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Trump Raises the Stakes

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Photo: Trump – low taxes. This is interesting to most Republican voters. He does not shy away from strong statements. Source: Getty Images
Photo: Trump – low taxes. This is interesting to most Republican voters. He does not shy away from strong statements. Source: Getty Images

On July 11, a judge will deliver the sentence for the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, after a Manhattan jury on May 30 found him guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records. This verdict is unprecedented and will go down in history as Trump becomes the first former US president to be convicted of a felony. This changes the landscape of the race but does not eliminate Trump's chances of winning.


Donald Trump was found guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump has already announced that he will appeal the verdict, and his lawyers assert that the conviction will not prevent him from participating in the presidential campaign or from assuming the presidency.


It is important to remember that Trump faces 54 charges in three other cases. However, thanks to the precise actions of his legal team, these proceedings are indefinitely stalled. Thus, this case involving 34 counts of falsifying business records seems to be the only one that poses a relatively serious threat to the current Republican candidate.


Although the guilty verdict is an extremely significant political factor, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. Essentially, this is the most important aspect of what happened on May 30 and what lies ahead.


The key questions – there are three, in fact:

  • What can Trump do about the verdict, and what are his chances of avoiding prison?
  • How has the verdict affected Trump's support among voters?
  • If Trump remains the Republican presidential candidate, how will the verdict impact his ability to gain support (especially financial) from his backers, and how will the number of such supporters change?


The Origin of the Verdict and What’s Next

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, charged Trump with 34 counts related to hush money payments back in March 2023. The indictment accused Trump of engaging in illegal activities to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election. This is a very serious charge and looks even harsher when viewed against Trump’s loud claims about the integrity of the 2020 election results.


Prosecutors during the hearings presented checks and ledgers showing payments from Trump’s company to his former lawyer, including a handwritten note with a payment plan for Michael Cohen. These payments were allegedly linked to settling scandals surrounding Trump, ostensibly to prevent reputational damage critical to his 2016 campaign.


Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified that his company collaborated with Michael Cohen on behalf of Trump to suppress scandalous leaks during the 2016 election. Pecker recounted an episode related to suppressing the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal about her alleged affair with Trump. Her story became public in 2016 and 2018, which reportedly caused significant displeasure for Trump, according to Pecker.

Photo: Judge Juan Merchan brilliantly conducted the trial and now has to determine Trump’s punishment. Source: X (Twitter) amuse


A separate issue involves Stormy Daniels, an adult film star. She allegedly had a romantic relationship with Trump, although he continues to deny this. Daniels gave extensive testimony about her encounter with Trump at a golf tournament in 2006. Trump’s lawyers accused Daniels of fabricating the story for financial gain.


One of the central episodes, testified by Michael Cohen, was the payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels in 2016. This payment was recorded in financial statements as a legal service fee. Although Judge Juan Merchan explicitly told the jury that Trump could not be convicted solely based on Cohen's testimony. And despite Trump’s lawyers arguing that Cohen, as a convicted felon, was not trustworthy, the jury still delivered their verdict. It is likely that the jury was swayed by the physical evidence presented by the prosecutors, which they believed supported Cohen's testimony.


Trump opted not to testify, and the judge instructed the jury not to consider this factor in their deliberations. The hearings were marked by scandal, appearing as pressure on the participants. Trump was eventually banned from making statements about witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff, and their families. Despite this, Trump continued to post comments on social media. Judge Merchan initially issued an order prohibiting Trump from making such statements about the participants, even fining him a total of $10,000. Subsequently, the ban was extended to include statements against the families of prosecutors and court staff. As Trump expanded his criticisms, the judge issued new prohibitions.


Trump continued to make statements even after the verdict, notably during a speech at Trump Tower on May 31.


The US Constitution does not restrict convicted candidates from running for office. The only requirements are that the candidate must be at least 35 years old, be a natural-born US citizen, and have lived in the US for at least 14 years.


The 34 charges for which Trump was convicted are Class E felonies, the lowest level under New York State law. Even if his appeal fails, it is highly unlikely that Trump will serve prison time as a result of the July 11 sentencing.


Judge Juan Merchan will decide the punishment on July 11. The options include a fine, probation, supervision, or possibly up to four years in prison. Punishments for each of the 34 charges could be combined. Interestingly, if imprisonment is imposed, special conditions would need to be created for Trump, given his right to lifelong government protection as a former president.


After July 11, Trump will have 30 days to appeal the decision. According to typical legal practice in New York, the appeal process could extend at least until the summer of 2025. The procedural period for gathering arguments for the appeal alone could take up to six months. This covers the entire period of the election campaign, even before the appeal is reviewed.


This provides Trump and his team with strong arguments for the campaign and grounds to publicly dispute the fairness of the court decisions from May 30 and July 11.


Legally, Trump has some grounds for this. Firstly, Trump can request Judge Merchan to delay the execution of the sentence until the appeal is concluded. Secondly, even if the judge denies Trump’s request, he can approach the appellate court to suspend his sentence pending the appeal.


Another question arises: could Trump pardon himself if he were elected president? The law does not allow this, as presidential pardons apply to federal crimes, while Trump's conviction was for violations of New York State laws.


Thus, Trump still has legal avenues to continue his campaign. But what about the support from his fellow party members?


Photo: Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, allegedly had a romantic relationship with Trump, although he continues to deny it. Daniels gave detailed testimony about her encounter with Trump at a golf tournament in 2006. Source: peacock stormy movie



Party Allies Rally

The shortest answer is the $53 million in campaign donations raised within 24 hours after the verdict was delivered. This is impressive, but it does not solve all of Trump’s problems at this stage.


The most pressing question is how voters' support for Trump is changing in light of the verdict. The largest survey on this issue was conducted by ABC News/Ipsos in May, before the verdict. According to its results, 80% of Trump supporters were willing to continue supporting him even if he were convicted. Another 16% said they could reconsider their decision, while only 4% stated they would no longer support him.


The most crucial aspect is maintaining support from his core base of followers. Therefore, there does not appear to be a significant split. However, it is important to see if the number of undecided voters will increase in the coming months.


Another poll by YouGov was conducted immediately after the verdict. According to its results, 27% of voters (across all party affiliations) said they were less likely to vote for Trump because of the conviction. Approximately the same percentage, 26%, said they were more likely to vote for him. However, a significant portion, 39%, stated that the conviction would not affect their decision on choosing a candidate. This indicates that for about two-thirds of voters, the conviction is not a decisive factor.


In the current circumstances, the differences in the economic programmes of the candidates may become even more important than usual. Amidst his legal troubles, Trump may significantly enhance the economic aspect of his programme to attract pragmatic voters. He will likely expand his "Make America Great Again" project. Interestingly, Joe Biden has been actively adopting ideas for reindustrialising America. His previous actions, such as protecting the domestic car market and the Chips Act, which incentivises the return of microelectronics manufacturing to the US, are notable.


“Tax cuts end for the wealthy, the poor, the middle-income, and everyone else, but they end in seven months, and he (Biden) is not going to extend them, which means taxes will quadruple,” Trump said during a recent meeting with key donors at the Pierre Hotel, exaggerating the potential losses. “You’re going to have the biggest tax increase in history,” he added. This meeting took place in May, before the court session on May 30.


At that meeting, a group of influential Republican donors indicated that they would support Trump no matter what. In turn, he is making every effort to ensure his campaign funds are unprecedentedly full. Adding the potential campaign opportunities provided by filing an appeal, the situation looks quite optimistic for Trump. The US presidential election-2024 is like a match between two very experienced boxers, so victory is likely to be decided "on points," with a narrow margin between the candidates.


These "points" are significantly influenced by the support of influential party members. So, what is happening within the Republican Party? There is an interesting process unfolding. On one hand, there is some polarisation within the party regarding whether to support a leader with legal troubles. On the other hand, Donald Trump has begun to adjust his positions on issues sensitive to most party members. Notably, he also appears he is reconsidering his stance on the war in Ukraine.


Strangely, the Kremlin's actions may reinforce this shift. Moscow publicly expressed its discontent with Trump’s May 30 verdict, calling the court decision “the removal of political competitors by all possible legal or illegal means,” as stated by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. However, this Russian support is so toxic against the backdrop of Russia’s crimes in Ukraine that it will likely play a negative role. We can expect many new and interesting statements from Trump regarding the war, which he recently promised to quickly end by pressuring Kyiv to make territorial concessions in exchange for a truce.

At a recent meeting similar to the one held in May at the Pierre Hotel, Trump suggested that if he were president, he would bomb Moscow and Beijing if Russia invaded Ukraine or China invaded Taiwan. This statement surprised some of the Republican donors present. But such a shift in rhetoric could appeal to many ordinary voters. Of course, Trump continues to address the issue of illegal immigration, which is highly sensitive for Republican voters.

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