Column: Trump Wins! (One way or another.) Here’s why

No matter what verdict the jury delivers in Donald Trump’s trial on business fraud charges in New York, one outcome is predictable: The former president will react with defiance and denial — plus a declaration of victory if he isn’t found guilty on all counts.

A more important effect is almost as predictable: The verdict won’t have much impact on his chances of winning the presidential election.

Even a finding of guilty on tangled charges that Trump committed business fraud to hide hush money payments to an adult film actress is likely to have only a minor effect on his standing in the eyes of most voters.

A conviction, which the former president would almost certainly appeal, won’t prevent him from staying in the race. And if he wins the election, he stands a good chance of avoiding any serious penalties, at least while he’s in office.

Trump faces four possible verdicts: guilty on all counts, a split decision, a hung jury or acquittal.

GUILTY — It won’t be easy to spin a conviction on all 34 counts as a victory, but there are plenty of ways Trump can mitigate the consequences. He’ll continue to claim that the charges were flimsy and the process was rigged against him. And if he appeals the verdict, that will have two effects: It will almost certainly keep him out of jail until long after election day, and it will allow him to argue (correctly) that a conviction can’t be considered final while it’s under challenge.

SPLIT DECISION — If Trump is found guilty on some counts but not on others, he can be relied on to declare it a moral victory. He’ll almost certainly appeal any and all convictions, and argue that the muddled outcome proves that the charges against him were weak from the start.

HUNG JURY — It takes only one of 12 jurors to block a jury from delivering a verdict — a “hung jury,” normally resulting in a mistrial. If the jury can’t reach a decision, Trump will exult that even a jury of Manhattanites in one of the most liberal jurisdictions in the nation failed to find him culpable — another moral victory declaration.

ACQUITTAL — This would be total victory. The candidate would claim that it proves he’s been right all along — and that his opponents have unfairly “weaponized” the judicial system against him.

Why do I say even a guilty verdict isn’t likely to dent Trump’s electoral prospects? Because that’s what the smartest political pollsters I know, both Republicans and Democrats, say.

“A conviction in this case is unlikely to play a significant role” in the election, Democratic strategist Mark Mellman said. “It’s possible that the polls will flutter and then return to where they were. And it’s possible that there won’t be a flutter.”

“The most likely impact of a guilty verdict is negligible,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres agreed.

An ABC News/Ipsos poll last month found that that 16% of Trump’s current voters said they would reconsider supporting him if he were convicted in the New York case, and another 4% said they would definitely stop supporting him. But voters are generally bad at predicting how they would react to hypothetical future events, the pollsters warned.

In 1998, Mellman noted, plenty of Democrats told pollsters they thought then-President Clinton should resign if he were impeached for lying about a sexual relationship with a White House intern. But when the Republican-led House of Representatives actually impeached Clinton, his voters stuck with him and his popularity soared.

Trump has spent months attacking the legitimacy of the criminal cases against him — preparing his supporters, in effect, to ignore a guilty verdict.

And he has shown, over and over, that constant repetition can bend public opinion his way.

A case in point: Trump’s insistence that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. A year ago, the Monmouth University Poll found that 68% of Republicans said they believed President Biden won the election through fraud. By February, with Trump campaigning relentlessly on his bogus election claims, that number ticked up to 75%.

“We have seen, over eight years, a series of events that caused people to say, ‘Surely this time, Trump will lose support.’ But he never really does,” Ayres said.

As for undecided voters, five months of campaigning still remain. Voters who haven’t made up their minds are unlikely to decide in November on the basis of a verdict on business-fraud charges — a verdict that will be under appeal, at worst — that was delivered in May.

Trump has already scored at least one important victory. Six months ago, he was facing four serious criminal cases, any of which could have derailed his presidential campaign: a federal case stemming from his supporters’ invasion of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; a federal case on charges he illegally retained highly classified documents; a Georgia election interference case; and the New York business fraud case.

Now he has contrived to postpone a final reckoning in all four until long past the election.

The delays don’t make the charges go away.

But if Trump wins the election, he can order the Justice Department to halt the two federal cases. And under most legal precedent, state courts would put his prosecutions in New York and Georgia on hold while he’s serving as president. If he wins in November and completes a full term, that means he won’t face prosecution before 2029, when he’ll be 82.

In short, no matter how the New York trial concludes, Trump will survive to fight another day — and perhaps even to serve another four years as president.

It has often been noted that it is unprecedented for a former president to face criminal charges. It is equally unprecedented, and equally noteworthy, that he can go on trial, face possible conviction — and have it barely dent his political fortunes.

Read more McManus columns on Trump:
Trump has big plans for California if he wins a second term. Fasten your seatbelts
Trump wants to round up over a million undocumented migrants from California. Here’s how he might do it
Trump loves fossil fuels; California wants clean energy. Cue collision

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Kevin harson

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