Trump running as a convicted felon: Badge of honor, or stumbling block?


(NEW YORK) — The guilty verdicts against former President Donald Trump on 34 counts make real a prospect that had been only hypothetical: a presumptive presidential nominee running as a convicted felon.

Yet, the electoral fallout is still only theoretical — and may not be fully realized until Nov. 5.

Trump is expected to appeal the ruling, dragging out the legal case against him surrounding hush money payments to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It also leaves operatives wondering if the conviction will serve as a badge of honor to his voters, a stumbling block in his reelection bid or, in the parlance of the Trump era, a nothing burger.

“All of the above,” said GOP strategist Mike DuHaime, who worked on former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s presidential bid. “No one plays victim better than he does, so this will solidify 95% of his supporters. The problem is the other 5%. If that 5% leaves, he’s losing 2.5 points in close target states, enough to tip the balance.”

Polls had indicated risks loomed for Trump in the case of a conviction, with an April survey from CNN/SSRS showing that 24% of Trump supporters “might reconsider” their support for him. In an average of more recent polls taken by 538, Trump loses 6 points of support after a then-hypothetical conviction, but President Joe Biden gains only 1 point.

In the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s verdicts, both parties were left searching for answers as to where Trump stands with voters.

“The problem is, I don’t know because it’s never been done before,” a source with direct knowledge of how the Trump campaign could respond said when asked what the electoral fallout could be.

Some Republicans predicted the ruling will only supercharge Trump’s base — a dynamic that popped up in polling and fundraising in the past, including after his indictments in the very case he was convicted in on Thursday, and one that could prove advantageous in a possible margin-of-error base where base turnout makes the difference.

“This outrageous outcome will only intensify the Trump base both politically and regarding fundraising. Sad day for our country,” said Brian Ballard, a prominent Republican lobbyist.

“This was so over the top it will continue to push people to his corner,” added Sean Spicer, Trump’s first White House press secretary.

That was the case with Richard Paddock, a businessman from Gilford, New Hampshire, who supported Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 GOP primary and was lukewarm about voting for Trump.

“This outcome has now hardened my support to vote for Trump,” he told ABC News. “I can’t imagine the jury wasn’t conflicted. Everyone has an opinion of Trump baked in.”

Other operatives were less certain of the ramifications — with some pointing to July 11, Trump’s sentencing date, as an opportunity for a clearer sense of what the impact will be on Trump’s comeback bid.

“That will be a function in part of what the judge does at sentencing,” said Republican donor Eric Levine, who fundraised for former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s now-defunct presidential bid and since said he would vote for Trump. “If he’s sent to prison, it will make it difficult for him to campaign. If he’s free pending appeal, I think this will help him.”

Even some Democrats suggested the race between Trump and Biden remains unchanged.

Both men boast virtually universal name recognition after decades in the spotlight and one term in the White House, and voters have had years to digest the allegations in the hush money case, leaving little new information to be gleaned from the verdict, historic as it is.

“No one learned anything new about Donald Trump or Joe Biden today. The election remains static, and the only way to beat Donald Trump is at the ballot box,” said one adviser to Democratic candidates and donors.

The Biden campaign itself echoed a similar line, saying in a fundraising pitch to supporters that “despite a jury finding Donald Trump guilty today, there is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: At the ballot box,” noting that, “Trump’s supporters are fired up and likely setting fundraising records for his campaign.”

Still, the conviction slaps Trump with the ignominious label of felon, possibly giving Republicans and undecided voters pause over whether to back the former president in November.

Trump had already shown signs of leaking support among some voters. Haley, despite dropping out of the presidential race in March, was still racking up votes in primaries, reaching as high as around 20%.

Some of that vote was certain to be cast as a protest by voters never intending to support Trump in the first place, and some of that 20% is anticipated to come home to the GOP in November. But some operatives who spoke to ABC News said the verdict could hinder Trump’s consolidation of GOP support, especially from the centrist flank of the party.

“Moderate swing voters aren’t wild about voting for a convicted felon,” said anti-Trump GOP pollster Sarah Longwell.

“The big unknown that no poll can measure and no one will see until Election Day is how many Republicans stay home rather than vote for a felon,” added veteran Democratic strategist Pete Giangreco. “Look, if 4-5% of current Trump voters go third party or stay home, Biden has a solid shot. That’s 2 points. In a state like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Michigan, that’s all it might take.”

And while Paddock and other voters who spoke to ABC News either doubled down on Trump or said they were keeping an open mind, others said the conviction slammed the door on the possibility they’d pull the lever for the former president on Election Day.

“It’s crazy that we have a former president as a felon. I think it’s just a sad day for U.S. politics but hope it inspires change in everyone,” said Matthew Labkovski, a 26-year-old Republican medical student in South Florida who had previously been deciding between voting for Biden, Trump or a third-party candidate, and is now choosing between voting for Biden and not voting at all.

“He kind of screwed the pooch on that one,” added Jay Rueda, a Republican from Houston and a two-time Trump voter. “I think it completely puts him out of contention on my end.”

ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel, Isabella Murray and Michael Pappano contributed to this report.

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