Donald Trump is a convict. Voters will decide whether it matters

Election Day is the only decision of consequence for the former US president, and there's every chance his conviction will help him with his true believers

Former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump prepares to speak to the press after he was convicted. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Donald Trump is a convicted felon. A jury of his peers found the Republican presidential candidate guilty of falsifying business records in a sordid case dating back to a one-night stand he maintains he didn't have with an adult film star in 2006.

The verdict came as something of a shock. Pundits had been speculating for weeks that a mistrial was likely because of some of the convoluted testimony from the government's star witness, Michael Cohen, a convicted perjurer.

But in the end, it only took the jurors, at least one of whom was presumed to be a Trump supporter, less than 12 hours to reach a verdict in a case the former president had repeatedly claimed was worthless and never should have been brought.

The speed of the verdict in New York appeared to blindside “Teflon Don”, who seemed tired and crestfallen as he lumbered from the courtroom to decry his 34 felonies and the entire case against him as “rigged” by the Biden administration and a “disgrace”.

“The real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people,” Trump told reporters. “I'm a very innocent man.”

He's right. Election Day is the only decision of consequence for Trump, and there's every chance his conviction will help him with his true believers, who take at face value his claims that all the criminal cases against him are politically motivated.

After all, it didn't matter that Trump tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election, or that he was found liable of sexual assault and defamation, or that the Trump Organisation was convicted in a criminal fraud scheme.

Surely, therefore, it won't matter that Trump must forever carry the mantle of being the first US president to be convicted of a felony.

But if we delve a little deeper, it's not quite so simple.

An ABC/Ipsos poll this month found that if Trump were to be convicted of a felony in this case, 80 per cent of his supporters would vote for him anyway.

That, however, leaves 16 per cent who said they would reconsider their support, and 4 per cent who said they would withdraw it.

Though Trump is pulling ahead of President Joe Biden in nationwide polls, a potential loss of support from 20 per cent of Republicans would see the deeply unpopular, 81-year-old Democrat get a second term despite his disastrously inept campaign.

The election will probably be determined by a few thousand votes in a few swing states, so even a small movement of voters could have an impact.

At least one Trump supporter appears to have looked at the evidence against him and decided he should be convicted: the juror who said he gets his news from Fox and Trump-owned Truth Social platform, a febrile echo chamber of far-right extremism and cultlike homages to the former president.

Trump says the case is far from over and he will almost certainly appeal, but for now at least he bears the stain of being the first former or sitting president to be convicted of a crime, surpassing even Richard Nixon's ignominy.

Perhaps Trump will have better luck at one of his upcoming trials on more serious charges of election interference and mishandling classified documents, though the Republican-skewed judiciary may quash these cases before Trump stands trial.

As has been oft noted, there's almost literally nothing Trump can do wrong in the eyes of his ardent Maga (Make America Great Again) supporters.

To refresh memories of just a few outrages that only boosted his standing among his fans: he said some of the racists at a white nationalist rally were “very fine people” in 2017, he called US troops and service members killed in the Second World War and Vietnam “suckers” and “losers” and he called for (and largely implemented) the “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US.

Trump famously said it best in 2016, when he proclaimed: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK.”

On November 5, Americans will decide whether they agree with him.

Published: May 31, 2024, 2:12 AM