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‘Donald Trump’s Hush Money Verdicts May Not Hurt his Presidential Run But Will Damage America’s Democracy and Image’

The former US President was convicted of 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels

Former US President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Wednesday, May 29. Photo: UPI / Alamy
Former US President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on 29 May 2024. Photo: UPI/Alamy

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In the end, this is only a hunch. But my bet is that the guilty verdicts Donald Trump was delivered in a New York courtroom on 30 May for 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a payment to the adult actress Stormy Daniels, to keep quiet about their affair, will have little to no impact on the outcome of the 2024 US Presidential Election.

It is true that polls have consistently suggested that a small, but statistically significant, slice of the US electorate could be deterred from voting for Trump if he was to be found guilty of committing a crime. This could make a critical difference in what is expected to be another close election race, where the outcome is likely to be determined by just a few tens of thousands of votes in a handful of swing states.  

On the other hand, so much of Trump’s sleazy private life, dodgy business dealings, dubious ethics and intemperate character are already priced in to voters’ perceptions of him. 

The New York case is also relatively trivial, by comparison with the many other pending court cases against him, which include two far more serious charges of attempting to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, as well as a charge of illegally retaining classified documents after leaving the White House – all of which are bogged down in legal processes, and will not come to resolution before the election. 

After the verdict, some media reports soon shifted to discuss US President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, seen above departing a Delaware court on 24 May. His court case is due to start next week. Photo: AP/Alamy

Throughout the campaign, Trump has successfully been able to leverage the court cases to energise his voter base – using them to argue that there is a political witch-hunt by Democrats to delegitimise and bring him down and, by implication, also tarnish and delegitimise his most fervent supporters. By attacking him, the theory goes, the ‘liberal elites’ are also guilty of attacking and undermining them. 

Within minutes of the verdicts, Trump’s campaign was using them to lobby for more financial donations – and his fundraising website crashed later that evening.   

Meanwhile, commentators on Fox News and other media outlets supportive of Biden were swift to dismiss them as just more evidence of “politicised  justice” or “lawfare” against the former President.

They also quickly switched to discussing the court case due to start next week against President Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, on three federal charges of illegal possession of a firearm, in an obvious effort to distract viewers and to convey the idea that, even if Trump is guilty, Biden has legal troubles of his own – making them equally flawed.  

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Biden’s election campaign is facing its own struggles, with voters concerned about the state of the economy, the cost of living, immigration levels, security along the southern border with Mexico, the President’s handling of various international security issues such as Russia and the Ukraine war, China, and the conflict in Gaza. There are also mounting concerns over his age and continued fitness to serve another full term in office.

Polls suggest that he is failing to retain the same share of the minority vote as in the 2020 election or the support of as many younger voters. 

Both candidates have unprecedentedly high unfavourability ratings among the electorate. Many voters may be deeply turned off by Trump’s character. But they are not enthused by a second Biden term either. 

The verdicts may temporarily boost Biden’s polling, but with the US Presidential Election not until November, there’s still plenty of time for other campaign trail incidents to change the outcome. Photo: AP/Alamy

According to the latest Real Clear Polling, average polling figures (admittedly based on polling before the New York case was concluded), Trump remains fractionally ahead (0.9%) of Biden on a national level, and fairly comfortably ahead of Biden in all the key battleground states including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina.  

The guilty verdicts may provide a temporary boost to Biden, reminding voters of all of Trump’s negative baggage. As a convicted felon, Trump will not be able to vote, serve in the military, or receive highly classified briefings – not exactly a good image to be associated with a potential commander-in-chief of the US military.  

The spotlight will remain on Trump for several more weeks, particularly given his announcement that he will appeal against his conviction.

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Democrats will be sure to emphasise the term ‘convicted felon’ as much as possible when talking about Trump’s presidential prospects. But it could backfire if they are seen to crow about it too much, feeding Trump’s narrative of a political witch-hunt. 

The swift backing of most prominent Republicans for Trump, including the Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, and even moderate senators such as Susan Collins from Maine, will also give cover to hesitant voters, who might otherwise have backed away from voting for him.  

The election is also more than four months away – an aeon in political terms. Anything could happen between now and November to switch the dynamics again. One stumbling, poor, performance by Biden at a campaign event or one of the two scheduled presidential debates could do more damage to his candidacy than anything currently weighing down Trump.    

From a larger perspective, the most damaging impacts of the trial may not be to Trump, but to American democracy and the US’ image worldwide.  

What does it say about the Republican Party, that it is still willing to back a sleazy, convicted felon as its standard bearer for the presidency? 

What does it say about the Democratic Party, that it is unable to come up with a decent presidential candidate able to easily trounce such a flawed opponent? 

What does it say about America’s media landscape, when coverage is so highly slanted and distorted about the court cases against Trump? 

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What does it say about America’s legal system, that so many of the other court cases against Trump have been allowed to become bogged down in legal processes and delays – when their outcome is so germane to voters’ understanding of the man, and potentially the outcome of this year’s election?  

What does it say about America’s political system, that being a convicted felon is not an automatic bar against holding the highest office in the land?  

And what message do these sordid events send the rest of the world? 

Trump supporters have already lambasted the cases against him as bringing America into disrepute; turning it into a ‘banana republic’ where politically-motivated charges are routinely brought against opponents as a way to bring them down.

Former Fox News commentator, Megyn Kelly, who now hosts her own talk show, described the situation as “a before and after moment for America”.

“What just happened today is a line we can’t uncross, and these Democrats will rue the day they decided to use ‘lawfare’ to stop a presidential candidate,” she said. “I’m not talking about violence. I’m talking about tit for tat. You just wait. And it won’t be Hunter Biden the next time. It’s going to be Joe Biden… The only way to save the Republic now is to give them a taste of their own medicine. That’s it. The Democrats started this game.”  

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Such rhetoric is a godsend to authoritarian leaders such as Vladimir Putin in Russia and Orbán in Hungary,  who do use trumped-up court cases to besmirch and bring down their political opponents.  

Some may try to argue that the verdicts against Trump prove the strength of the US system – that no one is above the law. But – though my politics and reasoning could hardly be further from that of Kelly – I tend to subscribe to her judgement. That these events are indeed bringing America into disrepute and are harmful to the image of democracy worldwide.   



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