How Trump's conviction could change the dynamics of the 2024 race


Former President Donald Trump has been found guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in his Manhattan criminal trial, adding another layer of uncertainty to an already unprecedented campaign.

As a convicted felon, Trump is not prevented from continuing to campaign for president, since the Constitution does not prohibit candidates from running for president even if they are convicted of a crime. In fact, there is precedent for a candidate running from behind bars: In 1920, Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs ran for president from a federal penitentiary in Atlanta.

Trump is the first former U.S. president to be found guilty of felonies, and the first major party candidate to run for office after being found guilty of a crime. Here’s how his conviction could change the 2024 campaign:

How Trump can campaign after his conviction

Now that he’s convicted, Trump is all but certain to appeal the decision handed down by the jury, and he is likely to be able to return to the campaign trail as the process plays out. 

The next development in the case will come at sentencing, currently scheduled for July 11. Justice Juan Merchan has wide discretion over when sentencing occurs and what the punishment looks like. Trump faces a maximum of up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine for each of the 34 felony charges of falsification of business records. The sentencing options available to Merchan include prison, probation, conditional discharge, fines or house arrest.

The judge could put limitations on his travel, such as restricting Trump from leaving the state and taking his passport, but Merchan has said he doesn’t want to interfere with his ability to campaign.

“I would think that the judge wouldn’t dare interfere with his right to speak to the American public because it’s the right of the voters to be informed as well,” said John Coffee, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on corporate governance and white collar crime.

In a recent survey of dozens of cases brought by Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in which falsifying business records was the most serious charge at arraignment, attorney and author Norm Eisen found that roughly one in 10 of those cases resulted in a sentence of incarceration.

“I think that is fascinating,” said Caroline Polisi, a criminal defense attorney and professor at Columbia Law School. “A lot of commentators say the reason he won’t be incarcerated is because the logistics of it with respect to the Secret Service would be too much. On the other hand, if you’re saying he should be treated like any other defendant, we have a lot of data saying that 90% of other defendants would not get jail time in this situation.”

The impact of the conviction on Trump’s ability to campaign could largely hinge on what sentence Merchan ultimately hands down, and when Trump would serve it.

“In the context in which he is found guilty and then sentenced to no jail time, I don’t think it’s going to cause a bit of difference,” added Polisi. “There might be some minor issues. He might not be able to vote for himself. But other than that, I don’t think it’s going to cause any problems.”

When determining Trump’s sentence, the judge could take into account his numerous gag order violations — which led Merchan to threaten him with jail time if the violations continued — and his lack of demonstrated remorse or respect for the legal system. Throughout the trial, Trump referred to Merchan as “conflicted” and “corrupt” and to the case itself as a “sham.” 

“In New York, a 78-year-old defendant, who’s a first time offender, committed a non-violent offense, and has an otherwise, well, distinguished record — in some regards being an ex-president is distinguished. In that kind of world, there’d be no chance of an incarceration sentence,” said Coffee. “They can use probation, they can use fines. But there may be a view of many judges that you have to show that no one’s above the law, and even the future president should have a taste of prison.”

Even if Merchan does order Trump to serve time behind bars, the sentence could be deferred until his appeal has run its course.

“In other cases, when you don’t have someone running for the White House, it would be more or acceptable to put him immediately into incarceration,” said Coffee. You certainly could put special conditions on what he could do or put him under house arrest, but I think until we get to the actual election, we’re going to have to let Donald Trump run around and campaign.

The conviction’s possible impact on Trump’s poll numbers and support

Trump has predicted that a conviction in this trial could boost his poll numbers. 

“Even if convicted, I think that it has absolutely no impact. It may drive the numbers up, but we don’t want that. We want to have a fair verdict,” Trump told CBS Pittsburgh in an interview earlier this month.

Trump’s support among his Republican base has been remarkably resilient in the face of his various criminal cases. In the months following his four indictments last year, Trump maintained his commanding lead in the Republican primary, capturing the nomination despite the dozens of criminal charges he faced.

Many Trump supporters who CBS News has interviewed since the trial began have said a guilty conviction will not change how they vote in November, adopting the former president’s grievances as their own.

“Stormy Daniels has already been reviewed and stuff. It’s kind of coincidental,” Michigan resident Lori Beyer said at a recent rally in Freeland, Michigan, adding she would vote for Trump regardless of the conviction. “I don’t think it’s going to impact it, as far as I’m concerned.”

Whether a conviction changes the minds of voters who are not committed to the former president remains to be seen. A recent CBS News poll found that the majority of Americans believed Trump is “definitely or probably” guilty of the charges he faced in New York. The overwhelming majority of Democrats — 93% — believed Trump was guilty, while 78% Republicans said he was not. Independents were split, with 53% believing he was guilty and 47% saying he wasn’t. 

Opinions about whether Trump was guilty or not were already highly partisan, according to Kabir Khanna, deputy director of elections and data analytics for CBS News. Most people who believed Trump was guilty also thought the jury would convict him, and vice versa. 

Additionally, Khanna said people who followed the trial closely were the most polarized in their views.

“Together, these factors could blunt the impact of the verdict on the views of an already divided public,” Khanna said. “Some voters may be swayed by the news, but I wouldn’t expect a sea change.” 

Other polling supports that notion. A NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey released Thursday found that 67% of registered voters nationwide said a Trump conviction would not make a difference in how they vote. Among independents, just 11% said a guilty verdict would make them less likely to vote for Trump.

The conviction also gives the Biden campaign a potentially potent new weapon in their arsenal: the ability to label Trump a convicted felon. Mr. Biden remained largely silent about the Trump trial while it was ongoing, but NBC News reported last week that he planned to become more aggressive about Trump’s legal woes after the trial concluded, while acknowledging that Trump would be on the ballot regardless of how his legal cases played out.

Trump has used the trial to help boost his fundraising, and will likely look to capitalize on the conviction. The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee saw an influx of donations after jury selection began, with the two entities raising $76 million in April. His campaign had about $50 million cash on hand at the beginning of May as he prepared to get back out on the campaign trail after the trial.

The former president repeatedly used the developments in the trial to raise money, including when he was held in contempt for violating the gag order against him.

“I’d get arrested ONE MILLION TIMES before I’d let those filthy dogs get their hands on you,” one typical fundraising appeal read. 

Trump’s other criminal cases

The New York case might be the only one of Trump’s four criminal prosecutions to reach a conclusion before voters cast their ballots in the fall, giving the guilty verdict added weight.

The two federal cases brought by special counsel Jack Smith remain in limbo. 

In Washington, D.C., Trump faces charges related to his actions to remain in power after the 2016 election. Trump has argued that he is immune from prosecution, and the Supreme Court is currently weighing his claim.

The high court heard arguments in the immunity dispute on April 26 and is expected to issue a decision on the matter before the end of the court’s term, likely in June. If the case is allowed to move forward, there is a slim possibility that the district court could schedule the trial before November. If the justices side with Trump and find him immune from prosecution, the charges would be dropped.

In Florida, Trump faces federal charges stemming from his retention of classified documents after he left the White House. Judge Aileen Cannon, who was appointed by Trump, has indefinitely postponed the trial. She ruled in early May that picking a trial date would be “imprudent and inconsistent with the court’s duty to fully and fairly consider” numerous unresolved pre-trial motions. Those motions include Trump’s efforts to dismiss the case altogether, as well as issues related to what classified information can be revealed at trial.

In the third case that remains outstanding, Trump faces state charges related to the 2020 election in Fulton County, Georgia. The trial in that matter is also on hold as Trump seeks to have District Attorney Fani Willis removed from the case. Georgia’s Court of Appeals recently granted Trump’s appeal of a decision that had allowed her to remain, bringing the trial to a temporary halt.

Trump’s two federal cases could largely be in voters’ hands if they are not resolved by November, a fact that raises his personal stake in the outcome. If he wins and returns to the White House in January 2025, Trump could order the Justice Department to seek to drop the charges altogether.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the criminal cases against him.



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