The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion When it rains on Donald Trump, it pours. And the deluge is just beginning.

Former president Donald Trump at the America First Policy Institute on July 26. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

If you’ve paid attention to much of the mainstream media coverage of the House Jan. 6 committee’s hearings, you might think the proceedings wouldn’t change anybody’s mind. In fact, public opinion does shift when the media covers an alarming story for weeks on end. (Recall how coverage of President Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal sent his approval ratings into a downward spiral from which he has yet to recover.) And with The Post’s bombshell report that the Justice Department is investigating defeated former president Donald Trump’s coup attempt, Trump’s loss of support and legal troubles will likely intensify.

The most recent CNN poll shows the percentage of Republicans who want Trump to run for president in 2024 has fallen six points from February, to 44 percent. The percentage of those who think President Biden legitimately won rose from 62 percent in February to 69 percent. The percentage who didn’t think Biden legitimately won dropped six points.

Some 79 percent of Americans think Trump acted illegally (45 percent) or at least unethically (34 percent). CNN reports, “Nearly all Democrats (97%) and a broad majority of independents (83%) say Trump acted unethically or illegally in trying to remain in office, but so too do a majority of Republicans (55%).” Sixty-one percent think he encouraged violence, and 77 percent think he could have done more to stop violence during the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

In a similar vein, a recent Morning Consult-Politico poll shows 63 percent of independent voters say Trump is at least somewhat responsible for Jan. 6, up from 56 percent in early June. The pollsters report, “The share of independents who now blame Trump for Jan. 6 is the highest on record, with the next highest share (60%) coming at the height of his second impeachment trial in February 2021.” Coincidentally or not, the poll also shows Democrats have their largest advantage over Republicans — 37 percent to 26 percent — on the congressional generic ballot, which measures which party voters want in control of Congress, since September 2021.

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It might have been hard for jaded Beltway reporters to imagine, but powerful evidence presented dramatically in a easily accessible way — along with steady amplification by the media — may well be draining Trump of his support and encouraging Republicans to look elsewhere for a leader. No wonder the right-wing editorial pages of the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, both Rupert Murdoch publications, have broken sharply with Trump. Trump of all people should understand how the aura of being a “loser” turns people off.

If you feel as though the pace of revelations has picked up, you’re not alone. On Tuesday, the New York Times published another blockbuster report regarding Trump’s phony elector scheme. The Times reviewed emails that show one lawyer involved in the scheme “repeatedly used the word ‘fake’ to refer to the so-called electors, who were intended to provide Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress a rationale for derailing the congressional process of certifying the outcome.” That’s classic “admissions against interest” — the sort of self-incriminating statements that light up prosecutors’ eyes. Plus, with more names popping up in emails, the pool of witnesses grows. The Post’s report also revealed that the Justice Department has the phone logs of senior Trump aides.

Once an investigation picks up steam, it often speeds up exponentially. Leads beget more leads. Witnesses put investigators on the trail of more witnesses. And in this case, the witnesses with the most knowledge of critical events (e.g., former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, chief coup architect John Eastman) have every reason to sprint to prosecutors to strike deals — before the others make their deals first. Remember also that there are three separate investigations underway: one conducted by the Justice Department, one by the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., and one by the Jan. 6 committee.

Indeed, some of the witnesses — including the now rarely seen Meadows, who avoided being charged with contempt of Congress — might have already begun cooperating with prosecutors. (Meadows was recently described by committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) as a “star witness” because “his texts that he did produce is the thing that really gave us the road map for where to go next.”)

The question now is not whether Trump will be exposed to criminal investigations but how far along and how fast they are moving. Meanwhile, the public’s view of his conduct grows ever more negative, with possible consequences for his party. If Trump feels a tad claustrophobic, it’s because the walls are closing in.