Election 2024: Does Donald Trump’s Conviction Doom His Chances to Become President Again?
from The Water's Edge

Election 2024: Does Donald Trump’s Conviction Doom His Chances to Become President Again?

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: Trump’s conviction on thirty-four felony counts takes the U.S. presidential election into uncharted waters.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the courthouse after a jury found him guilty of all thirty-four felony counts in his criminal trial in New York.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves the courthouse after a jury found him guilty of all thirty-four felony counts in his criminal trial in New York. JUSTIN LANE/Pool via REUTERS

Election 2024 has always held the promise of being an election like no other. With yesterday’s decision by a New York jury to convict Donald Trump of thirty-four felony counts of falsifying business records, it has delivered. American politics is now in uncharted waters.

Historical purists will disagree with that statement, pointing to the case of Eugene V. Debs. He ran for the presidency in 1920 from prison after being convicted of sedition for criticizing the military draft during World War I. He won 3.4 percent of the vote. But Debs was never a threat to win the race or to spoil the chances of the two leading candidates.

So the fact remains: A major U.S. political party has never before sought to run a presidential candidate who has been convicted of a felony. That has everyone asking, what happens next?

The answer is, no one knows. Trump is scheduled to appear in court for sentencing on July 11, four days before the Republican National Convention starts. He may face jail time. Or he may not. He was convicted of non-violent felonies that carry a punishment of up to four years in jail. Trial Judge Juan Merchan may decide that Trump’s age, the fact he is a former president, and that he is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, mitigates against jail time and order probation or home detention. Or he may deem Trump’s repeated violations of the court’s gag order as reason to show that no one convicted of a felony is above going to jail. And yes, if Trump gets sent to jail, Secret Service agents will be there with him.

Beyond that, we all will learn more in the coming months than we ever wanted to know about the how the appeals process works in New York State. Yesterday’s jury decision is not the end of the criminal process but the start of an entirely new phase. And higher courts could have problems with what by most accounts was the unusual combination of charges that the New York District Attorney’s office leveled against Trump. But the chances that we will know what higher courts think before Election Day are low.

The impact of Trump’s conviction on the presidential race is also an open question. As the Debs case shows, a felony conviction doesn’t bar someone from running for president. Polls show that some voters, including those who support Trump, say that a conviction will make them less likely to vote for the former president. But what people say and what they do doesn’t always align.

That discrepancy is likely to be amplified by Trump’s efforts to delegitimize the jury’s verdict. He was quick to rage yesterday against the “rigged, disgraceful trial.” His allies quickly followed suit, decrying what they said was a “shameful,” “unAmerican,” and “sham” trial. The vitriol will only increase in the weeks to come and could spill into violence.

The poisonous political atmosphere will further drown out the discussion of issues on the campaign trail. So if you are hoping that Election 2024 will eventually produce a thoughtful debate about whether the United States should do more or less to aid Ukraine, support or oppose Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, or take a more confrontational or more conciliatory approach toward China, you will be disappointed. Grievance will now dominate the public debate.

America’s adversaries can only delight at the prospect of more bitter divisions in the United States. And truth be told, America’s democracy will be all the weaker for the anger we are now witnessing. Whatever the merits of Trump’s conviction, “the real verdict,” as Trump put it yesterday upon leaving the courtroom, “is going to be November 5 by the people.”

Campaign Update

The Libertarian Party over the weekend opted not to nominate either Trump or Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as their presidential candidate. The party instead gave the nomination to Chase Oliver. He is best known for running as a third-party candidate on the Libertarian ticket in Georgia’s 2022 Senate race. He won just over 2 percent of the vote, forcing Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock and Republican candidate Herschel Walker into a run-ff vote. Oliver describes himself as “armed and gay.” He won the Libertarian Party’s nomination after seven rounds of voting. He pledged to target younger voters “who are the most likely populations to be ready to go outside of the two-party system” because they “are upset with the war going on in Gaza, upset with the immigration crisis, and upset with cost of living.”  

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Kennedy filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Biden and Trump had “colluded” to keep him out of the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27. The chances that FEC will respond to the complaint by requiring CNN to provide Kennedy with a podium on the debate stage are close to zero.

What the Candidates Are Saying

Biden delivered a Memorial Day address at Arlington National Cemetery. He returned to his longstanding theme that democracy is battling authoritarianism at home and abroad.

Freedom has never been guaranteed: Every generation has to earn it; fight for it; defend it in battle between autocracy and democracy, between the greed of a few and the rights of many. It matters.

Our democracy is more than just a system of government. It’s the very soul of America. It’s how we’ve been able to constantly adapt through the centuries. It’s why we’ve always emerged from every challenge stronger than we went in. And it’s how we come together as one nation united.

Trump took a different tack in his Memorial Day post on Truth Social. He took aim at the “human scum” who oppose him.

Trump Memorial Day Truth Social Post

Notably missing from Trump’s post was any mention of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who gave their lives for the United States.

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Kennedy decided going into Memorial Day weekend by criticizing the 2021 decision by the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, to take down the statue of native Virginian Robert E. Lee. Speaking on a podcast, Kennedy said that he had “a visceral reaction against, against the attacks on those statues” on the grounds that doing so was “destroying history.” Kennedy never made clear why declining to commemorate anyone who fought, let along led, an insurrection against the U.S. government, constituted destroying history.  

What the Pundits Are Saying

The Atlantic’s John Hendrickson tried to explain a Kennedy campaign that is “something close to mysticism.” Hendrickson concluded that Kennedy’s “philosophy isn’t profound, but his supporters seem to know that he’s saying something, and that it’s a little dangerous and alluring. In an election with two deeply unpopular major-party candidates, that message—even if it doesn’t add up to much—is resonating.” 

Foreign Affairs published a Q&A today with political scientist Lucan Ahmad Way on the consequences of Trump’s conviction for the American democracy. The University of Toronto professor argued that “in the vast majority of developed democracies where current or former officials were prosecuted, the minute that charges were brought, the official resigned or stepped away from politics. And that has not happened here. Instead, he’s getting nominated by one of the two major political parties. So, yes, the fact that a very powerful person was convicted says something good about American institutions. But the fact that one of the major parties will nonetheless nominate him says something else.”

Foreign Policy ran excerpts of how Trump’s conviction was reported around the world. In the “dog-bites-man” category, “Chinese and Russian state media mirrored Trump’s talking points on the trial.”

The Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey reported on the “sweeping promises” that Trump has been making to donors behind closed doors. Many of Trump’s promises have to do with tax policy. But the story also contained an interesting foreign policy nugget. At one event, Trump “suggested that he would have bombed Moscow and Beijing if Russia invaded Ukraine or China invaded Taiwan.” That’s hardly the stance of a committed isolationist.

What the Polls Show

The Pew Research Center released a report on how Americans and Israelis view each other. One finding was that “Americans have less confidence in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than Israelis have in U.S. President Joe Biden.” Another finding was that “Americans and Israelis alike are divided over whether Biden is favoring one side too much in the Israel-Hamas war.”  

The Campaign Schedule

The first presidential debate is in twenty-seven days (June 27, 2024).

Donald Trump’s sentencing hearing is in forty-one days (July 11, 2024).

The Republican National Convention opens in Milwaukee in forty-five days (July 15, 2024).

The Democratic National Convention opens in Chicago in eighty days (August 19, 2024).

The second presidential debate is in 102 days (September 10, 2024)

The first in-person absentee voting in the nation begins in Minnesota and South Dakota in 112 days (September 20, 2024).

Election Day is 158 days away.

Inauguration Day is 234 days away.

Michelle Kurilla assisted in the preparation of this post.

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