The Memo: Don’t assume New York verdict will bounce back to Trump’s benefit

Former President Trump and his allies have spent the hours since he was convicted in New York arguing the verdict will play out to his advantage in the end.

They could easily be wrong.

To be sure, nobody knows for certain what the political ramifications of the verdict will be, given that the nation is once again in uncharted waters. Trump is the first former president to be found guilty of a felony — 34 of them, in his case.

Team Trump contends that the outcome has enraged his supporters — which is clearly true — and has prompted a surge in fundraising.

The Trump campaign on Friday claimed that it raised an astronomical $34.8 million in less than seven hours after the verdict was announced the previous day.

Conservative commentators are amplifying the former president’s claims that he has been on the receiving end of a politically motivated prosecution, intended to hobble his chances of winning back the White House in November.

But there is an equally plausible narrative that holds the verdict could hurt Trump far more than help him. Democrats argue this could shift the election in President Biden’s favor.

A criminal conviction for Trump could peel off some of the swing voters who might otherwise give him their backing, give pause to those who remain undecided and penetrate the consciousness of those who are disinclined to follow every twist and turn of politics.

Even before the verdict was announced, it was clear that some share of GOP-leaning voters retains qualms about Trump.

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has continued to rack up votes in a GOP primary from which she withdrew more than two months ago. Earlier this month, Haley got around 20 percent of the vote in primaries in Indiana, Maryland and Nebraska.

This non-Trump “protest vote” appears at least as significant as the trend of Democrats voting “uncommitted” to register their objections to Biden’s policies regarding Israel and Gaza.

On top of that, polls show a broadly similar swath of voters who simply don’t buy into Trump’s argument that his conviction is evidence that he has been victimized by a sinister, liberal alliance.

An Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday found, as expected, that the overwhelming majority of Republicans (72 percent) view the investigations that underpinned Trump’s prosecution as unfair. But that still leaves more than 1 in 4 who either see those investigations as fair (10 percent) or are not sure whether they were fair or unfair (16 percent).

A follow-up poll, released by YouGov on Friday morning, found that 10 percent of surveyed Republicans and 27 percent of independents said the guilty verdict made them less likely to vote for Trump.

Trump’s defenders would point out that the doubters are far outnumbered by people who say the verdict makes no difference to their voting intentions — 34 percent of Republicans and 39 percent of independents.

But that may be beside the point, given how close November’s election is likely to be.

In the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ, Trump leads Biden by only 1.5 percentage points as of Friday evening. In the swathe of three battleground states running from Pennsylvania through Michigan to Wisconsin, Trump’s advantage is also under 2 points.

“Elections are won on the margins,” said progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini. “All you have to do is hit a small number of voters in maybe half a dozen states, and it’s over.”

Tasini said it was “pretty obvious” that a criminal conviction for Trump could have such an impact.

He also argued that the degree to which the guilty verdict energizes Trump’s MAGA base could be ultimately irrelevant, since it only solidifies votes the former president would have received regardless.

“His base was fired up, conviction or not,” Tasini asserted. “It’s hard to see that this [verdict] helps him other than with fundraising.”

There is the nature of the New York case to consider, as well. The 34 felony counts of falsifying business records all revolve around a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The money was intended to prevent Daniels from going public, in the final days of the 2016 election campaign, with her story of having sex with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament a decade previously.

Lurid allegations involving Trump are hardly a surprise at this point. But that doesn’t mean voters want them shoved in their face once again.

The nature of the case — and the verdict — is “going to creep into the conscience of everybody over the course of time,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine.

Devine also contended that even Trump’s fiery recitation of resentments at a news conference on Friday was an example of the kind of behavior that can turn voters off.

“The guy is talking about himself and his grievances nonstop when people are dealing with real issues in their lives,” the strategist said.

This story was updated at 1:02 p.m.

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