Polls Say a Conviction Would Doom His Campaign

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Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to hold a "telerally" at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on January 13, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to hold a “telerally” at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on January 13, 2024 in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Can anything stop former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign juggernaut, now that Trump has all but crushed his GOP primary opponents and pulled ahead of President Joe Biden in national polls?
While November is a long time away, and plenty could happen before then, voters do say Trump has a massive weakness: A potential criminal conviction. In poll after poll, lots of voters who shrug off Trump’s four indictments say they wouldn’t support him if he’s convicted of a felony. If they mean it—or even if a big chunk of them do—they could easily be enough to keep him out of the White House.  What remains to be seen, of course, is whether they mean it—and, crucially, whether prosecutors can put Trump on trial in time for the rest of us to find out.That makes prosecutors’ race against the clock one of the most important narratives of the 2024 election cycle, as teams of lawyers work feverishly around the country to overcome Trump’s efforts to gum up the gears of the judicial system and push the start-date of all his trials past November. Nearly a quarter of Trump’s own supporters said he shouldn’t be the nominee if he’s convicted of a crime, according to a New York Times/Sienna College poll published in December. A clear majority of Americans, 57 percent, said they would not vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a felony in a September Reuters/Ipsos poll — including just under a third of Republicans.

In Iowa, almost a third of GOP caucusgoers said Trump would not be fit to be president if convicted. In New Hampshire, where Nikki Haley took second place in the GOP primary last Tuesday, nearly 9-out-of-10 her supporters backed that sentiment. The number of voters who oppose putting a convicted felon in the White House is high in key swing states, too

D.C. or Bust?

Yet legal experts say it’s far from certain Trump will end up on trial in any of his four cases this year. Prosecutors waited until 2023 to begin filing indictments against him, leaving precious little time to push the court system. And Trump has used every trick in the book to slow them down. The most serious case with a decent chance of making it all the way to trial is in Washington D.C., where Trump is accused of efforts to subvert the 2020 election. One big reason: District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, who was appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama. Judge Chutkan has expressed more concern from the bench about the timeline of the case than any of the other judges overseeing Trump’s criminal cases. She has even threatened to push forward the start-date of the trial to punish Trump if he refuses to follow the gag order she imposed on him against attacking witnesses in the case over their potential testimony, as well as court staff and members of the prosecution team. This trial had been scheduled to start on March 4—but it is currently on ice while Trump appeals one of Judge Chutkan’s decisions denying him presidential immunity. While many legal experts think Trump will ultimately lose that appeal, the question is how long the courts will take to get a final ruling. 

Big Apple Crime Time?

If the D.C. case gets pushed off too long, Trump may first go to trial in New York City.This is where Trump was first indicted back in April 2023, on charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. In Manhattan, Trump stands accused of falsifying business records related to a hush money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she slept with Trump. The NYC trial date was set for March 25, but both the judge and Manhattan DA signaled that they would be willing to move the date to give Trump’s federal D.C. trial precedence. But the March 24 date was never formally taken off the court calendar, so in theory, it could stay, if D.C. gets bumped over the presidential immunity fight.Bragg has recently characterized this indictment as a high-minded assault on political corruption. “The case—the core of it—is not money for sex,” Bragg said last month. “We would say it’s about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up. That’s the heart of the case.”Yet this indictment has weaknesses. For one thing, the NYC charges are the least serious in all of the Trump criminal cases. If convicted in Manhattan, Trump could face up to four years. But he might get off with no time at all. Elsewhere, Trump faces much more lengthy potential sentences.

Second, the trial is likely to rope in Michael Cohen, Trump’s alienated former attorney and “fixer” who previously served time in prison for his own crimes, which he said were committed to benefit Trump. The former president’s attorneys can be expected to target Cohen relentlessly on the stand over his credibility. 

Trump also faces federal charges in South Florida for allegedly stashing classified documents  at his beachside estate, Mar-a-Lago, and state charges in Atlanta, Georgia, over his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss in the Peach State.But the case in South Florida could easily end up being pushed back past the election. That’s partly because it’s being overseen by Judge Aileen Cannon, who has proved so sympathetic to Trump’s arguments in the past that seasoned lawyers have expressed alarm over her willingness to indulge the preferences of Trump’s legal team. Meanwhile, the court in Atlanta has not yet set a trial date. But the sweeping racketeering case brought by prosecutors there is highly complex, and is widely expected to take months to reach a final verdict, even if a trial began before the election. Another racketeering case brought by the same prosecutor’s office recently took 10 months just to seat a jury and get started.What’s more, the local prosecutor’s office that brought the charges is now swept up in a scandal over allegations that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis engaged in an improper romantic affair with lead prosecutor Nathan Wade. While most lawyers say the hoopla won’t sink the case, it could prove distracting and create further delay.The stakes of putting Trump on trial before the election go higher than the election itself, of course. If Trump makes it back to the White House, he’ll have powerful tools to make his criminal problems go away. He could tell his Attorney General to simply dismiss the two federal cases against him in D.C. and Florida. And his lawyers have already argued in court that the state cases, in Georgia and New York, should be put on ice for the duration of his hypothetical presidency. 

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