Will Donald Trump's guilty verdict affect his 2024 election odds?

Political fallout of unprecedented verdict in New York criminal case remains to be seen

An anti-Trump protester outside Trump Tower, in New York, the day after a guilty verdict in the former US president's criminal trial. Reuters
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The conviction of former president Donald Trump on 34 criminal charges has led the US political process into uncharted waters, with questions swirling about its implications for his candidacy in this year's presidential race against Joe Biden.

Trump, the Republican candidate for president, remains eligible to campaign and serve if elected – but the situation is unprecedented and the political fallout is uncertain.

“We probably won't see the impacts of what this verdict really truly means until the fall,” Alyssa Batchelor-Causey, a Democratic research strategist, told The National.

The initial response from Republicans appeared to be mobilisation.

Republican leadership has largely portrayed the lawsuit as a witch hunt and has been using the verdict as a rallying call for the November 5 election.

“The people see right through [the verdict] … People are disgusted by this,” Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson said in an interview on Friday.

He said in a separate statement: “The American people see this as lawfare, and they know it is wrong – and dangerous. President Trump will rightfully appeal this absurd verdict – and he will win.”

There is no evidence that the trial was political or rigged, although Mr Trump’s defence has complained about a $15 donation Judge Juan Manuel Merchan made to the Biden campaign in 2020.

WinRed – a key Republican fund-raising site used by the Trump campaign – quickly crashed following a surge of activity in the hours after the verdict, with a high number of Google searches for “Donald Trump donation”.

This is a strong signal, but in terms of fund-raising, Republicans were already playing catch-up against the Democrats.

Although analysis has shown that fund-raising for the Biden campaign began to lag this month, the President has raised more than Trump throughout the campaign cycle.

Recent analysis by Axios also found that Democrat fundraising exceeds Republican efforts in congressional races this cycle.

Democrats have largely asserted the verdict is cause for faith in the justice system – with many party representatives emphasising the decision shows that “no one is above the law”.

Ms Batchelor-Causey believes this more muted response may be due to previous polls indicating that “the decision would have no effect either way on how people vote”.

After the landmark verdict, she says: “Democratic strategy needs to really remain on both highlighting what Democrats and the Biden administration have done over the last four years”.

Third-party presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy Jr, has accused Democrats of trying to defeat Trump “in the courts and not at the ballot box”.

Mr Kennedy told Fox News he believes the verdict will “backfire on the Democrats”, who have doubled down on establishment presidential candidates since 2016, while Trump has ridden on the coattails of anti-establishment populism.

“I think there's a large number of Americans who are going to see this as the politicisation or the weaponisation of the enforcement agencies,” Mr Kennedy said.

“The modern Democratic Party is trying to get rid of as many possibilities for voters as possible, and it's not a good thing.”

But the Biden campaign is saying the opposite, emphasising that “there is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box”, the campaign's communications director Michael Tyler said in a statement.

“The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater. He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution,” he added.

Representative Adam Schiff, one of the former president's most ardent congressional critics, moved to rally Democrats to take the fight to the ballot box.

“Justice prevailed today,” he wrote on X. “But it is up to us to make sure it continues to prevail.”

Ms Batchelor-Causey said Democrats feel “this is very much a campaign that we need to give our all to”.

The Biden campaign faces significant hurdles, including from the “vote uncommitted” protest movement in swing states, over the President's unflinching support for Israel as its military campaign in Gaza continues.

The Trump verdict has taken media attention away from Gaza and moved it to the uncertainty of the US political process, temporarily taking some pressure off Mr Biden.

But Ms Batchelor-Causey said the President's struggle in that arena is far from over.

She said the incumbent party cannot lose focus on its now-convicted opponent, either.

“It's really imperative that we don't underestimate [Trump]. He has a way of reinventing himself and trying to wiggle out of whatever situation he finds himself in order to make himself more appealing,” she said.

Updated: June 04, 2024, 10:42 AM