Home Politics Senate Republicans see Trump verdict as political wild card

Senate Republicans see Trump verdict as political wild card

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Senate Republicans are nervously anticipating the verdict in former President Trump’s Manhattan hush-money trial and warn that it could have a significant impact on the election.

GOP lawmakers say a failure to secure a conviction would be a major embarrassment for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg that would strengthen Trump.

But they admit they don’t know how a conviction would play out, given that between 20 percent and 30 percent of GOP primary voters said they would not see Trump as fit for office if convicted of a felony.

GOP senators say Trump’s campaign faces a high degree of uncertainty about any fallout resulting from the embarrassing trial. 

A conviction or acquittal may have more impact on the campaign than either of the two debates Trump and President Biden have agreed to for late June and early September.

Some Republican senators fear a guilty verdict will further hurt Trump’s limited appeal with swing voters, particularly college-educated and suburban women, who shifted away from Trump in 2020.

“I think for his strong supporters, I think they’re just simply going to look at that and say, ‘See? It’s not fair.’ On the other side, there’s people in the middle, there are independents, that are probably looking at this saying, ‘I wasn’t sure whether I could support him again or not. I don’t like what President Biden is doing.’ They may have second thoughts” about voting for Trump, said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.).

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said ordinarily she would think that any candidate convicted of a felony would be essentially knocked out of a race but acknowledged that Trump has defied past predictions of his political demise.

“I would have thought that we didn’t even need to go into the trial, we wouldn’t even need to get to a guilty verdict — the fact that the Republican nominee would be subject of a trial such as this would have had an impact,” she said.

Exit polls of Republican voters in multiple state primaries show that a significant portion of the electorate, including Republican voters, would not view Trump as fit for office if convicted of a felony crime.

“We’ll see. I don’t know what to believe anymore,” Murkowski said. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that so many Republicans still feel that Biden was not properly elected.”

“We’ll see if those numbers hold true or whether people feel that it’s just not important. I think it would be unfortunate if that were the case,” she said of polls showing many voters would consider a criminal conviction a serious factor in weighing the candidates.

A nationwide survey by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab last month found that Trump could lose 10 percent of his supporters if he is convicted.

The poll of likely voters conducted from April 8-20 found that 9 percent of Trump voters would be less likely to vote for him if convicted.

It reflects several exit polls from earlier this year showing that many voters — including Republicans — would view a criminal conviction as disqualifying Trump from returning to the Oval Office.

In March, more than 3 in 10 North Carolina Republican primary voters and 37 percent of GOP primary voters in Virginia said they would view Trump as unfit to serve as president if convicted of a crime.

Those responses were in line with 31 percent of Republican Iowa caucusgoers, 42 percent of New Hampshire GOP primary voters and 36 percent of South Carolina Republican primary voters who said Trump would not be fit for office if convicted.

Those numbers are giving Democrats hope at a time when they’re running into the political headwinds of Biden’s low poll numbers and voters’ concerns about the current president’s age and ability to handle the economy.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) said voters “certainly do” care if Trump is a potential felon.

“Two out of three [voters] say that if he is convicted of a felony that would affect the way they’re going to vote,” he said of the broad electorate. “I can understand that.

“Of course it would be shameful situation, the first time in the history of the United States a president [is] convicted of a felony,” he said.

The judge in the trial, Juan Merchan, announced Monday that the trial will take a few days longer than expected to wrap up and that prosecutors and defense lawyers will likely present their closing arguments next week.

While Trump’s legal team was able to punch holes in the credibility of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, legal experts still think prosecutors have a good chance of winning.

The evidence against Trump includes a voice recording of him directing Cohen to pay in cash, as well as 18 witnesses and records of text messages and emails.

Some Republicans argue that Trump will get a big political boost if Bragg fails to convict the nation’s highest-profile defendant.

“Their big attempt to knock Trump out of the presidential campaign is going to be a big belly-flop. They basically staked their whole case on a couple of confirmed liars,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, referring to the testimony of adult film star Stormy Daniels and Cohen

Cornyn said if Bragg fails to get a conviction, it “absolutely” will help Trump’s presidential campaign.

“What the Department of Justice and the Biden administration don’t understand is every time you keep coming after President Trump in what looks like [a] two-tiered system of justice you’re helping him make his case, which is he is a victim,” Cornyn added. “So I think it’s a high-risk proposition.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) predicted Trump could win the election in a “landslide” if convicted because the public backlash would be so strong. 

“It looks so awful and no fair-minded person believes” that Trump deserves to be convicted of a felony over charges combining the offenses of falsifying business records with campaign finance violations, he said. 

“This truly is lawfare, and I think it’s really bad. I think actually if Trump is convicted it might actually help him,” he added. 

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) declared: “I would be willing to state with metaphysical certainty that Donald J. Trump is not going to get convicted in that trial.” 

And some Republicans think voters’ views of Trump are already so fixed that either a guilty verdict or acquittal may be forgotten by Election Day in November.

“I think that case most people view as a trumped-up case, which the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office passed on prosecuting a long time ago, and I just think that’s the way people view it. However it comes out, I just don’t think it’s going to move the needle much,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.).

But other Republicans acknowledge it could be a wild card in the presidential race.

“How people are going to vote in November? Ask me sometime then,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

Al Weaver contributed.

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