What Trump's guilty verdict means for the 2024 election (2024)

ByAnthony Zurcher,North America correspondent

What Trump's guilty verdict means for the 2024 election (1)What Trump's guilty verdict means for the 2024 election (2)Getty Images

Donald Trump’s criminal conviction presents a remarkable collection of historic firsts.

He’s the first former or serving US president to be found guilty of a crime. He’s the first presumptive major-party nominee to become a convicted felon as well.

While Trump plans his appeal in the hush-money case, and awaits a sentence on 11 July that could in theory include prison time and a hefty fine, it’s not too early to consider the political fallout.

That will be difficult, however, given this has never happened before.

“We often look to history to find some kind of hint of what’s going to happen,” says Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. “But there is nothing in the record that comes even close to this.”

Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year and is scheduled to be crowned at the party's convention just days after his sentencing.

  • LIVE UPDATES: Follow the reaction to verdict

Polls indicate he is in a statistical dead heat with President Joe Biden and maintains a slight edge in many key swing states that will decide the election. But those surveys also provide evidence that this conviction might change all of that.

In exit polls conducted during the Republican primaries this winter, double-digit numbers of voters said that they would not vote for the former president if he were convicted of a felony.

An April survey by Ipsos and ABC News found that 16% of those backing Trump would reconsider their support in such a situation.

Those were hypothetical convictions, however. And at the time he was facing four criminal cases, including charges related to an alleged conspiracy to overturn the result of the 2020 election and his handling of classified documents once leaving the White House.

Now those voters can make their judgement based on a real conviction.

"The real verdict is going to be [on] 5 November, by the people," Trump said, moments after leaving the courtroom.

Doug Schoen, a pollster who worked with Democratic President Bill Clinton and independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, says American voters may feel less strongly about the hush-money case by then because it relates to events that took place eight years ago.

“While it’s not a great thing to be convicted of a crime, what voters will be thinking about in November is inflation, the southern border, competition with China and Russia and the money that is being spent on Israel and Ukraine,” he said.

What Trump's guilty verdict means for the 2024 election (3)What Trump's guilty verdict means for the 2024 election (4)

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Even a slight drop in Trump’s support, however, might be enough to matter in the kind of razor-thin race this presidential contest could become. If a few thousand voters who would have otherwise backed the former president stay home in a key state like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, it could make all the difference.

“I do think it will have an impact and damage him as a candidate,” says Ariel Hill-Davis, co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, a group that has sought to move the party away from Trump.

She says younger voters and those who are college-educated and live in the suburbs have been concerned about Trump’s demeanour and his approach to governing.

“Those voters are really hesitant to get back in line with the Republican Party headed by Donald Trump,” she says. “The guilty verdict is going to further shore up those concerns.”

But leading Republicans, many of whom attended the trial in a show of loyalty to the party nominee, were quick to rally behind him.

House Speaker Mike Johnson called it a shameful day in American history. "This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one."

For eight years, experts and opponents have been predicting Trump’s impending political collapse, only to be proven wrong. His 2016 presidential campaign was punctuated by scandals that would have likely felled a typical politician, including Trump’s recorded Access Hollywood conversation about groping women that was referenced multiple times in this trial.

Mr Trump’s party largely stuck with him through two impeachments and the chaotic end of his presidency, during which the US Capitol was attacked by a mob of his supporters.

All this did not prevent the former president from undertaking a political revival that has put him in position to win back the White House in November.

“It’s axiomatic at this point, but Trump’s continued support, despite the kind of scandal that would have scuttled literally any other previous candidate in American history, is truly astounding,” says Mr Engel.

This historic criminal conviction may prove to be different – particularly if Trump’s appeals fail and he faces the prospect of prison.

Or it could just be the latest in a long series of seemingly disruptive events that, in hindsight, have only been bumps on Trump’s path to power.

Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University, has constructed a political model that has successfully predicted the winner of every presidential race since 1984. He concedes, however, that Trump’s criminal conviction could be the kind of “cataclysmic and unprecedented” twist that throws the model for a loop and changes the course of history.

“History books will record this as a truly extraordinary, unprecedented event, but a lot will depend on what happens afterwards,” he says.

The ultimate judgement on the importance of Trump’s conviction will come at the hands of voters in November. If the former president is defeated, his guilty verdict is likely to be viewed as one of the reasons why.

If he wins, it may become just a footnote to Trump’s tumultuous yet consequential political career.

“History is written by the winners, as we all know,” Mr Engel says.

Get more of Anthony's analysis post-verdict by listening to Americast

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