Trump guilty verdict has uncertain impact on Georgia’s 2024 race

Republican and Democratic leaders went to predictable corners after a New York jury convicted former President Donald Trump Thursday of falsifying business records. Less clear is how the verdict will influence Trump’s chances in the political battleground of Georgia.

Trump’s conviction — the first of a former president — on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records to illegally interfere in the 2016 election comes as his campaign redoubles efforts to avenge Democrat Joe Biden’s narrow 2020 victory in the state.

A large majority of Trump supporters in Georgia have long told pollsters they see the charges against Trump as politicized. Still, about 40% of GOP voters also said in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll they wouldn’t back a candidate convicted of a felony.

Their views have formed after intense focus not just on the New York trial, but also the pending Fulton County election-interference case centering on efforts by Trump and his top allies to reverse the outcome of his Georgia defeat.

Political experts say the fallout of the verdict may not be clear for months, though they predict it could be a significant factor in the race in Georgia, where polls show a tight race between the two rivals.

“It’s hard to get a pulse on where things stand. This might energize the people who really love Trump more,” said Audrey Haynes, a University of Georgia political scientist. “Others on the fence may be less likely to back him. But it’s going to take time for this to sink in.”

Part of the reason it could have a galvanizing effect on Trump’s core supporters is because he’s worked for years to discredit prosecutors bringing charges against him by saying he’s the victim of a “weaponized” Justice Department.

                        FILE — Former President Donald Trump, the presumpting Republican nominee for president, conducts a brief campaign event in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan on April 16, 2024. Trump criticized the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, at the event. (Anna Watts/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

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Credit: NYT

In the Manhattan case, Trump leveled a constant barrage of criticism against the judge, District Attorney Alvin Bragg and even members of the jury. He also said repeatedly that he expected to be convicted in the “rigged” trial.

“Mother Teresa could not beat these charges. These charges are rigged,” Trump said the day before the jury delivered its verdict. “The whole thing is rigged.”

‘It reinforces my decision’

Trump’s key Georgia allies echoed the former president’s reaction. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene posted an upside-down American flag, a symbol of protest against the government. U.S. Rep. Mike Collins described it as a “never-ending witch hunt.”

And Georgia GOP chair Josh McKoon said Trump supporters “fully stand behind” the former president and will be more devoted to his comeback bid.

“The polling numbers have long shown that President Biden’s reelection chances are dwindling by the day,” said McKoon. “This entire case was nothing but a politically motivated Hail Mary pass from the Biden Administration via the New York City district attorney.”

Democrats saw the verdict as an opening to highlight their arguments that Trump is morally and ethically unfit to serve in the White House, even as they worked to encourage supporters to stay engaged in the race that is still more than five months away.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state Democratic Party, urged Biden’s allies to refocus on the “mission in 2024″ to reelect the incumbent.

“Convicted felon, or not, Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president, and Georgians cannot afford a second term of our freedoms being ripped away by an unhinged and even more dangerous candidate,” said Williams.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, gives an interview after signing paperwork to qualify for reelection at the Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, March 4, 2024. Today is the first day to file paperwork to qualify for legislative and congressional races. (Arvin Temkar /

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

And U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2026, said the verdict proved that “no one is above the law” no matter how powerful they are.

“Donald Trump should be held accountable, and this only highlights the urgent need to mobilize ahead of the November elections,” she said. “We cannot allow the Republican Party to take power under a president who’s a convicted felon.”

Constitutional experts say the conviction wouldn’t disqualify Trump from running for office or again serving as president. But it could pose significant problems to his reelection campaign beyond the ignominy of the unprecedented guilty verdict.

The charges of falsifying business records — meant to conceal hush money payments to a porn actor who said the two had sex — carry up to four years behind bars, though that’s considered unlikely.

Still, a probation would force Trump to clear out-of-state travel with a probation officer and a home confinement would restrict him from attending campaign rallies or fundraisers outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Voters offered sharp reactions after learning of the judgment. Denise Ellis, a Muscogee County Democrat, celebrated word of a guilty verdict against a Republican whose legacy she said was defined by “illegal activity.”

“And it will never be any different,” she said of Trump. “They’ve shown who they are, and they’re not fit to be president.”

Gregory Marshall of Peachtree Corners is a former Republican who now considers himself a political independent. In 2016, he was so disgusted with both parties’ nominees that he didn’t vote. But four years later he cast his first vote for a Democratic nominee.

Marshall had already made up his mind not to back Trump this year before the jury announced its verdict. But the conviction, he added, cemented his choice.

“Certainly, this reinforces my decision and makes me feel, I won’t say better about it,” he said. “But it certainly makes me feel more determined.”

DeKalb GOP chair Marci McCarthy, inspired by Trump’s candidacy eight years ago to plunge into politics, had a markedly different reaction, calling the conviction a “blatant political persecution.”

“This injustice has only galvanized his supporters,” said McCarthy, “ensuring his triumphant return in a landslide victory.”