Undecided voters fear Trump will never leave office if he wins

Gun Rights

During his National Rifle Association speech last weekend, Donald Trump mused about serving a potential third term as president if he wins in November.

“You know, FDR 16 years—almost 16 years—he was four terms,” Trump said of Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I don’t know, are we going to be considered three-term? Or two-term?” Trump quipped, echoing other times he’s pondered staying in office indefinitely.

The lengthy tenure of Roosevelt, who helped guide the country out of a suffocating depression and eventually into World War II, led to the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which prohibits presidents from serving more than two terms.  

But Trump’s jaunty meditations on being “president for life” are proving to be a real concern among swing voters this cycle.

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A recent swing state focus group conducted by Sarah Longwell, a conservative anti-Trump strategist and host of The Bulwark’s Focus Group podcast, demonstrated pervasive unease with the notion, according to Bloomberg News’ Joshua Green.

The sentiment arose after the focus group moderator asked, “Does anybody think he may not abide by the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution and leave office after the 2028 election? Anyone worried about that?”

Seven of the eight participants raised their hands. 

“I wouldn’t put it past him, now that he owns the RNC,” said one man from Pennsylvania, “to say, ‘Don Jr. is going to do the next term, and he’ll get two. And then Barron will get two.’ And we’ll just have some fake monarchy.”

Democratic strategist Seiji Carpenter also stumbled upon the theme organically while running focus groups of voters who cast a ballot for Joe Biden in 2020 but were considering defecting this cycle.

“We were talking to Latino men and Asian American Pacific Islander women in battleground states,” he recalls, “and they went straight to the issue of ‘what if Trump won’t give up power?’”

Carpenter, vice president of David Binder Research, said it wasn’t something they were looking for because it has never come up in past cycles.

Trump drew numerous headlines when he first began considering being president for life, saying that it “sounds good.” But as he began campaigning for a second term, joking about serving “16 more years” and “12 more years” became a regular riff  for Trump in his speeches. 

Ultimately, Trump’s supposed light-hearted ribbing culminated in a real attempt to violently overthrow the U.S. government on Jan. 6, 2021, and retain power despite having been voted out of office.

But the insurrection isn’t the only issue weighing heavily on these voters’ minds, according to Carpenter. The Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs ruling, which reversed Roe v. Wade, has left voters contemplating what other fundamental freedoms that they once assumed to be ironclad might be at risk, too.

“The dimensions of what constitutes a credible threat have expanded because of Roe,” Carpenter said. “Since that decision, you hear voters talking themselves out of the notion that an idea is too far-fetched.”

At rallies and in interviews, Trump loves to joke about being a “dictator,” and trampling term limits is a sure crowd-pleaser among the MAGA faithful. But a critical group of swing voters isn’t laughing, according to interviews with strategists from across the political spectrum.

In 2020, Biden won undecided voters by roughly 2 to 1 over Trump, which certainly helped tip swing states in his direction. Exit polls in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia also showed that Biden netted several points over Trump among voters who switched sides from 2016 to 2020 (i.e. Trump-turned-Biden voters and Clinton-turned-Trump voters). So party switchers alone likely made up the winning margins in several swing states.

The Biden campaign needs to make as many disqualifying things stick to Trump as possible, and his murky stance on abortion and even contraception is now them.

But concerns about Trump refusing to leave office appear to be baked in among undecided voters and are perhaps even more widespread. An April Siena poll for The New York Times found that voters viewed Trump as “a unique threat to democracy” over Biden by a 13-point margin, 41% to 28%, including a 10-point margin among independents.

So one viable avenue for swaying these voters could be attacking Trump over his obsession with being “president for life” and asking voters why a second Trump term would be any different when the last one ended in a deadly insurrection.

Like many Republicans, Donald Trump has tried to sidestep the issue of abortion and reproductive rights. But he stumbled during an interview with a CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh this week, promising an “interesting” new policy that would let states restrict contraception..

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