Why Trump’s Historic Conviction Is So Unsatisfying

The hope, not so long ago, was that a conviction would puncture Trump’s stubborn lead in the polls—and, more importantly, his well-cultivated, if inaccurate, aura of invulnerability. There exists a great deal of polling suggesting that voters could turn on the former president if he were to become a convicted felon. A Marquette University survey found, for instance, that his lead was six points if he were found not guilty—but that Biden would lead by four points were the Manhattan jury to find Trump guilty.

I, like my colleague Walter Shapiro, have long been skeptical that a guilty verdict would lead to a dramatic shift in the polls. There has, from the very beginning of Trump’s political career, long been an assumption—or at least an abiding hope—that he would cross some unimaginable line and most voters would finally turn on him. Trump’s attacks on John McCain, the Muslim ban, his demonization of a Gold Star family, the Access Hollywood tape, Michael Flynn, his first impeachment (for pressuring a foreign government to launch a phony investigation of a political rival), his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, his fascistic response to racial justice protests, his attempted overturning of a lawful and legitimate election, and his second impeachment for inciting the January 6 insurrection—all were foisted as moments of reckoning. That reckoning never came. It is hard to imagine that a conviction—even a felony conviction—on paying hush money to an adult film actress would change that. Especially since that payment (and the related affair) have been known for years.

Yes, the broad facts of Trump’s other trials are also familiar to voters. They know about January 6. They know that he retained classified information after he left the White House. But those cases both strike at larger vulnerabilities for Trump. They get at his wild and dangerous irresponsibility. They get at his contempt for the rule of law. They get at his contempt for American democracy itself. A trial, taking place over several weeks, would focus attention on those qualities in a way that the Biden campaign has struggled to do for most of this year.

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Kim browne

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