Trump verdict supercharges Republicans

Former President Trump’s guilty verdict in his New York City hush money trial is supercharging Republican enthusiasm, as his base rallies around him in the aftermath of Thursday’s historic verdict.

Trump’s political allies came out in force over the airwaves and social media, while grassroots supporters pulled out their pocketbooks. The GOP fundraising website WinRed even appeared to crash following the verdict.

The enthusiasm could be a sign that a legally devastating outcome for Trump could be a political boon that helps unify a fragmented GOP going into November.

“You can’t tell me that it doesn’t drive that low-propensity, unlikely voter into a frenzy and one where they are more inclined to engage in the election,” said Zack Roday, a Virginia-based Republican strategist. “This will drive turnout, and I think it will also drive people who don’t follow politics.”

“That’s not good news for Joe Biden, and it probably is good news for Donald Trump, within that context of addition and subtraction,” he said.

Trump verdict throws election into uncharted territory

Trump saw an immediate boost from his supporters, who helped him raise roughly $35 million after the verdict, his campaign announced Friday. The campaign said 29.7 percent of the donors were brand-new to the WinRed platform, signaling new grassroots interest in Trump.

In one of the most clear signs that the verdict may unify Republicans, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) came to Trump’s defense, declaring that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg should never have brought the case. He predicted the conviction would be overturned.

McConnell, who has had a long-running feud with Trump, endorsed the former president after it became clear he would be the GOP nominee. But he stayed silent last April when Trump pleaded not guilty to the 34 felony counts brought by Bragg, so his decision to finally weigh in after the verdict has the potential to rally other Trump skeptics in the GOP.

On Friday, Trump delivered his harshest condemnation of the trial’s judge, Judge Juan Merchan, calling him “the devil” and slamming the trial as “rigged” and “a scam.” Those remarks followed a fundraising appeal put out shortly after the verdict was delivered, in which the former president referred to himself as “a political prisoner.”

Republican strategists say that while Trump is legitimately fuming over the verdict, his remarks are a part of a wider strategy to rev up his most die-hard supporters. But strategists note that the approach could reach beyond Trump’s base.

“If Donald Trump can continue to convince voters that this was a rigged jury with a judge who should basically be a black jack dealer in Vegas because he’s so good at rigging the deck, then that is going to be very helpful for Donald Trump,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based GOP strategist.

“He has to be able to continue that narrative because most people who are not political partisans have not been watching this trial until the verdict was read,” he continued.

Throughout the numerous legal investigations and cases Trump has faced, he has said that cases against him are, by extension, cases against his own supporters.

“I don’t think it is a Republican base frame,” said Roday. “It’s going to be that if this can happen to Trump, it could happen to anybody because the basis of this case is laughable.”

Still, with so many outside factors impacting the election, like inflation, the economy, health care and immigration, it’s unclear whether the guilty verdict in May will be on swing voters’ minds in November.

“Everybody wants to have snap judgments on what this means,” said Tucker Martin, a Virginia GOP strategist. “We’ve literally never been here before.

“It could be that so many things are baked into the cake with Trump already that it doesn’t change anything,” he said.

Others question how much the verdict can unite the party beyond Trump allies, especially considering how much support former Republican candidate Nikki Haley garnered throughout the presidential primary.

“The GOP doesn’t have a Trump base problem, they have an independent and ‘Nikki Haley getting 20 percent of primary votes even when she’s not campaigning anymore’ problem — guilty verdicts won’t help that,” one former Trump transition official said.

Haley, who has said she would vote for Trump over Biden in November, won 20 percent of the vote in Maryland’s GOP primary, 18 percent in Nebraska’s primary and nearly 22 percent in Indiana. She also won more than 100,000 votes in both Arizona and Pennsylvania.

But other Republicans maintain that Trump doesn’t have a base problem, pointing to his lead in recent polls.

“His lead in these polls is built on fracturing the Democrat coalition and bringing in new voters,” Roday said. “It’s not from the ghost vote, the Nikki Haley vote.”

While Haley hasn’t responded to the Trump verdict, other former presidential contenders rallied around the former president, which has the potential to sway some voters who backed their candidacies.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who is on Trump’s vice-presidential shortlist, told CNN “the best revenge is success” for Trump, and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, another possible vice president pick, said Trump’s conviction doesn’t “give me pause.”

Meanwhile, former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a longtime Trump critic, suggested Friday that he’s concerned about the Republican Party’s unity following the verdict.

“Watching my party, the party of law and order, absolutely turn their guns against the jury, against the judge, against the system — and it’s not just like, crazy people, it’s people like Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham — this party has lost all ability to think for itself,” he told CNN.

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