There is an expansive graveyard of scandals, gaffes and falsehoods that were at one point speculated to be catalysts for Donald Trump’s political demise. From his comments about immigrants in the first moments of his 2016 candidacy to the Capitol riot to nearly everything since, someone has theorized that this thing, maybe, might be the point at which Trump’s base of support finally crumbles.

As you are probably aware, it has not.

But Trump has never faced a situation like the one formalized earlier this month when the Justice Department obtained a federal criminal indictment against the former president. The lengthy indictment spelled out in detail Trump’s efforts to retain documents marked as classified, including his alleged attempts to subvert a 2022 subpoena. It is a unique situation, to put it mildly.

So, even for a weary, cynical public, the question arises anew: Could this actually hobble Trump’s political support?

And a new poll from CNN has an unsatisfying answer: Maybe?

The most important shift in the new CNN poll, conducted by SSRS, is in Trump’s favorability rating. In a poll that was completed May 20, Trump was viewed favorably by three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. In the new poll, that’s down to 65 percent. That 10-point drop is significant.

But it’s not reflected in other polling. The Economist’s poll, conducted by YouGov, shows less change over a similar time frame. Trump’s favorability with Republicans was down 2 points; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, his main opponent, saw no change in his favorability.

There’s an important distinction between those polls. The CNN figure includes both Republicans and independents likely to vote in a Republican primary. The Economist’s numbers are only Republicans. Among Republicans, the CNN poll shows a 6-point drop — suggesting that Trump lost more support from Republican-leaning independents than members of his own party. That comports with past polling that shows Trump’s opponents, particularly DeSantis, benefiting from the inclusion of independent voters.

CNN’s poll has other significant changes, too. In the horse race question — that is, which Republicans receive the most overall support — Trump dropped 6 points relative to May. Interestingly, DeSantis didn’t gain at all. Instead, other candidates (including former vice president Mike Pence) saw gains. That’s different from the long-term trend recorded in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average, in which Trump and DeSantis have consistently vacuumed up three-quarters of the vote. When one gains, the other loses. CNN is capturing something slightly different.

In part, it seems, that’s because while the percentage of possible primary voters who said they definitely wouldn’t vote for Trump jumped by 7 points since May, the percent who said the same of DeSantis ran in parallel.

Digging slightly deeper into the CNN numbers, there are more indications that the indictment isn’t necessarily going to doom the former president. Those who say they plan to support Trump are more likely than other Republicans (and people overall) to say they’re paying attention to news about the indictment. But even among possible primary voters who plan to support someone else, most give Trump the benefit of the doubt on the questions the indictment raises.

Notably, only about a third of those who right now plan to vote for someone else say that Trump did something illegal, that he put national security at risk or that he acted differently than had past presidents. Most of those not planning to vote for Trump say that he acted unethically but not at the risk of national security and not in an unusual way.

About half of possible primary voters say they plan to vote for someone besides Trump. A third of that group is about 18 percent of the total — not too far from the 23 percent who say they won’t vote for Trump no matter what. If that one-fifth of the primary pool is out of Trump’s reach, he can take some solace in the four-fifths still actively or open to voting for him.

It’s also worth noting that Trump’s position in the CNN poll is still an improvement over his numbers in March. Then, Trump had a 4-point lead over DeSantis. Now, it’s 21 points. Again: something in which to take solace.

Here we introduce the familiar caveat. It’s early. Things can still change. The indictment could spiral out of control for Trump. Et cetera, et cetera. In other words, this could still be the thing that finally erodes Trump’s base of support in the party.

Or maybe it’s just another stone in that ever-expanding cemetery.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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