During the first hearing of the House Republican push to potentially impeach President Biden, Rep. Greg Casar (D-Tex.) asked his colleagues in the room a collective question.
“Will members of the Oversight Committee please raise your hand,” he said, “if you believe both Hunter [Biden, the president’s son] and [Donald] Trump should be held accountable for any of the indictments against them if convicted by a jury of their peers?”
Democrats raised their hands. Republicans didn’t.
It was obviously a trap, of course; Casar knew that he was putting his Republican colleagues in a difficult position. None of them would want to formally endorse holding Donald Trump to account after their whole party had worked so hard for so long to avoid that outcome.
But Casar also elevated a useful comparison. Democrats are much more willing than Republicans to say that wrongdoing by those on their side (or related to those on their side) should face any due consequences.
Polling conducted by YouGov for the Economist makes that clear using a different example. The poll surveyed Americans and asked their views on, among other things, perceptions of various elected officials. Among them was Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
You are likely to know why he was included. Earlier this week, Menendez pleaded not guilty to a breathtaking indictment in which he was accused of taking bribes and abusing the power of his office. If you have heard the term “gold bars” in the past two weeks, it’s either because someone was talking about the Menendez indictment or because you’re watching ads on Fox News in the middle of the day.
Despite the high-profile indictment, a lot of people have no firm view of Menendez, positive or negative. Among those that have an opinion, though, it very much tends to the latter.
We can adjust for this by determining the percentage of people who view the senator positively or negatively among those with an opinion. So we see that more than half of those with an opinion view him very unfavorably, including more than half of Republicans and just under half of Democrats.
But doing this adjustment also allows us to better compare Menendez with Trump. Trump, too, is viewed very unfavorably by about half the country (in his case, a bit less). But for Trump, views diverge widely by party. About 4 in 5 Democrats view Trump very unfavorably, as do about half of independents. Only 1 in 10 Republicans view the former president that way.
This is the divide Casar was getting at: Republicans do not view Trump the way Democrats view Menendez or Hunter Biden.
In part, this is a function of the difference in how each man came into the spotlight. Not only was Trump a celebrity before running for office, he was the face of the Republican Party in 2016 and 2020 and oriented his political approach around heightening loyalty to him, personally. He cast the various investigations into his business and his presidency as political efforts to take him down and inculcated a sense on the right that the Justice Department is biased against him and other Republicans (though those other Republicans have accumulated fewer indictments). Menendez is just … a senator, and one whose personal history has probably disinclined a lot of people from committing to the idea that his ethics are beyond reproach.
YouGov also asked other questions centered on Menendez and Trump. For example, the pollsters asked whether Menendez should resign — despite not having been convicted of a crime and despite his (subsequently) pleading not guilty to the charges. Nearly everyone who had an opinion said he should. Democrats were eight times as likely to say he should resign as he shouldn’t; Republicans were only six times as likely to say so.
Then we again contrast this with Trump. Last week, before the poll was conducted, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that Donald Trump had, through his company, repeatedly overstated the value of properties he owned. The misreporting was often flagrant, adding at times millions of dollars of value to documents that were provided to financial institutions to demonstrate his wealth.
Among those with an opinion, three-quarters of Americans thought that Trump had misreported his property values, including three-quarters of independents. Only a third of Republicans said he had done so among those with an opinion. A third of Republicans didn’t have an opinion on this question at all.
This isn’t an abstract question about whether Republicans would offer political support to Trump if he is convicted of a crime. This is a question about an issue in the news, something about which 6 in 10 Americans had an opinion. And Republicans were broadly willing to believe that Trump didn’t misreport the values of his property even though a judge — presented with evidence to that effect — determined he had.
That’s the divide. Democrats are happy to see Menendez leave in the face of allegations. Republicans are happy to give Trump a pass despite losing a court determination.
On only one side of the room, hands go up.