It was 1998, and the House of Representatives had just approved two articles of impeachment for Bill Clinton’s “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
This followed months of blistering scrutiny by Congress and the national news media of Clinton’s sexual indiscretions — a claim of sexual harassment by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones and allegations of an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton, you’ll recall, was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.
At the time, these were still considered scandalous charges. The saga brought out several other unsavory and alarming allegations against Clinton, including other affairs, several claims of sexual assault and even one allegation of rape. It was humiliating for the country as well as for Clinton’s family.
But in a surprising twist, the embarrassment was short-lived. Clinton’s approval ratings skyrocketed. After coming into office in 1993, he’d spent his first term ranging from 36% to 64% approval. In his second, he stayed in the 50s and 60s. But after his impeachment, he reached his highest number yet at 73% approval — higher than Ronald Reagan’s highest. He left office with 65% approval, higher than any other departing president since Harry Truman.
Donald Trump is no Bill Clinton.
While he’s thus far avoided accountability for myriad alleged crimes, ranging from sexual assault to obstruction of justice, mishandling documents and election tampering, that’s all being put to the test as several investigations loom large over the presidential candidate, most immediately a potential indictment for paying off a porn star.
The posture coming from Trump and those in Trumpworld is that all of this is actually good for him, especially as he ramps up his 2024 campaign.
No one likes playing the victim more than Trump, after all. And to his undying supporters, the probing and prodding is proof of what Trump’s said all along — that “the deep state,” the Democrats, and the Department of Justice have it out for him. And, as one of his recent fundraising emails warns ominously, “If this political persecution goes unchallenged, one day it won’t be me they’re targeting…It’ll be you.” Trust me, Trump voters believe this deeply.
But for all the talk of “Teflon Don,” and Trump’s uncanny ability to glide effortlessly past scandals that would have ended anyone else’s career, an arrest for any of the alleged crimes he’s facing would not be politically good for Trump.
He’s tried turning this latest moment of infamy into a rallying cry for his base, as he’s done in the past. But today his current approval rating sits at a measly 41%, and his unfavorable rating at 54.8%. He’s down from a favorable 43.3% earlier this month, and 46% this time a year ago.
In the years since leaving office, the Jan. 6 insurrection, multiple investigations, and the documents raid on Mar-a-Lago have not done what Trumpworld insists, which is help Trump.
The insurrection, in fact, tanked Trump’s approval, going from a high of 49% in May of 2020 to just 34% in the weeks after he told his followers to march on the Capitol. Even among Republicans, he dropped 13 points.
The raid on Mar-a-Lago, where he was definitely not supposed to keep classified documents, wasn’t the political windfall he promised it would be.
“I don’t even like saying it, because frankly it sounds so trivial…” he said, “My poll numbers have gone through the roof because of” the search. “I’ve never been involved in an event that’s driven me up like this.” Except, that wasn’t true at all.
In the immediate aftermath, views of Trump — among Republicans and the country — didn’t statistically change.
On the day of the raid, Aug. 8, 2022, his approval was at 42%. One month later, on Sept. 8, he was at 40%. And today, remember, he’s still at 41%. No statistically significant change.
And inside his party, a few months after the raid a string of polls showed he was losing GOP support, not gaining it. In one poll he went from a high of 95% approval among Republicans in 2020, to dropping a whopping 30 points to 64% in December of 2022.
No one can argue, however, how good these scandals have been for lining Trump’s pockets.
Fundraising after the Mar-a-Lago raid earned Trump a million dollars a day for several days.
And his presidential campaign says its collected $1.5 million in grassroots fundraising in the three days since Trump said he was going to be arrested for the hush money claim.
Trump’s scandals may be profitable for him and may titillate his base. But they’ve been undeniably bad for his political prospects. With an election on the horizon, and any one of several potential indictments looming, no one should believe him when he says this is all good news.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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