June 2, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Will a felony conviction hurt Trump? Yes! Just listen to him!

The man's practically howling in pain, but some people still wonder.

Courtesy of NBC News, via screenshot.
Courtesy of NBC News, via screenshot.

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Editor’s note: I don’t usually publish on a Sunday, but I was away for a week and there was big news while I was. I also wanted to send this to everyone, subscribers and readers. Please, if you haven’t already, support my work with a tip or a paid subscription. Thank you! — JS

Do yourself a favor. Stop wondering if Donald Trump’s felony conviction on 34 counts of business fraud in Manhattan is going to hurt his campaign. Stop wondering, because there’s nothing to wonder about. The former president and his allies are telling us it’s going to hurt. You don’t need an intermediary to tell you what they are telling you directly.

Yes, I know. They are adept at spin. The former president and his allies have convinced bored and cynical reporters that the thing that looks like it’s going to sink him is the thing that’s going to save him. Bored and cynical reporters have their reasons for believing that. (They’re bored and cynical). But don’t believe it. Some things are very simple, and it’s simply very bad to be a convicted felon who’s running for president. 

You don’t need to know much about politics to know this. All you need to do is listen to Trump and his allies. If they believed a guilty verdict favored him, they wouldn’t attack the justice system that produced the outcome that favors him. His Republican allies wouldn’t tell breathless, rococo lies about the case, about the prosecutor, about the judge and about Joe Biden’s (fictional) role in it all. They wouldn’t join Trump’s “campaign of vengeance,” according to the AP. If it’s favorable, why the talk of revenge? They wouldn’t call on the US Supreme Court to overrule the verdict. If it’s favorable, why the need for exoneration?

If they believed a guilty verdict worked in his favor, they wouldn’t attack the same system of justice that produced the guilty verdict. His Republican allies wouldn’t tell fantastical lies about the case, about the prosecutor, about the judge and about Joe Biden’s role in it all. They wouldn’t join Trump’s “campaign of vengeance,” according to the AP. They wouldn’t call on the US Supreme Court to overrule the jury’s decision and exonerate him. 

They do all these things, because a felony conviction hurts like hell. 

Trump is practically howling in pain.

But a lot of people are still wondering.

For the most part, all this wondering comes from very clever people who are paid very handsome salaries to wonder aloud about things, even in the face of plain reality that should end all the wondering. 

I’m talking, of course, about members of the Washington press and pundit corps, even some liberals, who want more than anything else to get your attention. They can’t do that as well as they would like if the contours of the election align with normal common sense. It’s normally very bad for a convicted felon to run for president, but it’s more fun, and perhaps more lucrative, to pretend the opposite could be normal.

Political reporters are probably more bored than cynical. Trump never changes and he’s been campaigning nonstop since 2015. The main difference is while he was fascist-lite then, he’s full-on fascist now. That’s not enough, though, and when political reporters get bored, they assume everyone else is bored, too. That assumption, however, should be seen as a choice of convenience. Assumed boredom is a credible rationale for believing spin about a felony conviction working in Trump’s favor, instead of what it really is, which is a painful wound.

This boredom animates one of the genres of political journalism, which I’ll call “Will it matter?” You usually see it emerge after Trump has done something outrageous (and stupid), like saying he’d be a dictator on “day one” (but not after that, apparently). Every time he does this, news stories spring up wondering whether Trump’s latest outrage will matter. Because polling has the candidates running within the margin of error, political reporters assume they’re right. Everyone is bored. 

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Normal people get bored, obviously, but not as quickly as political reporters do. (They don’t spend their time thinking about politics.) It’s going to take time to internalize something that’s never happened before. A press and pundit corps that wonders if a guilty verdict will hurt Trump, mere days after it was handed down, is a press and pundit corps working on (bored) autopilot. It’s also one that clearly not listening to Trump and his allies, as they howl and howl in pain.

I don’t expect political reporters to stop being bored, but I do expect them to pursue fresh angles in their coverage of the presidential election. That’s what you’ll find in polling that asks whether people think Trump should stay in the race now that he’s a convicted felon.

Yesterday morning, Morning Consult released the first survey of more to come from pollsters. It found that nearly half of independent voters (49 percent) and 15 percent of Republicans think Trump should drop out of the race. (Reuters also released a poll in which one in 10 Republicans said they were less likely to vote for the GOP’s nominee.)

Don’t get ensnared in debate about whether Trump should drop out. He’s not going to, no point is talking about it. There is a point, however, in talking about what these polls mean. They mean what normal common sense tells you about a felony conviction for a presidential candidate. It’s going to hurt him. There’s no wondering about it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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