HomePoliticsTrump on trial tests his political strength and American resolve

Trump on trial tests his political strength and American resolve

Throughout its 248-year history, America has witnessed dramatic, high-profile courtroom battles that tested the laws and corroded the social fabric: from the Haymarket Square riot case and the Scopes Monkey Trial to the failed prosecution of the Hall of Justice Fame NFL running back OJ Simpson in gruesome double murder.

But the country has never seen anything like the made-for-screen trial that begins Monday in New York: A former president, who is also the current Republican Party nominee for president, faces a jury in a criminal trial that states ready to take hold of the nation and stoke political rhetoric in an already deeply divided country. Donald Trump, master of public relations, labels himself a political prisoner. New York State claims he is a habitual criminal who uses his status to make a mockery of justice.

That otherworldly canvas promises to be filled in with earthly details of a wealthy businessman paying a porn star to keep quiet about the affair she claims she had. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg says Trump broke the law by falsifying business records as part of a scheme to conceal payments to Stormy Daniels. Trump claims he didn’t sleep with Daniels — and that he didn’t break the law when his former fixer Michael Cohen bought her silence.

Many of Trump’s allies and critics, as well as many legal scholars, are convinced that the New York charges have far less impact on the public interest than the charges leveled in federal cases involving his withholding of confidential materials and his efforts to undermine the election. 2020, as well as an ongoing lawsuit in Georgia based on his attempt to overturn that state’s results in the same election.

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Yet two-thirds of registered voters say hush money allegations are “somewhat serious” or “very serious,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted April 4-8.

The loudest voices across the political spectrum are turning up the volume of competing arguments: that he has been unfairly targeted because of his political views and that his status as a candidate has unfairly shielded him from criminal reckoning.

But at the same time, some in the political arena see the coming circus as a painful episode in American history.

“It’s a sad moment,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Fla., whose district is about 20 miles south of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate along the Atlantic coast.

“I don’t think any American should be celebrating the fact that we have a former president on trial while at the same time he’s running for president with over 90 charges,” Moskowitz said. “It is clear that he is innocent until proven guilty. He deserves a fair trial. But also: what if he is found guilty and still runs for president?”

Nothing in the Constitution prevents a felon from being elected president. But during this year’s Republican primaries, some Republicans worried that a conviction could be devastating to his chances of winning a rematch in the general election. President Joe Biden.

A January NBC News poll showed Trump with a 5-point national lead over Biden, 47% to 42%. But their positions were reversed when respondents were asked what they would do if Trump were convicted of a crime before the Nov. 5 election. In that scenario, Biden led Trump, 45% to 43%.

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In March, a Politico/Ipsos poll found that a conviction in the Trump hush money case would “do real harm.” The news outlet reported that a third of independents said they would be less likely to vote for Trump after a future conviction.

Trump allies say it would be an advantage if Bragg appeared in court before special counsel Jack Smith, who won charges against Trump over the classified documents and election interference allegations.

“I think it’s great that Alvin Bragg is going first,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who regularly speaks with Trump about the state of his campaign.

“His case is actually the most frivolous and legally tortured,” Gaetz said of Bragg. “The fact pattern that will be presented in the Bragg case will be about frivolities, while there will be an attempt to be more serious in the Jack Smith cases.”

They are also optimistic that the trial itself could turn public opinion more in Trump’s favor.

“It is fitting that President Trump’s trial begins after the death of OJ Simpson,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a Republican media strategist who oversaw Trump’s 2020 Hispanic ads. “The media circus surrounding their legal troubles is similar, with one key difference: the more people heard about the Simpson case, the more they thought he was guilty. With Trump, the opposite is true.”

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There is no doubt that Trump’s legal troubles brought Republicans to his side during the primaries. His recovery from political danger really began when Bragg first sued him last year. But his audience then consisted mainly of the die-hard Republican voters who dominated the party’s primaries. Democrats have also tried to make the New York case less about an alleged affair with a porn star and more about election interference — arguing that Trump broke the law to win the 2016 election, thus establishing a pattern.

Now Trump must hope that he avoids a guilty verdict and—regardless of the jury’s conclusion—that he is able to turn his prosecution into an unprecedented turnout machine because of his base or sympathy votes from those out there.

His continued efforts to delay all his trials suggest he fears it will be much harder to win if he gets the word “thug” tattooed on his brand. If he loses the election and has no power to stop federal prosecutions, these two cases will extend the period in which a defeated political candidate is prosecuted by the Justice Department for the man who beat him.

“What will it look like after he loses the election and these trials are going on?” said Moscowwitz. “It’s not a great moment for the country.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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