The laws of electoral gravity still do not apply to Trump

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The writer is a pollster and political strategist.

The outcome of Donald Trump’s “secret money” trial could not have been more explicit: all jurors found him guilty of all charges, without exception or excuse. The first president accused of a serious crime has committed 34 of them, verified by his peers, in full public view.

And none of that matters. Trump has survived everything he has said and everything he has done. He has survived his own bad behavior. He has survived the worst criticism of him. The question a growing number of Americans are asking is: Can the country survive four more years of it?

Seat belt. It may be coming. At the verdict, people went to Trump’s websites desperately searching for campaign paraphernalia, and Trump himself enjoyed his best day of online fundraising, not just of his career but of his entire political career. Or, as the great huckster PT Barnum might have said, $53 million in campaign donations in 24 hours can’t be wrong.

The fact that Trump led Joe Biden in most national polls during the increasingly salacious trial should have been the early warning sign that even a guilty verdict would have little to no impact on the presidential race. What is now clear is that he is still in the prime of his political life, and the more chaos he creates around him, the better he will do. Every time the experts think, “this time he’s finally gone too far,” he doubles down on him, playing the victim card like a master magician, while his support increases.

As someone who makes a living understanding the influence of words, even I was stunned by the harshness of Trump’s latest outburst. Within minutes of the verdict, he referred to himself as a “political prisoner” on social media, claimed this was the “darkest day in American history,” trashed the trial for being “rigged,” accused the trial participants and the judge from being “rigged.” confrontational” and “corrupt,” and to the Biden Justice Department for “weaponizing his power.” And at that point, Trump supporters ate it up and regurgitated it on social media to tens of millions. The silent majority is now very loud and very proud.

Just seconds after the court decision was announced, I held two focus groups. While nearly all participants agreed with the jurors about Trump’s guilt, there were two significant deviations.

First, almost no one thought the case was worthy of the public spectacle it generated. Most thought that what Trump did is what companies do every day to hide his bad behavior. And while they didn’t support that behavior, they didn’t think it rose to the level of a public trial and the circus that surrounded it. They blamed the Biden administration for weaponizing the courts and legal system.

And second, while they agreed with the jury’s decision, they were nearly unanimous that Trump should not go to jail, even though he was found guilty on all charges. These were undecided voters who had supported Clinton or Biden at some point, but all but three said it would have absolutely no impact on their vote. Of the 19 undecided participants, only three changed their vote and were so reluctant that they recognized that they could change again.

For much of the last eight years, the former president has evaded or defied electoral severity laws, as well as the laws themselves. So far, no president in American history has said the things Trump said, or done the things he did and survived. His contempt for the legal system and those who seek to hold it accountable accurately reflects the hostility of his supporters toward the government and the elites who run it. And that explains his phoenix-like rise from the ashes of a failed re-election bid.

Trump’s rhetoric is often extreme and divisive, but in a polarized era, his insults don’t really matter and his voters enjoy the entertainment. They parroted his words in my focus group with the confidence of someone who knows much less than he thinks (or should know). Trump has convinced half of America that he is just an innocent bystander, that the prosecutions were no crimes at all, and that Sleepy Joe is simply trying to rig the election.

In the end, Trump being found guilty of 34 felonies has had no material impact on the election. Few Americans will ever read the indictments or the court’s detailed legal decision. Many more will get their interpretation of what happened from Trump’s own perspective. Worse still are the hysterical condemnations from pundits who clearly hate him and have hated him from day one. They have zero impact. Trump voters stopped listening to them years ago.

Once again, Trump’s staunchest critics prove to be ammunition for his most effective weapon: his own voice.

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