Trump Verdict Makes Everyone Look Bad

June 06, 2024

Both the Trump and Biden campaigns seem to believe the former president’s conviction Thursday helped them. Both would be smarter to emphasize the New York verdict a lot less.

As expected, Donald Trump declared he was the victim of “a rigged trial” that was “very unfair” and presided over by “a conflicted judge.” The outcome galvanized his supporters: His campaign and the Republican National Committee raised a record $53 million in the first 24 hours after the verdict.

Also unsurprising, Joe Biden seemed delighted to be able to call Mr. Trump “a convicted felon,” a phrase Democrats will repeat endlessly. When asked about the verdict as he left a White House press conference, Mr. Biden silently gave the cameras a lengthy smirk. Not a smart move unless you want to leave the impression you were responsible for the conviction.

It’ll take time for public opinion to sort itself out. The initial polls weren’t great for Mr. Trump. A May 31 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that about 10% of Republicans were less likely to support the former president after his conviction. A June 1 ABC/Ipsos survey found 52% of independents believe he should end his campaign, while a May 31 Morning Consult poll found 49% of independents and 15% of Republicans felt the same. If this doesn’t improve, it could sink his presidential bid.

Still, a May 31 I&I/TIPP poll had the race tied at 41%, virtually unchanged since the same pollsters’ May 3 survey gave Mr. Biden 42% to Mr. Trump’s 40%. And it’s likely the verdict will be overturned on appeal.

Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor in New York state. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg turned it into a felony by usurping the federal government’s prerogatives and prosecuting what he called a federal campaign finance violation. The case’s convoluted construction has led many voters to see the prosecution as politically motivated. A successful appeal would reinforce that perception.

Still, it doesn’t help Mr. Trump’s campaign to make the race about his rage rather than voters and their concerns. He should realize that Democrats likely want to sucker him into obsessing over his conviction. The more he talks about the trial, the more swing voters might see his fury and resentment as weakness. The less he talks about being a victim and the more confidently he dismisses the verdict as likely to be overturned on appeal, the stronger he’ll appear. 

Mr. Trump’s campaign can keep raising money and motivating the faithful with emails and texts railing against the prosecutor and judge, but his public appearances should be devoted to converting undecided voters. That requires focusing on issues voters care about: the rising cost of living, illegal immigration, energy prices and crime.

The New York verdict is an even more dangerous distraction for Mr. Biden. To win re-election, his campaign has to defend his many unpopular first-term actions, lay out a forward-looking agenda, and attack Mr. Trump effectively. He hasn’t done well on any of these so far. The more time he harps on the conviction, the less time he has for topics that undecided voters and unenthusiastic Democrats care about.

Team Biden also needs to realize that Mr. Bragg’s prosecutorial shenanigans have caused some GOP Trump skeptics to flip. One such Trump doubter told me the verdict was “the last straw,” convincing her that Democrats “do not respect anyone who disagrees with them.” She’s now voting for Mr. Trump.

The more Mr. Biden harps on the conviction, the more it could cause voters to focus on his son Hunter’s trials on gun charges and tax evasion. That could reflect badly on the president by reinforcing the idea that all politicians are dirty, while exacting a major psychological price from him.

Read More at the WSJ

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