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Trump Vows To Fight On Despite Conviction

May 31, 2024

Shortly after 5:00 p.m. Thursday, a New York jury brought the country to an unprecedented brink by finding Donald Trump guilty of financial fraud, making the former president a convicted felon for now (unless or until the conviction is overturned on appeal) and making the current presidential election a referendum, he now hopes, not just on his record against Joe Biden’s but the entire political system.

Republicans call it a miscarriage of justice. Democrats, proof that no one is above the law. History will remember it as a new chapter: Donald J. Trump is the first former president to be convicted of a crime.

“We didn’t do anything wrong. I am a very innocent man,” said Trump, dressed in his trademark blue suit and too-long tie. Then a familiar script as the former president embraced martyrdom arguing that his conviction was part of a larger war for the soul of a nation. “I'm fighting for our country. I'm fighting for our Constitution,” he said. “Our whole country is being rigged right now.”

Trump was found guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records in a case stemming from hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Each count carries a maximum prison term of four years. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11, just four days before Trump is slated to accept the Republican presidential nomination for a third consecutive time.

Although questions abound about the fate of the former president and the nation, there is little to no chance Trump will end up behind bars before the end of the year. He is expected to remain free on bail pending appeal, a process that is not likely to be exhausted until well after Election Day. The case now shifts to the appellate courts – as well as the proverbial court of public opinion.

Democrats have been desperate to cast the election as a rematch of Biden v. Trump with an emphasis on character, not a judgment on President Biden’s first term in office. They may have gotten what they wanted. “Donald Trump is a racist, a homophobe, a grifter, and a threat to this country,” said Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker. “He can now add one more title to his list – a felon.” Sources close to the former president prefer a different description.

A senior Trump campaign official predicted weeks before the decision that a conviction would “make him the Nelson Mandela of America,” comparing Biden to Russian President Vladimar Putin for his imprisonment of political rival and late dissident Alexei Navalny.

The framework suits Trump, who blasted out an email fundraiser shortly after his conviction calling himself “a political prisoner,” arguing both that “justice is dead in America” and “our country has fallen.”  This kind of rhetoric, complete with comparisons of the U.S. to the third world, is likely to accelerate in the weeks and months ahead. Both major presidential campaigns now argue that the other could end democracy.

“These people would do anything and everything to hold onto political power. They don’t care if they destroy our country in the process,” said the former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

Martyrdom has been a central theme of Trump’s return to politics. After his New York indictment last year, the GOP nomination was practically a fait accompli, and his campaign nearly told RCP as much at the time. It is unclear whether that phenomenon will translate to a general election.

Court has not crippled Trump so far, however, and Biden has not surpassed his rival a single time this year in the RealClearPolitics Average. Well aware of those numbers, the Biden campaign attempted to tamp down jubilation on the left over the bad legal news consuming the right. They warned that Trump could still win. “There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” said Biden-Harris communications director Michael Tyler.

Biden has yet to address the conviction. Ian Sams, spokesman for the White House counsel’s office reacted to the news only by saying, “We respect the rule of law, and have no additional comment.” By remaining silent, however, he ceded the spotlight to Trump, allowing his rival to shape the first 24 hours of the narrative.

Nothing bars Trump from running for president as a felon. It is unclear, however, if he will be able to cast a vote for himself while his case goes through the appeal process. A more immediate consequence of the trial ending: Trump’s schedule just opened up, and Trump can return to the campaign trail in earnest.

Sources in regular contact with the former president report that the prospect of prison has not cast a shadow over Trump personally. One told RCP that he “sincerely believes” that divine providence now guides his steps and “that he has been chosen for a time such as this.” He has six months to convince the country to return him to the White House, and in the most extreme circumstance, to preserve his freedom. Republicans were as bullish over those odds as they were angry.

“Today's verdict from this partisan, corrupt, and rigged trial just guaranteed Trump's landslide victory on November 5, 2024,” Mike Davis, founder and president of the pro-Trump Article III Project, told RCP.

Former Rep. Peter Meijer, a Michigan Republican who voted to impeach Trump, echoed that sentiment, warning that a conviction would backfire on Democrats. “The chain reaction will cause infinitely more damage than whatever they think they are preventing,” he told RCP.

The conviction created a tidal wave of donations as Trump began fundraising almost immediately after leaving court. The Trump campaign buckled briefly at the surge. The fundraising website, WinRed, temporarily crashed under the strain of heavy traffic.

“I’ll lose friends for this,” wrote Shaun Maguire in a lengthy post on X announcing his $300,000 donation to Trump. A partner at Sequoia Capital and a former Democratic donor, Maguire said that “lawfare” in part inspired his donation: “Fairness is one of my guiding principles in life and simply, these cases haven't been fair for Trump.”

Following the conviction, there was a discernable shift on the right among conservatives who normally argue that the judicial system ought to remain apolitical. Some Trump allies described the guilty verdict as “the Rubicon.” Asked about the new Republican appetite to use the courts to go after political opponents, Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller told RCP that “the good guys must be as tough as the villains or freedom is doomed.”

The field of potential vice-presidential candidates snapped to attention in their immediate condemnation of the conviction. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the verdict was “a complete travesty that makes a mockery of our system of justice.” Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance called it “election interference.” South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, “absolute injustice” that “erodes our justice system.”

“From the start, the weaponized scales of justice were stacked against President Trump. Joe Biden, Far Left Democrats, and their stenographers in the mainstream media have made it clear they will stop at nothing to prevent President Trump from returning to the White House,” said New York Rep. Elise Stefanik in a lengthy statement to reporters.

“This Lawfare should scare every American,” said a more succinct North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum. “The American people will have their say in November.”

The safest thing for any Republican elected official anywhere Thursday night was to attack the judicial system. Defending that institution, meanwhile, was verboten. Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a frequent Trump critic now running for Senate, appeared to miss the memo when he shared a statement calling for GOP leaders to “reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law.”

Replied Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump advisor dispatched to oversee the Republican National Convention, You just ended your campaign.”

The most common sentiment among Trump’s close circle of advisors and friends was that something had changed permanently, not in the former president personally but in the country.

“Today marks a turning point,” said Brooke Rollins, who led Trump’s Domestic Policy Council before launching the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank often described as a Trump White House in waiting. “I see it as a fire that has been lit. I see the sleeping giant of the American people awakened.”

On the second day of jury deliberations, Trump had kept up appearances with a smile. A verdict was not expected Thursday, and by the afternoon, Judge Juan Merchan was preparing to dismiss the jury for the day. The foreman replied instead that the jury had reached a verdict. He read each of the 34 charges and followed by a one-word pronouncement: “guilty."

A smile turned to a grimace, and Trump, surrounded by his defense team, stared forward stone-faced as he listened to the verdict and American history. He vowed in brief remarks to reporters afterwards that he would “fight till the end and we’ll win because our country’s gone to hell.”

It was like so many of the pronouncements he has made after so many of the other controversies that have defined his political life. It was also different. A loss, if the conviction stands, could mean prison. Rollins predicted that Trump would persevere, like he has before. “From my perspective,” she said, “it is almost Biblical to see this sort of courage and leadership and unwillingness to back down even in the face of seemingly unsurmountable odds.”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.
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