How Donald Trump will seek to turn his Manhattan hush-money trial into political gold

Donald Trump has proven to be a master of turning legal lemons into political lemonade — and he’s on track to do the same thing when he finally goes on trial Monday in the Manhattan case stemming from hush-money payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and others.

He is certain to use the trial as a platform to promote his now-familiar claims that he is the real victim of “deep state” Democrats and biased prosecutors, political pundits say.

“He will try to turn the trial from prosecution to persecution, as we’ve seen in the past,” said Basil Smikle, a Hunter College professor and Democratic strategist. “In his view, it could convince his supporters that he’s being treated unfairly.”

Republican strategists say it’s no secret how Trump plans to deal with the potential political pitfalls of the trial.

“He’ll trash the judicial system as he’s been doing for years, all while declaring a victim and martyr,” said Doug Heye, a GOP strategist.

For most politicians, facing felony charges in a courtroom — let alone sordid allegations of extramarital sex, lies and an election-altering cover up — would be the kiss of death.

And Trump surely fears the unpredictable revelations that could emerge in court and the potential fallout from sitting at the defense table for weeks. Otherwise, he would not have spent months lobbing legal Hail Marys in so-far-unsuccesful efforts to derail the trial.

But pundits say Trump could succeed at least in galvanizing Republican voters, who have already picked him as their presumptive GOP nominee to take on President Biden in November.

Scott Jennings, a former top aide to Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, said the hush money case is particularly well suited for Trump to use as a tool to forging an even stronger bond with his supporters.

That’s because it is taking place in Manhattan, where few MAGA loyalists believe Trump can get a fair shake, and it involves what he calls “a left-wing fever swamp dream” of wild allegations.

“They view all of this, especially the New York cases, as sham political attacks masquerading as legitimate legal action,” Jennings said. “It will spike anger and engagement among the base.”

One thing seems certain: on Monday morning, Trump will enter the history books when he walks into a lower Manhattan courtroom and becomes the first former U.S. president to go on criminal trial.

For the average voter on either side of the political divide, however, the shock of seeing Trump at the defense table in a courtroom has become stunningly old hat.

He’s already been indicted in four separate criminal cases involving 88 charges in two states and Washington D.C. He even had a mug shot taken when he was booked on racketeering election interference charges in Atlanta.

Trump was also found liable for sexual assault and defamation of writer E. Jean Carroll. He was likewise found liable in state Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against him, for which he was ordered to pay an eye-popping $450 million penalty, plus interest.

In all those cases, Trump has followed a now-familiar blueprint. He fiercely attacks the judge, the prosecutors and anyone else involved in the case while loudly telling his loyal followers that he is being targeted for standing up for them.

Pundits say to expect more of the same at his criminal trial, where the stakes are potentially much higher for him because he could be imprisoned if convicted.

He will use the courthouse and the somber trappings of the criminal justice system as props to convey to his followers the urgency of backing his presidential bid and contributing financially.

For virtually any other candidate, it would be a huge problem to be stuck in a courtroom for weeks while his opponent is free to jet across the country holding campaign rallies.

That’s not necessarily so for Trump, who can use the media to grab seemingly limitless attention and take advantage of his own communications channels to get his message out regardless of where he is or what he is doing.

One of the biggest downside for the candidate is that he’s had to divert millions in campaign funds to legal fees.

Smikle said Trump will attempt to use the prospect of a prison sentence to rally support from a wider swath of voters.

“He will seek to convince working-class white voters and even Black men that the system is rigged against him the way it’s rigged against them,” Smikle said.

But some analysts note that the very nature of a criminal trial puts Trump on the defensive and makes him appear powerless. That can be a huge liability for a candidate who has cultivated a tough-guy image and even compared himself to Al Capone, falsely saying he’s been indicted more times than the notorious mobster.

“Trump wants to be talking about the issues that he wants to be talking about, like immigrants and inflation,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “Those are issues independent voters care about and they are the ones who are going to decide the election.”

New York prosecutors accuse Trump of falsifying business records to cover up payments to Daniels, Playboy model Karen McDougal and a doorman at Trump Tower to hide potentially damaging information during the 2016 election. They say the crimes, which would ordinarily be a misdemeanor, are felonies because they were carried out to help Trump commit other election-related crimes.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg marked the first indictment that Trump was hit with, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s the first case to go to trial.

But legal analysts broadly agree it is the least consequential of the criminal cases.

After all, it involves actions taken mostly before Trump became president eight years ago. Unlike the Georgia case and Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal election interference case, the Manhattan trial will not touch on the ex-president’s efforts to overturn the results of an election he lost.

The Manhattan case doesn’t directly affect national security like the federal case accusing him of taking classified documents with him after leaving the White House, either.

Many Republican strategists believe the optics of the New York case could benefit Trump, at least with Republicans.

The most compelling witnesses could be Daniels and Trump’s ex-fixer Michael Cohen, who may be seen by the public as seeking revenge or publicity or both.

Democrats counter that there’s little doubt that Trump ordered the payments and hoped to keep Daniels quiet before the 2016 election.

Cohen has already gone to prison for his facilitating the hush-money payments.

One thing analysts on both sides concede: There’s no telling how the public may react to a conviction or prison sentence if Bragg lands a conviction.

Will Trump be able to spin that as just another Democratic witch hunt?

Or will the prospect of voting for a convicted felon turn away many Republicans who would normally hold their nose and vote for their party’s candidate no matter what?

“I’m skeptical that anything will change people’s opinions about Donald Trump,” Conant said. “People have made up their minds.”