Former US President Donald Trump once boasted that he could shoot someone in the middle of New York City and wouldn’t lose voters.
No one has accused him of that, but he stands accused of wounding democracy by trying to overturn the results of the 2020 elections through populist protests and trying to manipulate vote counts and electors
Yet as if to vindicate his claim, he has 62 per cent support in the Republican Party and a 2.3 per cent lead among all voters according to the latest RealClear Politics (RCP) aggregations of polls.
And, in a New York Times poll, 62 per cent of all voters said that he should remain on the ballot as the Republican candidate even if he is convicted of a crime.
The poll also gave Trump a 2 per cent edge over President Joe Biden, 46 to 44 per cent.
Trump faces four criminal cases and several civil cases and they will come to a head in the thick of the primaries and the election campaign next year.
His Achilles Heel is that according to the Times poll — 28 per cent of Republicans say that if he is convicted of a crime, he should not be the party candidate even if he wins the party primary.
In the general election, some of them – though a minority in the party – may not vote for him or not vote at all giving Biden a boost.
Trump’s future, though, now hangs in the scales of justice at the Supreme Court after two states barred him from contesting the Republican Party’s internal elections – the primaries and caucuses – for the presidential nomination.
The state court in Colorado and a state official in Maine invoked a contentious Constitutional provision barring officials who have participated in “insurrection or rebellion” against the nation from holding office.
A Michigan court, on the other hand, ruled he can be on the ballot.
Cases are pending in 14 other states against him contesting the primaries or the caucuses.
Trump’s lawyers are planning an appeal to the Supreme Court and its decisions will hold for the entire nation.
The nine-member Supreme Court has six conservative judges, three of them appointed by Trump, but regardless of its political orientation, the court may likely vote in his favour.
One of the arguments in his favour is the legal theory that he has not been found guilty of “insurrection or rebellion” in a trial before a court of law giving him due process.
The judges will also have to consider how the measure meant to keep out the rebels and insurrectionists of the 19th-century Civil War applies to a 21st century event.
The question of Trump’s eligibility has turned attention to his opponents in the race for the Republican Party nomination.
According to the RCP aggregation of polls, Nikki Haley is the strongest Republican candidate to defeat Biden with a 4.9 per cent edge over Biden – a Wall Street Journal poll gave her a 17-point lead – and she is surging in the polls.
That has put her under greater scrutiny and fierce attacks by both her adversaries and the Democratic Party which now sees her as more of a formidable foe should Trump get barred and she gets the nomination.
She is almost tied for the distant second place in the RCP aggregation just 0.3 per cent behind Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s 11.3 per cent, and in New Hampshire, which will be the second state to hold primaries, she is ahead of him by 13.3 per cent at 24.8 per cent.
Haley who has avoided the vicious personal attacks of the other candidates and taken a more moderate line on polarising issues like abortion – she says it should be left to the states, and realistically the Republicans won’t have enough votes to enact federal legislation – appeals to Democratic Party supporters looking for a palatable alternative to President Joe Biden.
In a sign that Republicans who oppose Trump are moving towards her, Haley picked up the support of the political network of the Koch brothers, right-wing billionaires who had funded campaigns on behalf of Trump and are behind the scenes a formidable political force on the right.
An official for their main organisation said in a memo to backers that according to their polls, “Nikki Haley is in the best position to defeat Donald Trump in the primaries” and is “by far the strongest candidate” against Biden, outperforming Trump in the key states.
But last week, Haley stumbled when she was asked at a meeting in Maine about the causes of the US Civil War, launching into a theoretical discussion of “the role of government and what rights people have”, instead of the textbook answer that it was slavery.
After taking flak for not mentioning slavery and refusing to engage with the questioner about it, she asserted that the person who asked the question was a “Democratic plant” sent to embarrass her and that she trying to go beyond the “easy part” that it was about slavery.
The gaffe has given ammunition to her rivals in the Republican Party and to the Democratic Party supporters to question her credibility, even though as governor of South Carolina, a conservative state that had supported slavery during the Civil War, she had ordered the flag of the pro-slavery breakaway nation during the war removed from the state legislature campus.
Within the Republican Party, should Trump lose the battle to be on the ballot, the calculus of how his votes split is murky, as also what happens to the supporters of DeSantis should he quit.
DeSantis may pick up more of Trump’s support and, should he quit, more of his backers may back Trump rather than Haley.
The Trump mystique in polls prevails for two reasons: His core base in the party and outside rages chaotically against what they perceive as the culturally and economically oppressive establishment and adding to their numbers are those who believe they and the country did better under his presidency.
A Pew Research Centre poll said that 65 per cent of Americans were “exhausted” and 55 per cent “angry” with US politics.
Trump’s campaign plays to them, revelling in the anti-establishment image of a “Bull in a China Shop”– a play on the popular phrase and on his trough attitude to Beijing — and declaring in ads that “Mr Nice Guy won’t cut it”.
A distinct class division has also emerged in US politics, and the billionaire businessman has taken the mantle of the leader of the relatively underprivileged.
In the primaries, 75 per cent of Whites without a college education, 84 per cent of non-Whites without a college education, and 77 per cent of those making less than $50,000 per year said they would vote for Trump, the Times poll found.
Biden, who is set for a rematch, has been undercut by the inflation, the mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal and the immigration crisis.
Inflation slowed down dramatically to 3.1 per cent last month compared to 7.4 per cent a year ago, and while that may seem like a glorious achievement to economists, the reality for average Americans is that they still pay prices far higher than they did during Trump’s presidency.
In the first three years of the Biden administration, a total of 5.3 million have been caught crossing illegally, amounting to about 1.6 per cent of the total population, the perception of the problem has deepened as they began moving from the Repubublican-dominated border states to the citadels of Democratic liberalism in the North that have begun to cut services for citizens to accommodate them.
In a New York Times poll this month, people ranked the economy (20 per cent), inflation (14 per cent) and immigration (10 per cent) as the most important issues before the country.