Trump conviction gives the GOP another chance to do the right thing

The party of Abraham Lincoln can and should do better than sending a convicted felon back to the White House.

As the dust settles on the conviction of former President Donald Trump, one thing is clear: Most Republicans are not using this inflection point to move on from the Trump era. Just the opposite. Within minutes of a Manhattan jury finding Trump guilty on all 34 charges of falsifying business records, the GOP circled the wagons around their embattled leader with stock replies. It wasn’t just his reliable cheerleaders, either. Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whose disdain for Trump is well-known, declared that the “charges never should have been brought in the first place.”

In some ways, it was reminiscent of the messaging by Republicans around the March 2023 indictment brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. At the time, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was chipping away at Trump’s lead in the polls in the Republican presidential primary. The disappointing 2022 midterms, seen by many as a referendum on the former president, had damaged his reputation and fueled hope in DeSantis.

Then the indictment landed and strengthened Trump’s political standing within his own party. It was the match that lit the fuse on his unstoppable path to the nomination.

Credit: Geoff Duncan

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Credit: Geoff Duncan

From their reaction, it’s clear that many believe history is poised to repeat itself with the conviction. Don’t be so sure of that outcome. Here are three reasons why.

First, unlike then, Trump’s political fate does not rest with dyed-in-the-wool Republican primary voters but swing and suburban voters who belong to neither political party. At 43%, political independents are the largest political bloc in our country. A new poll from Morning Consult showed 49% of independent voters think Trump should end his campaign in the aftermath of the conviction. For all the breathless reporting about the “rallying of the base,” the primary is over. Even 10% of Republican voters are less likely to vote for him, according to Reuters/Ipsos.

Second, laying bare the tawdry details of Trump’s personal conduct will only exacerbate his problems with women voters. Extramarital affairs with porn stars. Executing elaborate schemes to cover his tracks. Engaging a rogue’s gallery of characters to preserve his political hide. The facts were hardly up for debate. Their legality was a common theme in Trump-related matters.

In 2020, Trump’s support among women improved from 2016, rising from 39% to 44 percent. Earlier this year, Biden was winning women voters 58-36 percent. Since then, the world got an insight into the depths to which Trump was willing to stoop, and it wasn’t pretty.

Finally, the New York case was seen as the weakest of all of Trump’s legal travails, and he was quickly found guilty on all 34 counts by a jury of his peers. The burden of proof was on the prosecution — and not one juror had enough doubt to set him free, not even the guy who said he gets most of his news from the Trump-owned Truth Social.

The unanimous decision could be a bellwether of things to come on the trials involving Jan. 6, 2021, and classified documents. Yes, those issues appear unlikely to be litigated before the election, but that doesn’t mean they are gone forever. The weight of reality is starting to catch up with Trump. Having violated his gag order 10 times and continuing to denigrate Judge Juan Merchan as “corrupt” or “conflicted,” Trump might even end up behind bars. It would be a sad outcome that no one should take any joy in seeing, but it would again be a direct result of Trump’s own conduct.

As a lifelong Republican, my social media feeds have been overrun with pro-Trump propaganda, including a grotesque comparison between Trump and Jesus and their unfair trials. Those comments should make for an interesting discussion at the Pearly Gates for a few.

There will be no shortage of polling and wild speculation on the political implications of Trump’s conviction.

The truth is that no one really knows. One thing I am sure of is this: The party of Abraham Lincoln can and should do better than sending a convicted felon back to the White House. The moment represents the latest fork in the road for Republicans to take a different path. Unfortunately, very few are choosing to take the opportunity, setting us further back in the recovery process, regardless of November’s outcome.