Democrats push back at argument guilty verdict strengthens Trump

Democrats are strongly pushing back on the notion that former President Trump’s conviction will be helpful in any way to his bid for the presidency.

Just the term “convicted felon,” Democrats say, will dissuade voters from supporting the former president.

They also noted Trump could be on probation by the time he accepts the Republican nomination in July, which they suggested was hardly a good thing for a candidate running for the nation’s highest office.

“There’s no world where a presidential candidate who is convicted of 34 felony counts is a political plus,” said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons, who worked in the Biden White House until last year. “Republicans are asking us to believe something that defies all American political experience, which is that a convicted felon is a good candidate for president.

“You can’t tell me that he’s better off with the mom from Sheboygan,” Simmons added, referring to the town in the battleground state of Wisconsin. “It defies all common sense.”

Simmons and more than a dozen Democrats interviewed by The Hill say the conviction complicates Trump’s efforts to win back the White House, even as they acknowledged the polling lead Trump now enjoys over Biden in battleground state polls.

They argued the conviction is bad news for Trump and because the verdict is so significant, it breaks through to voters not paying attention to the day-to-day action of the presidential race. They also said it would make it tougher for Trump to win over the independents or conservative Democrats he needs to win a tight contest.

“There are few political moments that break through to a large audience and define a candidate for a wide swath of voters, but Donald Trump being convicted on 34 felony counts is one,” said Democratic strategist Tim Hogan. “For soft Democrats or center-left independents, it is a strong marker of Trump’s selfishness and lawlessness. And many of those voters may be pushed either to the polls or more solidly back into Biden’s column as they are reminded of the chaos that follows Trump everywhere.”

“It is a big brick in Trump’s backpack for the rest of the race,” Hogan added.

Republicans have rallied to Trump’s cause since the New York jury on Thursday found the former president guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up affairs that might have influenced the 2016 election.

They’ve argued Trump’s prosecution was politically motivated, and they’ve sought to cast Trump as a victim of that political system.

The former president himself has tried to grease the skids for the argument. For weeks as his trial dragged on, he used the television cameras in attendance to argue the judicial system was being used against him.

On Friday, he continued to make that argument during a press event where he did not take questions, blaming Biden for the trial, even though the case was brought by New York officials.

“This is all done by Biden and his people. And maybe his people more importantly. I don’t know if Biden knows too much about it because I don’t know if he knows too much about anything,” Trump said.

Biden and the White House pushed back at such accusations Friday, calling them dangerous.

“It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible for anyone to say this was rigged just because they don’t like the verdict,” the president said from the White House.

Trump at times has had trouble uniting the entire GOP, but the guilty verdict in New York appeared to have the effect of putting some of the former president’s GOP critics on the same page as his supporters.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), two of the biggest Trump skeptics who had kept a distance from the trial, both criticized the verdict. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee reported that it had its highest online fundraising day of the cycle on Thursday.

Some Democrats were less certain the verdict would hurt Trump, but they questioned whether it would really turn the needle with voters focused on inflation and the economy.

“Not gonna lie, it’s a big deal, a really big deal,” one Democratic strategist said of Trump’s conviction. “But part of me wonders if anyone is gonna care five months from now when they’re still not able to pay their bills or buy a house or a car and they’re pissed off about inflation and blame Biden for it.”

In his Friday speech, Trump sought to turn the spotlight onto Biden by blaming the president on policy issues, including immigration.

“When you look at our country, what’s happening where millions and millions of people are flowing in from all parts of the world. Not just South America. From Africa, from Asia, from the Middle East,” the former president said in the 33-minute speech in New York. “We have a president and a group of fascists that don’t want to do anything about it.”

But some Democrats said the conviction gave them a way to frame the election, and Biden shouldn’t allow Trump to frame it any other way.

As Democratic strategist Christy Setzer put it, “Do you want to vote for the first-ever felon for president?”

Setzer and other Democrats said it is up to Biden to hammer home the point to their base and undecided voters over the next five months.

She said the main reason Americans have “memory-holed the worst of the Trump presidency,” including 1 million COVID-19 deaths, family separation at the border, and the January 2021 insurrection on the Capitol, is “because we stopped talking about it.”

“There’s a tremendous opportunity to reshape the contours of the campaign [and] to be on the offensive,” Setzer said. “But only if we go hard and vocal.”

Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who served as the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, pointed to recent polls which showed voters could be moved a bit more by a conviction than an indictment. He said this could be helpful to Biden and Democrats in the fall, if only at the margins.

At the same time, Israel added: “It’s just a sad sign of our times that the words convicted felon in front of a presidential candidate aren’t automatically disqualifying.”

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