Trump’s conviction fuses the GOP even closer to him

Supporters of Donald Trump wave flags outside Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., May 30, 2024. REUTERS/Marco Bello

A day after Donald Trump’s conviction, it quickly became clear that Republicans across the country would not run away from his newfound status as a felon.

They would, instead, run on it.


Echoing Trump in casting the New York case as a disgraceful sham, Republican candidates and party committees used the first criminal conviction of a former president as a rallying cry — for campaign cash, for congressional hearings and for motivation to vote in November.

Whether they were congressional leaders, potential running mates or onetime rivals, prominent Republicans’ speedy alignment behind Trump, with little dissent or discussion, was no surprise for a party that has increasingly made displays of Trumpian loyalty a nonnegotiable requirement. But their ready-made outrage was not just about lining up behind the nominee. It was also about basking in the energy of a party base that remains as adhered to Trump as ever.

“The base has never been more motivated,” said Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas, Trump’s former doctor in the White House and a close ally.

In a 33-minute speech in the same Trump Tower lobby where he began his first presidential bid nearly nine years ago, Trump denounced his prosecutors as “sick people” on Friday and criticized the key witness in the case, seeking to pivot his candidacy from the confines of a Manhattan courtroom to the campaign trail.

The Trump campaign’s announcement Friday evening that it had raised nearly $53 million online in the 24 hours after a jury found Trump guilty on all 34 felony charges was a reminder of how thoroughly he has convinced Republican voters that his own legal threats are a proxy for attacks on them.

“People now see Donald Trump as a symbol of something,” Speaker Mike Johnson said on Fox News on Friday. “He’s more than just an individual. He’s a symbol of fighting back against this government corruption, the deep state, the bureaucracy and all the rest.”

There were virtually no calls among prominent Republicans for Trump to step aside. Trump’s July 11 sentencing date — he could receive probation or up to four years in prison — will be held only days before he is formally nominated at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee. Those few who offered even muted words of respect for “the legal process” earned immediate rebukes.

Instead, numerous Republican candidates and groups reported a swell of campaign contributions. The Republican campaign arms of both the House and Senate said they had set new highs for the election cycle in terms of online donations. Jackson’s spokesperson said the Texas congressman had raised 10 times as much as in a typical day. The House speaker set up a new website to split donations with Trump — and gave the URL a shoutout during his Fox News appearance.

“This was never about justice. This is about plastering ‘convicted felon’ all over the airwaves,” Sen. JD Vance of Ohio, who has been auditioning to be Trump’s running mate, said on CNN. He added, “The only thing that Donald Trump is guilty of is being in the courtroom of a political sham trial.”

Another vice presidential aspirant, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, wrote on social platform X, “Don’t just get angry about this travesty, get even!” He linked to a Trump donation page.

Rubio and Vance were among eight Senate Republicans who signed a letter Friday stating that they would no longer confirm Biden administration appointees, fund “non-security related funding” for the administration or allow for expedited passage of Democratic legislation that wasn’t “directly relevant to the safety of the American people.” They wrote that the White House “has made a mockery of the rule of law,” suggesting the false theory that President Joe Biden was behind the prosecution.

Meanwhile, House Republicans announced plans to go after prosecutors who had targeted Trump.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, who is a close Trump ally, said he was summoning Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg and one of his prosecutors, Matthew Colangelo, to Capitol Hill to answer allegations that they had politicized and weaponized law enforcement against Trump.

Jordan previously clashed with the Manhattan district attorney’s office when he demanded that a former prosecutor testify under subpoena. Bragg sued to try to block the testimony, but the Judiciary Committee prevailed. The former prosecutor, Mark F. Pomerantz, was forced to appear at a deposition, but he declined to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Biden addressed the verdict briefly at the White House for the first time, declaring Friday, “The American principle that no one is above the law was reaffirmed” and denouncing Trump’s claims of a rigged trial as “dangerous” and “reckless.” As Biden walked out of the room, a reporter shouted that Trump referred to himself as a “political prisoner” and blamed Biden. The president paused, turned, smiled and then kept walking without answering.

On the campaign trail, some Republicans moved swiftly to try to put Democrats on the defensive over the conviction. In Montana and Ohio, conservative states where Democratic senators are on the ballot, Republicans criticized the Democratic incumbents for their silence. The National Republican Senatorial Committee called Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana cowards for not denouncing the trial. House Republicans challenged Democrats similarly in more conservative districts.

It was a different story in the swing House seats occupied by vulnerable Republicans seeking reelection in districts that voted for Biden in 2020. There, Democrats were highlighting Republicans’ continued allegiance to and endorsement of a nominee who is now a felon.

Not far beneath the Republican bravado was simmering concern in some corners that the conviction could damage Trump by turning off all-important independent voters. Trump’s ability to win over voters who dislike both him and Biden is widely seen as a key factor in the race.

“A conviction on 34 felony counts is not a win for anybody,” said Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster. “The impact of this conviction is reduced because of the weakness and unpopularity of the alternative. If the Democrats had a stronger nominee, the impact of this case would be more severe.”

Still, Ayres added, “changes at the margins might affect the outcome in swing states.”

Biden’s campaign has not banked heavily on the criminal trial and its results. Rather, the president’s team has focused on abortion rights and the argument that Trump is unworthy of another term because he poses a threat to democracy, citing his refusal to concede the 2020 election and the violent riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 2021.

Republicans have tried to use the prosecution of Trump in Manhattan — on charges related to hush-money payments made to a porn actor before the 2016 election — to make the threat-to-democracy accusation in reverse.

“If we allow the standard that you can throw your political opponents in jail because they’re doing better than you in an election, it will be the end of this country as we know it,” Vance said.

Johnson urged the Supreme Court to intervene in the case, warning of the dimming faith of Americans in “our system of justice itself.”

“I think that the justices on the court — I know many of them personally — I think they’re deeply concerned about that, as we are,” Johnson said.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether former presidents have some degree of immunity from criminal prosecution, a decision stemming from a different criminal case against Trump, this one over charges that he plotted to subvert the 2020 election.

In some ways, the nearly unanimous and unified Republican reaction felt inevitable after Trump’s rivals in the 2024 primary declined to use his indictments against him. Instead, the criminal charges repeatedly drove the party closer to the former president.

Back when the New York indictment first came down 15 months ago, Trump’s chief rival at the time, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, struggled to muster a response. He attacked Bragg for pursuing a “political agenda,” but he also mocked Trump’s problematic personal behavior that undergirded the charges.

“I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair,” DeSantis said. “I just — I can’t speak to that.”

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