After the Trial, Can Biden Capitalize?

So this is it: The People of the State of New York v. Donald Trump heads to the jury today, and things could move pretty fast. “We’d be shocked to see a verdict before lunchtime, but court watchers think this all could move very quickly,” Politico reports. “If it’s not over today, very few are expecting it to stretch past the week’s end.”

“After weeks of trial, a key dispute is still whether the crime charged is even a crime,” Kim Wehle writes for the site today. “Early in the case, Merchan denied a motion to dismiss the indictment on that basis, and it could persuade at least one juror not to convict.” 

That’s what Team Trump is banking on, anyway, as Marc Caputo reports: Although “allies have all but abandoned hope of acquittal,” they’ve pinned their hopes on the prospect of one juror holding out strongly enough to force a mistrial.

Holiday weeks throw us off; we want to apologize up top to anybody we misled yesterday by wishing you a happy Monday. We’ve done our due diligence this time and are confident we are on strong footing today in wishing you a Happy Wednesday.

Donald Trump heads into court yesterday. (Photo by Julia Nikhinson / POOL / AFP via Getty Images.)

As The People of the State of New York v. Donald J. Trump goes to the jury, l’ll leave the legal analysis to the lawyers. But what can we say about the likely political ramifications of this case?

The case does matter. Or rather, a guilty verdict could matter.

I know, I know: So many other things that should have mattered in judging Donald Trump’s fitness for the presidency don’t actually seem to have mattered. (Shall we discuss January 6th?) He’s gotten away with so, so much.

Still: This is almost certainly the only one of the four cases against Trump that will come to trial before the election. A guilty verdict in this case would allow anti-Trump forces to say for the next five months to American voters, Do you really want a convicted felon as president?

And survey data suggests that a small but perhaps meaningful number of Trump supporters would or might desert such a felon. Here was an ABC News poll earlier this month:

Eighty percent of Trump’s supporters say they’d stick with him even if he’s convicted of a felony in this case. But that leaves 20 percent who say they’d either reconsider their support (16 percent) or withdraw it (4 percent)—easily enough to matter in a close race.

Those numbers in response to a hypothetical question are likely much higher than the actual number of voters who’d desert Trump once the MAGA noise machine gets to work discrediting a guilty verdict. Still, if even a couple of percent of his supporters desert Trump, that would be meaningful. We won’t know until the hypothetical becomes real, but the convicted felon stigma could move some weak Trump supporters to Biden, or at least persuade them to sit out the election.

So this might not have been the most important legal case against Trump, or the one that most conclusively demonstrates why he really shouldn’t be president again. But it’s the one verdict the legal system is likely to give us before November. And in a close race, this news item—Trump Guilty in New York Trial—could matter.

But what will also matter is the reaction of the two campaigns.

The Trump campaign’s playbook in the case of a guilty verdict is pretty obvious. I’m sure they’re ready with a pretty massive effort to discredit it all: the case, the trial, the DA, the judge, the jurors. And as we’ve seen in many previous instances (need I mention the Mueller report?), such a Trump disinformation effort can work, or work well enough, to minimize any damage that’s done. Especially if that effort is not aggressively and competently opposed.

Which brings us to the Biden campaign. If there’s a guilty verdict, should they just assume that Americans will draw the conclusions they should, make a comment or two, and move on?

I once would have been tempted by such a dignified strategy. But I now think it would be a mistake. The campaign—or at least allied outside groups—need to engage in a comprehensive effort to bring home to Americans what a jury of Trump’s peers has found. They need to remind Americans, over and over, that such a finding is unprecedented in the case of an ex-president. They need to say that it disqualifies him from the presidency. And this can’t be one speech by the president or a token ad or a few clever remarks by surrogates on social media. June is the month when convicted felon can get stamped across Trump’s forehead. But this won’t happen without a concerted effort to make it happen.

By itself, that won’t win the race. But it could help improve the playing field over the next few weeks, before the June 27 debate. Whereas if Trump is sailing off to a clear lead by late June, he’ll probably find an excuse to pull out of the debate. So successfully exploiting a guilty verdict here could improve the dynamics of the broader presidential contest.

All of this assumes Trump is convicted. What if he’s not?

A hung jury is certainly possible, and that would allow Trump to revel in what he will claim is an exoneration: Even in New York City, they didn’t buy the deep state’s lies.

And if there’s a hung jury, what do we Never Trumpers do?

1. Pour a strong drink.

2. Re-read and take to heart the beginning of Thomas Paine’s first American Crisis pamphlet:

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

3. Pour another drink.

 —William Kristol

Word was last week that Trump and Ron DeSantis are burying the hatchet, no hard feelings. DeSantis got his donor network together a few days ago in Fort Lauderdale to urge them to throw their financial weight behind Trump, and Trump called in to register his appreciation.

“In what three people present described as a warm and gracious call to the group that was heard over speakerphone,” the AP reported, “Trump praised DeSantis and the effort, saying ‘Ron, I love that you’re back.’”

Well, wasn’t that a nice moment! Anyway, this week we’re back to our regularly scheduled programing of Trump busily ending the careers of anybody who dared get behind DeSantis in the first place. Here’s WaPo:

Former president Donald Trump has endorsed state Sen. John J. McGuire III (R-Goochland) over incumbent Rep. Bob Good in the GOP primary battle for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District seat, dealing a blow to Good as the House Freedom Caucus chairman seeks a third term.

Trump took to his Truth Social platform Tuesday to hail McGuire, a former Navy SEAL, as a “true American Hero” and to blast Good, who initially endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over Trump for the White House.

“Bob Good is BAD FOR VIRGINIA, AND BAD FOR THE USA,” Trump posted. “He turned his back on our incredible movement, and was constantly attacking and fighting me until recently, when he gave a warm and ‘loving’ Endorsement—But really, it was too late.”

Both Good and McGuire are far to the right. But their primary fight sits atop a number of different fault lines running beneath today’s GOP. 

Although he didn’t take office until 2021, Good in many ways profiles as a relic of the Tea Party era: an arch-conservative bomb-thrower who staked his reputation more on his hardline policy views than any particular political allegiance. That explains why Good endorsed DeSantis, arguing—correctly, we might add!—that the Florida governor was to Trump’s right on policy. It’s also why he was part of the charge to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year.

McGuire, by contrast, is a by-the-numbers loyal footsoldier in the MAGA brigade most notable for his embrace of pro-Trump aesthetics: WaPo describes him as “an early MAGA cheerleader who years ago turned his Ford pickup into a rolling billboard for Donald Trump.”

But many of McGuire’s attacks on Good have been decidedly establishment in feel: “I believe that my opponent wants to burn it all down, no-solutions kind of guy,” he told CNN back in March. “I think that we need leaders that want to grow the party and unite our country.”

Many of the House’s other bomb-throwers—even heavily MAGA ones—don’t like the sound of this. “This is the most important primary in the country,” Matt Gaetz said of Good-McGuire in March. “Bob is our masthead. Bob Good is our leader among House conservatives to get us on the same page to ensure that it is the people’s interests that rise above the special interests.”

Trump’s rubric, obviously, was less complicated. Good likes DeSantis. McGuire likes Trump. Trump likes McGuire.

A few months ago, the Atlantic’s McKay Coppins wrote about how Trump managed to achieve his total domination of the national Republican party that’s been rattling around in my brain ever since. For many elected GOPers, Trump might have been a contemptible buffoon and a living outrage against every conservative principle they’d ever professed to care about. But he was also a political lifeline in the wilderness:

The Republican Party of 2015 was uniquely vulnerable to a hostile takeover by someone like Trump. Riven by years of infighting and ideological incoherence, and plagued by a growing misalignment between its base and its political class, the GOP was effectively one big institutional power vacuum. The litmus tests kept changing. The formula for getting reelected was obsolete. Republicans with solidly conservative records, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were getting taken out in primaries by obscure Tea Party upstarts.

To many elected Republicans, it probably felt like an answer to their prayers when a strongman finally parachuted in and started telling them what to do. Maybe his orders were reckless and contradictory. But as long as you did your best to look like you were obeying, you could expect to keep winning your primaries.

Trump’s endorsement in the Good-McGuire primary is as good a proof text for this thesis as you could imagine. On aesthetics, MAGA politics is one long revolt against a supposed Republican “establishment.” And undoubtedly one way to thrive in Trump’s GOP is by building your own hard-charging bomb-throwing brand—think Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene.

But there are dangers to bomb-throwing too: Just ask Bob Good. The easier path to success—and it’s a path embraced by far more GOP lawmakers, most of whom you couldn’t name or pick out of a crowd—is to recognize that there’s a new establishment in town, and it’s one their voters actually like. There’s nothing to it: All you have to do is abase yourself.

—Andrew Egger

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On the site today, A.B. wonders—are we really going to just memory-hole Trump proclaiming that Vladimir Putin would release imprisoned WSJ reporter Evan Gershkovich after the November election “for me, but not for anyone else”?

Trump has never taken any interest in Gershkovich’s wrongful detention, nor has he criticized Putin for jailing him. Trump didn’t say a thing about Gershkovich for more than a year. His reticence lasted through a sitdown interview with Time magazine last month, during which he explained that he hadn’t called for Gershkovich’s release simply because he had been too busy. “I guess because I have so many other things I’m working on,” Trump said.

But late one night last week, Trump finally found an opening in his schedule to write the following:

This is bizarre, yet filled with intention. It is designed to make President Joe Biden look weak and to show that Trump is close enough to Putin to gain special—but conditional—treatment from him. Trump is suggesting that he and Putin have a one-sided deal in which he will secure Gershkovich’s return in exchange for, apparently, nothing. But given that Putin is allegedly willing to “do that for me, but not for anyone else,” will Gershkovich continue to languish in a Russian jail if Trump loses the election?

This is not an example of Trump’s wacky style or his disdain for process or protocols. He is openly rooting against our national interest, which is to get Gershkovich home now, for the sake of making up a new reason for people to vote for him in the fall. If Trump has this influence, why wouldn’t he use it to free Gershkovich now?

Read the whole thing.

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