A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump sexually assaulted magazine writer E. Jean Carroll in the 1990s and then defamed her, an audience of mostly Trump supporters at a town hall in CNN greeted the former US president with enthusiastic applause. Some gave him a standing ovation.
When the subject of the civil case was brought up Wednesday night by CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins and Trump responded with jokes and insults about Carroll, many onlookers laughed.
The verdict in the civil case is just part of Trump’s legal baggage as he campaigns to be the Republican presidential nominee for 2024, raising questions about how, at the very least, it will could impact his chances in the general election.
“Can enough of these indictments against a former president…can become that kind of collective baggage? Maybe,” Gunner Ramer, political director of the Republican Accountabilty PAC, a group of Republicans and conservatives seeking to s ensure that Trump is not the president of the nominated party, said in an interview.
“Or are these indictments so scattered, his idea of victimhood just sprinkled in every once in a while, it constantly creates this short-term rally around Trump?”
Reaction to the verdict among CNN’s pro-Trump mayoral crowd suggested the civil trial and jury verdict may have little impact on supporters as he campaigns to become the Republican presidential nominee. Indeed, some Republican watchers say it could bolster his support among those who, like Trump, believe he is the victim of a witch hunt.
“Oh, the hardcore base will of course interpret it that way. The real question is what effect does this have beyond the hardcore base,” Republican strategist Whit Ayres said.
Ayres sees Republicans divided into three factions: roughly 10% “never Trump”, 30% “always Trump” and the rest “maybe Trump”.
“There is an ‘always Trump’ faction that will walk through a wall of flames for him and for whom this verdict will, at best, bolster their support for him,” he said. “The women of Trump’s hardcore base will simply dismiss the accuser as a liar and not pay much attention to it.”
Ramer said his group’s research revealed a small rally in support for Trump at times when he was seen by some Republicans as beleaguered by the legal establishment.
That includes, Ramer said, being indicted by a Manhattan grand jury on charges related to silent payments made in 2016 to women who alleged extramarital affairs, as well as the FBI raid on his Mar-a- Lago in Florida for his handling of classified documents and potential obstruction of justice.
“[The verdict] is another thing that Republican primary voters need to look at and re-mark Donald Trump as that person who for them is constantly under attack, that feeling of victimization,” Ramer said.
Recent polls suggest Trump’s support has grown only among Republican supporters, including women. An April poll by Fox News found Trump leading his potential and confirmed rivals for the presidential nomination with 53% support, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at 21%, former Trump Vice President Mike Pence at 6%. and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley at 4%.
And these results were about the same for men and women.
Meanwhile, a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll also found Trump leading other Republicans and, more seriously for US President Joe Biden, that he would lose to Trump by 49% to 42%.
Axios co-founder Mike Allen noted in his morning newsletter after Trump’s sexual assault verdict that “Trump’s grip on Republicans seems stronger than ever – and the odds of beating President Biden are higher than ever.”
“Call it the Trump Law of Backlash: Anything that seems to hurt him only makes him stronger,” he wrote.
However, the verdict has prompted some Republican politicians to question how viable it makes Trump in a general election.
“It creates concern”
“Of course it creates concern. How could it not create concern? If what the woman says…he has been found to be civilly liable, how could it do anything other than create concern?” Republican Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy told reporters Wednesday when asked about the verdict.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota said while some think prosecutors “are out to get” Trump, “people are going to have to decide if they want to deal with all the drama that’s going to surround him.”
A few of his named potential opponents also condemned Trump.
“The jury verdict should be treated seriously and is another example of Donald Trump’s indefensible behavior,” said former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who formally declared his candidacy.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who could also make a bid, dismissed Trump’s cries of victimhood.
“How many coincidences are we going to have here with Donald Trump?” Christie said.
“He just has random people he’s never met before who are able to convince a jury that he sexually abused them? I mean, this guy is one person after another,” did he declare.
But most potential and declared presidential candidates remained silent on the verdict. Haley, when asked about it on the Conservative talk show The Hugh Hewitt Show, declined to comment, saying, “I’m not going to get into that. That’s something Trump needs to respond to.”
Meanwhile, other Republicans have defended the former president.
“When it comes to Donald Trump, New York’s justice system is off the rails,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“Vote twice for him”
“It makes me want to vote for him twice,” Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville told HuffPost when asked about the verdict. “They’re going to do everything they can to stop him winning. It won’t work…people are going to see through the lines; a New York jury, he didn’t have a chance.”
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak said the verdict played on the message Trump had had for wicked years that he was being unfairly targeted. With most contestants involved in these kinds of controversies, there’s a huge outcry, the person feels shame, starts to hide, even potentially gives up, he said.
“But Trump is not ashamed. And I think part of that is that he really only believes what he wants to believe. So in his mind he believes he did nothing wrong. And it’s a witch hunt. think there is something to be ashamed of.
“One of the things he’s done very effectively, and I think he’s unique in that way, is he takes things that should be disqualifying or significantly damaging and he turns them around and victimizes himself. .”
But when the primary debates begin, the candidates will begin to draw distinctions and contrasts, Mackowiak said.
“The only thing I wonder is, will Republican primary voters be weary of the legal entanglements and chaos surrounding Trump?”
Among Trump’s legal entanglements, however, the sexual assault verdict may play a bigger role in helping primary voters decide whether to back Trump.
New York University Law School professor Ryan Goodman and Norma Eisen, who served as co-adviser to the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment trial, co-authored an article pointing out that the research shows that more voters find sexual misconduct a disqualifying characteristic for office.
“Some Republican primary voters may also be looking on the horizon at how voters in the general election will react if he is proven to have committed a sexual assault and therefore wish to select a more competitive candidate for their party,” they said. written in Just Security, an online forum for the analysis of security, democracy, foreign policy and rights.
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