US election stumbles into new territory after Trump verdict

AFP , Friday 31 May 2024

Torn apart and rewired by Donald Trump's historic criminal conviction, the 2024 presidential campaign moves into uncharted territory Friday with all eyes on how the two main protagonists navigate the dangers.

Trump verdict
People look at a digital billboard at the Fox News Corporation building announcing that former US President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had been convicted in his criminal trial in New York City on May 30, 2024. AFP


Trump wasted no time in shifting from courtroom to campaign mode.

"I am a political prisoner!" he announced immediately after the guilty verdicts landed Thursday on all 34 charges in his New York hush-money trial.

Early Friday the Republican was scheduled to make public remarks from his signature New York property, Trump Tower.

In addition to the New York case, he faces three far more serious criminal indictments over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden and hoarding of top-secret documents at his home in Florida.

Those cases, however, are not likely to go to trial before the November election.

And Trump has in any case turned what would immediately destroy an ordinary political career into a badge of honor, comparing himself to political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and telling supporters that the scandals prove his conspiracy theory about a "deep state" taking away his freedom.

Biden, by contrast, has so far avoided making Trump's multiple legal difficulties an issue. As president, he is keen to avoid giving ammunition to Republicans who claim he is meddling in the justice system.

Now he will have to decide whether Trump's conviction changes the calculus.

Biden's campaign reacted to the verdicts by saying that "no one is above the law." It added, however, that the focus should turn to the election, because "the threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater."

Biden himself said nothing about the momentous events in New York.

On Friday, he has a busy public schedule, including talks with the Belgian prime minister and a celebration for NFL Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs, which will offer frequent opportunities for him to make remarks to journalists.

Trump makes history

Trump is now the first former US president ever convicted of a crime. He would be setting another, even more startling record if he wins on November 5 and replaces Biden in the White House.

The jury found him guilty of falsifying business records to hide a payment meant to silence porn star Stormy Daniels and prevent her from publicizing an alleged sexual encounter that could have been fatal to his 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors successfully laid out a case alleging the hush money and the illegal covering up of the payment was part of a broader crime to prevent voters from knowing about Trump's behavior just as he was about to face Hillary Clinton.

He could in theory be sentenced to four years behind bars for each count but is more likely to receive probation.

Judge Juan Merchan set sentencing for July 11 -- four days before the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, where Trump is due to receive the party's formal nomination.

Robert F. Kennedy, who is running as an independent in the presidential race, predicted on X that the New York trial would "backfire."

But Keith Gaddie, a political analyst and professor at Texas Christian University, said the political impact of the shocking events has yet to be determined.

"It probably doesn't move a lot of votes, but in particular states with particular swing votes, it could matter around the margins. So in particularly tight races, it can tip things back from one direction to the other," he said.

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