdale byelection for The Poll Bludger. George Galloway, who has attacked Labour from the left for a long time, won after Labour’s candidate was disendorsed but still appeared on the ballot paper as the disendorsement was after the close of nominations. More

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    Joe Biden has raised more than Trump so far – here’s how US election fundraising is working out

    Americans spend mind-blowing amounts of money on their elections. According to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in the 2016 presidential election cycle the candidates spent a total of US$1.6 billion (£1.2 billion). This rose to US$4.1 billion in the 2020 cycle, and it is likely to be much higher in the current election campaign.

    Donations to presidential campaign funds come from individuals, political parties and political action committees (Pacs). The latter pool contributions from supporters to promote or oppose candidates, as well as raising money in the first place. They are legally independent from the campaign funds raised by candidates and parties, but they act in concert with them, for example, by funding ads which support the policies and positions taken by their candidates.

    Political campaigns in the US are very expensive because they run on for a long time and involve costly advertising. As soon as a new president is elected, preparations begin for the midterm congressional elections two years later, as well as the next round of presidential primaries.

    The FEC updates the figures on money raised and spent on the 2024 presidential election campaign on a continuous basis. At the time of writing the 2024 presidential campaign has already raised a total of just over US$397 million by all the candidates, and spent just under US$294 million since January 2021. The Republicans have raised US$225 million and the Democrats $103 million.

    As regards spending, the Republicans have spent US$191 million and the Democrats US$48 million on the 2024 election campaign so far. These sums do not include the money raised by congressional and state-level campaigns, but just relate to presidential hopefuls.

    The big discrepancy between the two parties in spending is because Joe Biden has no significant rivals for the Democratic party nomination, but the Republicans started out with nine candidates certified by the Republican National Committee. Spending by these hopefuls adds to the total raised.

    Around 18% of the population gave money to a candidate or a party in the presidential election contest of 2020, according to the American National Election Study. It is likely these small donations from individuals are largely motivated by their attachment to a party or a candidate.

    Donations from corporations to Pacs supporting the candidates often reflect a strategy of “hedging”, or giving money to both sides in order not to upset the winner if they back the loser. For example, the OpenSecrets website which tracks money in US politics, shows that Exxon Mobile gave 58% of its political donations to the Republicans and 42% to the Democrats (in 2020).

    Costly challenges to Trump

    Donald Trump is facing a number of different challenges to his fundraising. By mid February he had raised less money than the president, and there are some signs that January’s fundraising was particularly strong.

    The FEC data shows that Biden has raised around US$92 million so far in this year’s campaign, whereas Donald Trump’s total is just under US$85.3 million. This represents the Biden and Trump totals out of the money spent by all presidential candidates up to this point.

    Biden has raised more than Trump in the presidential campaign 2024, so far.

    In the 2020 election, Trump’s voting support was unsurprisingly strongest in the Republican-supporting states, which tend to be poorer than Democratic-supporting states. This means that he is likely to get less money from individual donations than Biden.

    The gap between incomes in “red” (Republican) and “blue” (Democrat) states has been growing over time, so this problem is likely to get worse as the election approaches.

    Another problem for him is that so-called “dark money” donations from rich individuals in 2020 overwhelmingly favoured the Democrats rather than the Republicans. Dark money refers to anonymous donations from the very wealthy via organisations described as “super Pacs”. In 2020 these donations exceeded US$1 billion, so they are really important.

    According to OpenSecrets, Biden received US$174 million of dark money compared with only US$25 million for Trump. This premium for Biden may be even larger than in 2020 if, as seems likely, Trump gets the Republican nomination.

    One interesting development is that Haley has been receiving significant sums from rich donors in her challenge to Trump for the Republican nomination. Even though her bid is a long shot, these donors clearly prefer her to Trump.

    Finally, Trump is facing US$83 million in fines following a guilty verdict from a New York jury in a sexual assault case against columnist E. Jean Carroll. In a second case relating to his business empire in New York, the judge has ruled that fraud was committed and fined him a total of US$355 million.

    The FEC is keeping a close eye on campaign finance, so he will be well advised to resist the temptation to use campaign funds to pay off these fines, since this would be illegal.

    Overall, this means that the ex-president is likely to be outspent by a large margin by Biden’s campaign. But does this make a difference to the election outcome?

    Recent research confirms consistent findings that campaign spending in US elections has a significant impact on support for candidates, although it tends to mobilise people to vote rather than to switch support between candidates.

    This means that the more the Democrats outspend the Republicans in the 2024 campaign the greater the chance that Joe Biden will beat Donald Trump, or vice versa. More

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    Donald Trump faces half a billion dollars of debt and several court cases. But that may not stop him from becoming president again

    The verdicts keep coming.

    On Friday US time, the three-month hearing focused on Donald Trump’s business dealings in New York came to an end. Trump was ordered to pay back more than $US350 million (A$537 million), plus interest. He and two of his associates are banned from directing any business in New York for three years. His two sons, Donald Jr and Eric Trump, have also been handed two-year bans, and ordered to pay US$4 million (A$6.1 million) each.

    In his judgement, New York Judge Arthur Engoron gave his own insight into the Trump phenomenon, describing what he saw as a “complete lack of contrition and remorse” that “borders on pathological”.

    While Engoron was referring specifically to business fraud in New York, the judge’s observation might also apply to Trumpism writ large.

    Coverage of the case and its stunning end has consistently focused on Trump’s celebrity – after all, he built his national profile on the back of his supposed business acumen, trading on his long stint as host of the popular television show The Apprentice.

    Read more:
    Should Donald Trump be disqualified from state ballots in presidential election? Here’s how the US Supreme Court might rule

    The results of this civil case certainly seem to poke holes in the image of Trump as a consummate businessman. Combined with the money he owes as the result of his loss of a second civil defamation trial brought by E. Jean Carroll, Trump is now in upwards of half a billion dollars of debt. It’s not clear where this money will come from, or what will happen to Trump’s existing New York businesses.

    This has led some commentators to argue this most recent case represents a “stunning”, “devastating” and “shocking blow” to the image of Trump as a successful real estate mogul better placed than anyone to run the world’s largest and most important economy.

    The pathology of Trumpism

    It is certainly possible to argue Trump’s reputation as the embodiment of rugged American entrepreneurship played an important role in his successful bid for the presidency in 2016. At least some of his support was drawn from the sense that a political outsider and ruthless businessman would shatter the stale consensus of establishment politics.

    But if it were possible to make that argument eight years ago, it is less convincing now.

    Read more:
    Does Trump actually have to pay $83.3 million to E. Jean Carroll? Not immediately, at least

    Trump’s celebrity profile was, of course, critical to his campaign. His rise to political prominence, though, came not so much as a result of his reputation as a successful businessman, but on the back of his unabashed peddling of racist conspiracy theories about the first Black president.

    Trump’s ability to tap into a particularly American form of racial revanchism – his political acumen in marrying conspiracy, racism, and political grievance in an increasingly unequal society – is what brought him to power. It is what sustains him still.

    The pathology of Trumpism revolves around his politics, not his personal economics. It at least partly explains why this latest case, plus the 91 separate felony charges in four criminal cases, are unlikely to affect Trump’s political support, particularly with his base in the Republican Party.

    That base is too far down the road Trump began mapping out when he staked his political reputation on the argument that a Black man could not possibly be qualified for the presidency of the United States. Even a half a billion-dollar hole punched through his business reputation will not change that.

    Trump’s extensive Republican base will likely be unperturbed by the latest judgement against him.
    EPA/Randall Hill

    Nothing, or everything, might change

    That does not mean, however, that continued support for Trump is inevitable.

    In another New York courtroom this week, a judge ruled that Trump’s first criminal trial will begin in just over a month. On March 25, for the first time in American history, a former president will face criminal charges in court.

    In what will likely become the first of four possibly consecutive criminal trials, Trump will face a potential six-week hearing on his efforts to cover up politically damaging information about his relationships with two women in advance of the 2016 presidential election. Dubbed the “hush money” case, this trial represents more than the sordid dealings of an alleged serial adulterer; it represents, arguably, the beginning of a pattern of deliberate election interference that began even before Trump took office.

    If it goes ahead as planned, a late March trial date will likely mean these hearings will barely be over before the next set begins. The classified documents case, centering on Trump’s alleged illegal removal of highly classified documents from the White House, is scheduled to begin in Florida in late May. Scheduling for the other two cases, focused on on Trump’s role in the January 6 insurrection and election interference in the state of Georgia, remains unclear.

    Read more:
    Donald Trump’s stroll to victory in Iowa was a foregone conclusion. This doesn’t make it any less shocking

    None of this has ever happened before. There is really no telling what it will mean for Trump, his campaign, or American democracy more broadly.

    Polling suggests that a criminal conviction may dent Trump’s national support. It is certainly possible such a conviction (or convictions), combined with eye-watering levels of debt, and the sheer logistics of conducting a national campaign amid multiple criminal trials, will have an impact.

    But the pathology of Trumpism has so far proven resistant to what should be crushing blows.

    The verdicts will keep coming. Trump may well, too. More

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    US Senate passes US$95 billion aid package for Ukraine – what this tells us about Republican support for Trump

    After months of wrangling, the US Senate has finally passed Joe Biden’s US$95 billion (£75 billion) foreign aid package. Ukraine is the destination for almost two-thirds of the aid, with US$14 billion set aside to assist Israel’s war against Hamas, and US$10 billion destined for humanitarian aid in conflict areas, such as Gaza.

    The bill passed the Senate by 70 votes to 29, with 22 Republicans joining the Democrat majority. But two Democrats and Bernie Sanders, the independent senator for Vermont, voted against the bill because of its support of Israel.

    The split in the Senate illustrates the divisions among both parties on the subject.

    Republican senators originally voted against a much larger bill (US$118 billion). They demanded that any foreign aid package must be dependent on increased funding for security on the US southern border with Mexico, and declared the proposed bill was insufficient to address concerns there.

    But when former president Donald Trump came out against the bill, even with the financial support for border control measures, Republicans were divided. Trump called the bill a “horrible, open borders betrayal of America,” and vowed that he would “fight it all the way”.

    Republican support for the bill was led by Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell. McConnell has always been supportive of Ukraine, claiming it is in the US interest to support Ukraine. After passing the bill, McConnell argued: “We equip our friends to face our shared adversaries so we’re less likely to have to spend American lives to defeat them.”

    McConnell’s advocacy was enough to get the bill through the Senate, although his position as leader has been severely weakened by the number of GOP senators who defied him on the aid package.

    McConnell’s support for Ukraine puts him in direct opposition to Trump. Last year, Trump said he could end the war in Ukraine in just one day if he was reelected, indicating he would push the US towards a more isolationist position.

    The former president doubled down on this with a statement at a rally in South Carolina on February 11, where he declared he would refuse to support Nato members who failed to pay their way, and that he would encourage invading nations “to do whatever the hell they want”.

    This is not a new position for Trump, who has regularly talked about pulling US support for Nato. But, as with his position on the Ukraine aid package, not all Republicans support his views.

    Senator Josh Hawley, a staunch supporter of the former president, said that Trump was right to criticise those nations that did not pay 2% of their GDP towards the upkeep of Nato. But he added that the US should live up to its commitments and that if Russia “invaded a Nato country, we’d have to defend them”.

    Unsurprisingly, Utah’s Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a long-time Trump critic, said on the Senate floor: “If we fail to help Ukraine, we will abandon our word and our commitment, proving to our friends a view that America cannot be trusted.”

    It is too early to know whether – and to what extent – Trump is losing the support of some of the Republican party. But there definitely appears to be a division along foreign policy between the former president and some Senate Republicans.

    What is clear is that the majority of those opposed to abandoning Ukraine – and who supported the bill through the Senate – are made up primarily of national security hawks and former veterans.

    Now for the House

    Even though the bill has passed the Democrat-controlled Senate, it will have an extremely tough time in getting through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. McConnell has already reached out to the House speaker, Mike Johnson, to ensure that it will get a fair hearing, but there are questions about whether the bill will even reach the floor.

    In an interview with US politics website Politico, McConnell asked Johnson to “allow the House to work its will on the issue of Ukraine aid”.

    At loggerheads: House speaker Mike Johnson (right) and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (centre) are at odds over sending aid to Ukraine.
    AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

    House Republicans have called the bill a “waste of time” and “dead on arrival” in the lower chamber. House support for the war in the Ukraine has fallen, especially as Republicans have begun to scrutinise the details of US assistance to Kyiv.

    Johnson has declared that the bill will not even get a reading without sufficient provisions for security on the US southern border. “National security begins with border security,” he said. “We have said that all along. That has been my comment since late October, it is my comment today.”

    Johnson’s refusal to get the bill on the floor of the House is understandable. House Republicans that oppose the bill believe that if it does get a reading then there is enough of a majority among moderates in both parties for it to pass. Republican representative Andy Biggs, a member of the Trump-supporting Freedom Caucus, told one talk radio host: “If it were to get to the floor, it would pass.”

    This is a not a sign that Trump’s influence on House Republicans is dwindling. But it shows there is still just enough bipartisan support for Ukraine for bills such as this to pass Congress.

    Johnson is now at the centre of what will be a parliamentary issue. If he refuses to allow the bill to be read, then it may make it onto the floor through a “discharge petition” brought about by a bipartisan majority.

    This is a mechanism by which matters can be brought before the House without the sponsorship of the majority leadership. It would undermine Johnson’s position as leader of the House and deeply divide the Republicans in an election year.

    The Senate passing the bill is a small victory for the pro-Ukraine lobby – but there could be many twists and turns before it gets voted on in the House, if it does at all. More

  • in

    Are you seeing news reports of voting problems? 4 essential reads on election disinformation

    In certain circles, the 2020 presidential election isn’t over – and that seems to be at least a little bit true. In recent weeks, official reviews of election records and processes from the 2020 presidential election have reported findings that might be used to spread rumors about voting integrity.

    For instance, election officials in Virginia’s Prince William County announced on Jan. 11, 2024, that 4,000 votes from the 2020 presidential election had been miscounted. None of them changed the results. Those miscounts gave Donald Trump 2,327 more votes than he actually got, and Joe Biden 1,648 votes fewer. Errors in counting turned up in other races, too, with both parties’ candidates for U.S. Senate being given fewer votes than they actually received, and a Republican who won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives actually won by a slightly larger margin than previously reported.

    An audit of South Carolina’s 2020 voting records released in mid-January found no fraud and no indication any election results could have been different with the errors that were identified. But the report did recommend election officials cross-check lists of registered voters with other state lists more frequently than they have done in the past. Death reports and prison inmate rolls can help them determine who should remain eligible to voter and who should be removed from voting lists, the report said.

    The Conversation U.S. has published several articles about the systems protecting election integrity. Here are four examples from our archives.

    A Trump campaign poll watcher films the counting of ballots at the Allegheny County, Penn., elections warehouse in 2020 in Pittsburgh.
    Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

    1. Changing numbers are evidence of transparency, not fraud

    The news reports of election audits came, originally, from election officials themselves, who specified they were below the small margins that would have triggered recounts. The reports also offered explanations for what had happened and how to fix it in the future – and included statements that at least some of the problems had already been fixed for upcoming elections.

    That’s an example of what Kristin Kanthak, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, was talking about when she explained that election results that change over time aren’t inherently a problem:

    “(T)his doesn’t mean the system is ‘rigged.’ Actually, it means the system is transparent to a fault,” she wrote.

    Read more:
    How votes are counted in Pennsylvania: Changing numbers are a sign of transparency, not fraud, during an ongoing process

    2. Easier voting is not a threat to election integrity

    Erecting obstacles to voting will not prevent the problems that do exist in the election system, for the simple reason that the flaws are not a result of easier voting methods, such as early voting and voting by mail.

    Grinnell College political scientist Douglas R. Hess observed that the COVID-19 pandemic was a massive test of whether a secure election could be held with a lot of accommodations that made voting easier, and safer from the spread of disease.

    As he wrote,

    “(E)arly voting and voting by mail are targeted for restrictions in many states, even though both reforms are popular with the public, worked securely in 2020 and have been expanded in many states for years without increases in fraud. Likewise, the collection of absentee ballots – a necessity for some voters – can be implemented securely.”

    Read more:
    Making it easier to vote does not threaten election integrity

    3. It’s possible for election workers to be both partisan and fair-minded

    For many years, elections have been run by people who were members of one political party or the other but behaved in good faith to run fair elections, wrote Thom Reilly, a scholar at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs.

    But both the facts and the rhetoric have changed, he explained, noting that a significant share of the electorate is not a member of either party – so the people who supervise elections, who are typically party members, are “an increasingly partisan set of officials.”

    Even so, many of them work hard to conduct fair elections. Yet, he wrote,

    “(W)idespread misinformation and disinformation on election administration is hobbling the ability of election officials to do their job and has created fertile ground for mistrust.”

    Read more:
    Good faith and the honor of partisan election officials used to be enough to ensure trust in voting results – but not anymore

    A poll worker helps a voter cast a ballot in the Kansas primary election at Merriam Christian Church on Aug. 2, 2022, in Merriam, Kan.
    Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

    4. Beware those who aim to confuse or mislead

    Political disinformation efforts are particularly intense around elections, warn scholars of information warfare Kate Starbird and
    Jevin West at the University of Washington and Renee DiResta at Stanford University.

    Situations to watch out for are those in which “lack of understanding and certainty can fuel doubt, fan misinformation and provide opportunities for those seeking to delegitimize the results,” they wrote.

    Specifically, look out for:

    “Politically motivated individuals (who) are likely to cherry-pick and assemble these pieces of digital “evidence” to fit narratives that seek to undermine trust in the results. Much of this evidence is likely to be derived from real events, though taken out of context and exaggerated.“

    They provide a reminder to keep your wits about you and be sure to double-check any claims before believing or sharing them.

    Read more:
    5 types of misinformation to watch out for while ballots are being counted – and after

    This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives. More