The emperor has no pants

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During a recent rally speech, Donald Trump asked why he’s still bothering to wear pants, and incoherently seemed to threaten to stop wearing them. That’s fitting, given that Trump has now become the would-be emperor who has no clothes.

For the past three-plus years, Trump has been a sore loser, a whiner, and a has-been who has been mired in endless legal trouble even as he’s increasingly struggled to retain any of his cognitive faculties. For awhile now he’s been a straight up joke. The only thing that’s kept everyone from laughing at him was that he was slightly ahead of President Biden in 2024 polling.

Anyone who closely follows politics, and understands how these things work, was never concerned about that. Incumbent presidents have a large natural advantage when running for reelection, but they don’t tend to see it in polling until later. Persuadable voters in the middle never love the current guy, and they think they want someone else until they ultimately remember that the next guy could easily be worse. And so they end up sticking with the current guy. They just don’t know this early on that they’re going to end up siding with the current guy.

But in terms of scariness, Trump being slightly ahead in the polls sure has been the scary narrative du jour. Can you imagine? No, you can’t imagine it. It would be that awful. And so Trump, just by being a point or two ahead in the polling averages over the past year, and being unimaginably awful, has remained relevant – until now.

Donald Trump’s felony conviction did precisely what we were expecting it to do. It didn’t impact his base, whose votes are already locked in (which is why they don’t matter to begin with). Instead it sharply impacted the two groups of swing voters: the one that hasn’t decided whether to vote for Trump or stay home, and the one that hasn’t decided whether to vote for Biden or stay home.

The numbers now clearly show that both of those swing groups have become much more anti-Trump as a result of his conviction. And that major shift within those two groups has moved Trump from a (supposed) slight favorite to just some guy who’s weighing down his own party.

You can feel the narrative about Trump shifting. It’s gone from “he’s going to win no matter what and we’re all doomed” to “why are the Republicans nominating someone who’s so non-viable?” Whatever evil stranglehold of a mystique he’s had for the past few years, it’s now suddenly shattered. He’s just a loser who’s losing.

In a practical sense not much has changed. As a result of his felony conviction, Trump has gone from being slightly ahead to slightly behind. We’ll have to see if he keeps falling further behind, what impact his sentencing has on swing voters, what impact his worsening dementia ends up having, and so on.

For now it’s just a couple point swing. But for Trump, whose entire remaining relevance has been based on the notion that he was somehow going to be more viable in 2024 than he was when he lost by seven million votes in 2020, it’s a bodyblow. It changes the entire narrative about him. Whatever momentum is, he now has the opposite of it. It puts his political viability into a downward spiral. As his entire life collapses, the only thing he had left to cling to was “at least I’m ahead in the polls.” Now he doesn’t even have that.

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