Why Biden's campaign isn't celebrating Trump's felony conviction

Former U.S. President Trump attends a press conference, in New York

By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly

(Reuters) -In the wake of Donald Trump's historic hush-money conviction, Democrats are wrestling with how central Trump's felonies should be to President Joe Biden's reelection campaign.

So far, the answer is "not very."

While most Democrats were thrilled to see Trump convicted last Thursday on 34 felony counts, many - including top officials in Biden's campaign - are taking a wait-and-see approach to advertising and new strategies. They want to see polls and voter feedback before they react strongly to this unprecedented moment in U.S. history.

In more than a dozen interviews, Biden campaign officials and Democrats involved in campaigns in battleground states told Reuters they think whatever political pain Trump endures will largely happen organically due to intense media attention and without the need for them to amplify and frame the issue.

If polls in the coming days and weeks show the verdict is really swaying voters, they may pivot.

"Talk to me again in 10 days, when the headlines go away," said one senior Democrat. "We could see some independents who can't vote for a felon move to Biden, or we could see a surge of soft Biden supporters who feel this is overreach move to Trump. We just don't know yet.

Some early polls, including from Reuters/Ipsos, show a small but significant chunk of Republicans saying the conviction makes it less likely that they will vote for Trump in November.

On Monday, a Biden campaign account on social media platform X, Biden-HarrisHQ, posted an unflattering photo of Trump with the words "convicted felon."

Biden himself might strike harder on Monday at a private, off-camera campaign fundraising event in Greenwich, Connecticut, his first political event since the conviction.

Biden's son Hunter was in court on Monday for a criminal case against him over his purchase and possession of a revolver in 2018 in a trial that Republicans could highlight in their own election messages.

The soft focus approach toward Trump so far is frustrating some Biden supporters who want to use the conviction to highlight a message that Trump is unfit for office, including outside political action committee; they want Biden to use his bully pulpit to press the case against his Republican challenger.

"I think that this needs to be tattooed on Donald Trump's forehead that he is a convicted felon," said Jeff Timmer, senior adviser at the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group formed by former Republican strategists. Biden should include the felony in his opening statement on the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27, he said.

MoveOn.org, a progressive advocacy group, has already given away some 50,000 "Trump is a felon" stickers, 10 times the amount of any similar giveaway in years, said Britt Jacovich, a MoveOn spokesperson.

"This has been one of our most energizing moments for MoveOn members all year," Jacovich said.


Last week Biden, a Democrat, called Trump and Republicans "reckless" and "dangerous" for suggesting the jury trial had been rigged, just before pivoting to a new, surprise Israeli ceasefire plan, snatching some of the media spotlight from Trump's conviction.

His focus on supporting the jury system makes sense, given the limited number of persuadable voters in the U.S., some say.

“He’s not going to change one mind by saying anything much more than the jury has spoken and I have always respected the jury system,” said Democratic strategist James Carville.

Biden spent the weekend at his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, biking, attending church and avoiding shouted questions from reporters over whether Trump should be disqualified from the election. He was with his son Hunter.

"The Democrats, particularly Biden because it's not his brand, don't want to seem to be gloating (over Trump)," said Ray La Raja, a political science professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. That gloating "could be used to counter-mobilize Trump supporters."

Enraged by his conviction, Trump supporters have flooded websites with calls for riots, revolution and violent retribution. Some called for attacks on jurors, the execution of the judge, Justice Juan Merchan, or outright civil war and armed insurrection.

Biden's reelection campaign has told supporters that Trump can only be beaten at the ballot box, and has asked supporters for money, pointing out that Trump's campaign said he raised $52.8 million after the jury verdict.

"We need your help to fight back and keep him out of the White House," the campaign messaged on Sunday.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on this story, and did not provide details on early fundraising figures since the conviction.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Stephen Coates)