GOP Overwhelmingly Supports a Trump Conspiracy Theory, Yet Again

Aaron Blake / The Washington Post
GOP Overwhelmingly Supports a Trump Conspiracy Theory, Yet Again Donald Trump. (photo: Erin Schaff/NYT/Redux)

There remains no evidence that Biden was behind the Manhattan prosecution of the former president, but 80 percent of Republicans say otherwise.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Donald Trump is unhappy about the outcome of a proceeding. So despite a complete lack of evidence, he spends months claiming a concerted conspiracy against him, masterminded by his nefarious political opponents. He says this many dozens of times, despite firm denials from key figures and even some Trump allies. And by the end of it, 4 in 10 Americans come to believe in the vast left-wing conspiracy.

It happened with the idea that the 2020 election was stolen. It’s now apparently happened with the idea that President Biden was behind Trump’s recent conviction in Manhattan.

A new CBS News/YouGov poll gets at a question I’ve been hoping someone would ask for a while. It gauged just how many Americans buy into the still-baseless idea that Biden had something to do with the successful charges against Trump in Manhattan.

Turns out, it’s 43 percent — and 80 percent of Republicans. Those are the percentages who agree that the charges were brought because of “directions that came from the Biden administration,” rather than merely by “prosecutors in New York.”

A clear majority of Americans, 57 percent, don’t believe this. But the idea has taken hold in Trump’s base.

To be clear, there is no real reason to believe this. The theory largely rests on the fact that former top Justice Department official Matthew Colangelo joined the investigation in 2022. But Colangelo had previously worked alongside Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) in the New York attorney general’s office, where he had worked on Trump-related investigations before. It’s about as circumstantial and speculative as you can get.

Attorney General Merrick Garland last week firmly denied, under oath, that he had sent Colangelo to Manhattan. He denied any contact with Colangelo since he joined the D.A’s office.

Beyond that, this theory was also firmly rejected in recent weeks by no less than former Trump lawyer Joe Tacopina, who worked on Trump’s defense early in the Manhattan prosecution. He called the idea “silly” and “ridiculous.”

“Joe Biden or anyone from his Justice Department has absolutely zero to do with the Manhattan district attorney’s office,” Tacopina said in an MSNBC interview, adding: “We know that’s not the case, and even Trump’s lawyers know that’s not the case.”

“People who say that,” Tacopina told MSNBC, “it’s scary that they really don’t know the law or what they’re talking about.”

By Tacopina’s formulation, 4 in 10 Americans have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Trump’s base has come to believe something like this, despite the lack of evidence:

  • About 4 in 10 Americans and nearly 7 in 10 Republicans have said Biden didn’t legitimately win enough votes in 2020, even though Trump’s theories about this repeatedly fall apart under even modest scrutiny. (Trump backers have at least come to largely acknowledge there is no hard evidence for their belief.)

  • Just as a mere 20 percent of Republicans reject the Manhattan conspiracy theory, previous YouGov polling has shown only about 1 in 5 Republicans even acknowledge that Trump tried to overturn the 2020 election. (He most certainly did.)

  • A majority of Republicans have labeled the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection “mostly an Antifa-inspired attack that only involved a few Trump supporters.” (This is false.)

  • Half of Republicans have denied Trump even had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. And about half have said they were at least “probably” planted. (Trump has acknowledged having the documents; there is no evidence they were planted.)

Voters often come to believe wacky things that excuse their allies and implicate their foes. But the degree to which these things have become articles of faith on the right — literally — bears no modern precedent.

And the similarities between the Biden-Manhattan theory and the “stolen election” fever go well beyond the surface level. As then, Republican lawmakers don’t go as far as Trump in alleging an established conspiracy, but they do make a point to seed suspicion. Trump will say there are millions of fraudulent votes; they merely raise concerns about mail ballots and election procedures. He will say Biden was behind the Manhattan prosecution; they will merely raise questions about Colangelo.

Even at last week’s hearing with Garland, though, Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.) briefly conceded that this was a mere theory.

“You might not have had anything to do with that,” Fry told Garland, “but the perception is and the American people perceive that the Department of Justice is intimately engaged with this.”

We now have a number we can attach to that perception: 43 percent. It’s just that, as with so many of the above numbers, it’s largely based on one piece of highly circumstantial and dubious evidence: Trump said so.

EXPLORE THE DISQUS SETTINGS: Up at the top right of the comments section your name appears in red with a black down arrow that opens to a menu. Explore the options especially under Your Profile and Edit Settings. On the Edit Settings page note the selections on the left side that allow you to control email and other notifications. Under Profile you can select a picture or other graphic for your account, whatever you like. COMMENT MODERATION: RSN is not blocking your comments, but Disqus might be. If you have problems use our CONTACT PAGE and let us know. You can also Flag comments that are seriously problematic.

rsn / send to friend

form code