What Trump’s guilty verdict means for the 2024 election

Antonio Zurcher,North America correspondent

Getty Images Donald Trump applauds as a crowd of supporters applaud him.fake images

Donald Trump has campaigned on his claim that he is being unfairly prosecuted.

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction presents a remarkable collection of historical firsts.

He is the first former president of the United States convicted of a serious crime. He is the first presumptive candidate of a major party to also become a convicted felon.

The case against Trump was also a novel application of state and federal fraud and campaign finance laws, involving a hush payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election.

As Trump plans his appeal and awaits a sentence that could include prison time and a hefty fine, it is not too early to consider the potential political consequences of his conviction.

However, that may not be easy.

“We often look to history to find some kind of hint of what’s going to happen,” says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “But there is nothing in the record that even comes close to this.”

Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination in the primary election earlier this year and is set to top the party’s ticket – along with his vice presidential nominee – when the party holds its national convention in July. Polls indicate he is in a statistical tie with President Joe Biden and maintains a slight lead in many key states that will decide the election.

But those polls also provide evidence that this conviction could change all that.

In exit polls conducted during this winter’s Republican primaries, double-digit numbers of voters said they would not vote for the former president if he were convicted of a felony. Thirty-two percent of Republican voters in North Carolina’s March primary said Trump would be unfit for the presidency if he were convicted.

An April poll by Ipsos and ABC News found that 16% of Trump backers would reconsider their support in such a situation.

However, these were hypothetical convictions.

The former president faces three other criminal cases, related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House. All are delayed indefinitely, leaving this guilty verdict as the only certain outcome this year.

Doug Schoen, a pollster who worked with Democratic President Bill Clinton and independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says American voters may feel differently depending on this specific case.

“While it’s not a big deal to be convicted of a crime, what voters will be thinking about in November is inflation, the southern border, competition with China and Russia, and the money being spent in Israel and Ukraine.”

He adds that this conviction, because it concerned events that took place eight years ago, will not have the same political impact as the kind of convictions voters might have been imagining when they were surveyed earlier this year.

However, even a slight drop in support for Trump could be enough to matter in the kind of close race this presidential contest could become. If a few thousand voters who otherwise would have supported the former president stayed in a key state like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, that could make a difference.

“I think it will have an impact and hurt him as a candidate,” says Ariel Hill-Davis, co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, a group that has tried to distance the party from Trump.

She says younger voters and those who are college-educated and live in the suburbs have been concerned about Trump’s behavior and his approach to governing.

“Those voters are really hesitant to re-align themselves with the Republican Party led by Donald Trump,” he says. “The guilty verdict will further reinforce those concerns.”

What each side said in Trump’s closing arguments

For eight years, pundits and opponents have been predicting Trump’s imminent political collapse, only to be proven wrong. His 2016 presidential campaign was marked by gaffes and scandals that would have brought down a typical politician, including Trump’s taped Access Hollywood conversation about groping women that he referenced several times in his hush money trial.

Trump’s party largely stood by him through two impeachments and the chaotic end to his presidency, during which the US Capitol was attacked by a mob of his supporters.

All this did not prevent the former president from undertaking a political reactivation that will allow him to regain the White House in November.

“It’s axiomatic at this point, but Trump’s continued support, despite the kind of scandal that would have sunk literally any other previous candidate in American history, is truly astonishing,” Engel says.

This historic criminal conviction may turn out differently, especially if Trump’s appeals fail and he faces the prospect of prison.

Or it could simply be the latest in a long series of seemingly disturbing events that, in retrospect, have only been obstacles in Trump’s path to power.

Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, has developed a political model that has successfully predicted the winner of every presidential election since 1984. But he admits that Trump’s criminal conviction could be the kind of “cataclysmic and cataclysmic” turn. unprecedented” that throws the model for a loop and changes the course of history.

“The history books will record this as a truly extraordinary and unprecedented event, but much will depend on what happens next,” he says.

The final judgment on the significance of Trump’s conviction will come to voters in November. If the former president is defeated, his guilty verdict will likely be seen as one of the reasons.

If he wins, he may become a mere footnote in Trump’s tumultuous but consequential political career.

“History is written by the winners, as we all know,” says Engel.

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