Analysis | Trump is a felon. Here’s why that could matter in the 2024 race. (2024)

Welcome to The Campaign Moment, your guide to the biggest developments in a 2024 election that just became historic. For the first time in our nation’s history, one of the two major parties will be led into the November election by a convicted felon.

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The big moment

A Manhattan jury on Thursday found former president Donald Trump guilty of all 34 counts of falsifying business records. The crimes are felonies because the jury found Trump falsified the records to try to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election, which he narrowly won over Hillary Clinton.

This was the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial.

Such a development would undoubtedly have landed in any other election with significantly more force. Even if the guilty candidate weren’t shoved to the side after being indicted, a guilty verdict would surely have made them persona non grata. There would be inquests about how to avoid nominating them or how to remove them from the ballot.

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But this is the Trump-era GOP. The former president spent years inoculating himself with his base from a moment like this by casting any scrutiny of him as a “witch hunt.” Republican lawmakers have almost universally toed Trump’s line of decrying the Manhattan proceedings and urging people to disregard the verdict.

So the question today is not whether the vast majority of Trump supporters will stand by him (they will) but whether the small percentage of them who might balk — combined with undecided voters who might be turned off — will ultimately matter.

Here’s what we can say: It’s clear the verdict could change the trajectory of the 2024 race, if polls are accurate and voters are being honest with themselves. Whether it ultimately will is another matter.

Depending upon how pollsters ask the question, you can get upward of 3 in 10 Republicans to indicate that a conviction would give them pause.

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But giving one pause is not the same as ditching Trump — far from it.

Let’s briefly run through the most recent polling data:

  • An ABC News/Ipsos poll last month showed 20 percent of Trump supporters said that a conviction in the Manhattan case would at least cause them to “reconsider,” but just 4 percent said they would change their vote.

That would suggest a very muted impact among those already backing Trump — with him losing about 2 percent of voters overall, if it held.

But we do often see bigger shifts when pollsters have tested the matchups before and after a hypothetical conviction, suggesting a bigger impact:

  • A Marquette University Law School poll last week showed Trump leading President Biden by four points. But he trailed by four points among the half-sample that was asked how they would vote if Trump were convicted in the Manhattan case — an eight-point shift, on the margins (i.e. Trump +4 to Biden +4).
  • A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month showed Biden adding just two points to his margin if Trump is convicted of a crime, but six points if Trump is incarcerated as a result. (Trump will be sentenced on July 11.)
  • Earlier polling has shown the margins shifting toward Biden by between 5 and 14 points if Trump were convicted in one of his cases.

Notably, many of the bigger shifts come in older polls, which could mean this has waned somewhat as a factor for voters.

These polls would suggest that at least some Trump supporters who say they would merely “reconsider” would be inclined to desert Trump, too, if forced to choose. And even if the shift is just two points on the margins (which is currently the low end in the polling), that could very well matter. After all, we’re a country in which the last two presidential races have been decided by about one percentage point in the key states.

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But these things are always subject to change.

Perhaps a conviction will crystallize a dilemma that Americans haven’t really reckoned with, given few Americans have monitored Trump’s legal travails closely. Would half of Americans really vote for a convicted felon when it came down to it?

(Relatively few Americans — 4 in 10 or less — are inclined to believe Trump’s claims of legal persecution. That leaves a pretty strong majority of Americans who will now contend with the verdict of a trial they hadn’t written off.)

There’s also the matter of those who aren’t currently supporting either Trump or Biden, whether they are undecided voters or supporting third-party candidates. Given those voters will likely gravitate toward either major-party candidate — third-party candidates tend to fade over time — but haven’t opted for Trump yet, Thursday’s verdict could factor into their votes.

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Perhaps the impact will be mitigated over time; five months is a long time to make people keep caring about something that they haven’t cared much about thus far.

And a potentially crucial moment will be sentencing. (For more on that, see here.) If Trump is not incarcerated, that could send a signal to those who might waver that this wasn’t that big of a deal to begin with.

What’s clear is that we’ve happened upon a moment with no precedent in American history. And in a remarkably stagnant presidential race that it appears nothing can truly shake up, we’ve encountered the first strong possibility of something doing just that.

Or it could be merely the latest example of how Trump’s many controversies cause 45 percent or half of the country to shrug.

But if a sense of indifference is the result of no less than a criminal conviction, we’ve surely crossed a new threshold in our polarization.

A momentous stat

30 percent

That’s the percentage of Trump supporters in a December Fox News poll that agreed “things in the U.S. are so far off track that we need a president willing to break some rules and laws to set things right.”

(Just 15 percent of Democrats said the same.)

Those Trump supporters now have a 2024 nominee who is convicted of an illegal scheme to win the presidency in the first place.

Take a moment to read:

  • Trump and allies step up suggestions of rigged trial — with bad evidence” (Washington Post)
  • Will Trump go to jail? Can he be president? What’s next after a guilty verdict?” (Washington Post)
  • In the trial, like the election, Trump’s base is inoculated against loss” (Washington Post)
  • Little change in a presidential campaign most Americans don’t want” (Washington Post)
  • In a Texas G.O.P. at War With Itself, the Hard Right Is Gaining” (New York Times)
  • How Joe Biden’s red line on Israel went from a ‘parlor game’ to a murky millstone” (CNN)
Analysis | Trump is a felon. Here’s why that could matter in the 2024 race. (2024)

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