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How Donald Trump's Hush Money Trial Verdict Can Affect 2024 Election

Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a payment

Washington:

Jurors hearing the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president could render their verdict in Donald Trump’s hush money case as soon as next week, with potentially big implications for the 2024 White House race.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a payment that bought the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election. Daniels had threatened to go public with her account of an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump, a liaison he denies.

The New York case is widely seen as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. But it has meant the Republican presidential candidate spent more time in court than campaigning in recent weeks, and brought outsized attention to the only case likely to go to trial before his Nov. 5 election face-off with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Here is how three potential outcomes from the jury room — a guilty verdict, an acquittal or a hung jury — could affect the presidential campaign.

GUILTY

Opinion polls show a guilty verdict could pose significant political danger for Trump in an election that will potentially be decided by just tens of thousands of votes in a handful of battleground states.

One in four Republicans said they would not vote for Trump if he is found guilty in a criminal trial, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of registered voters in April. In the same survey, 60% of independents said they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted of a crime.

Republican and Democratic consultants have mixed views about the impact of a guilty verdict.

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, doubts that as many as a fourth of Republicans would actually shun Trump if he’s convicted. But Ayres said even if just a small number of more moderate Republicans and independents are turned off by a guilty verdict, it could help Biden in a close election.

However, Ayres said the nature of the New York case, which was brought by a Democratic prosecutor and relies on untested legal strategies, will help Trump and fellow Republicans frame a guilty verdict as a political hit job.

“If I were trying to design a court case that would be easy for Republicans to dismiss as a partisan witch hunt, I would design exactly the case that’s being brought in New York,” Ayres said. 

Republican consultant Tricia McLaughlin, who worked on former Trump primary challenger Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign, said she thought a guilty verdict would have a psychological impact on Trump because he hates losing. It would also divert more financial resources to legal bills because he would be almost certain to appeal a guilty verdict, she added.

Bill Galston, an analyst and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said he didn’t expect a guilty verdict would have a significant impact on the presidential race.

“In the end, this amounts to lying about sex. I think the view probably of the majority of Americans is that everybody lies about sex,” said Galston, who has worked on Democratic presidential campaigns.

He also served in the administration of President Bill Clinton, whose 1990s tenure in the White House was marked by sex scandals.

NOT GUILTY

Consultants from across the political spectrum agree on one thing: An acquittal would be a huge victory for Trump, especially because he has claimed the trial is a sham political persecution aimed at derailing his presidential bid.

On the campaign trail, the candidate could use a not-guilty verdict in New York to claim the other cases against him also have no legal merit, McLaughlin said. 

Trump faces federal and state charges in Washington and Georgia of trying to overturn his 2020 loss to Biden and federal charges in Florida of mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in all three cases.

“It’s great fodder for him,” McLaughlin said. “He will say, ‘I won this sham trial, this witch hunt in New York, and that’s what’s going to happen with the other trials.'”

Reuters/Ipsos has not polled on how an acquittal would affect voters’ views of the presidential race.

Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant who worked in the Clinton White House, said for Trump’s core supporters “an acquittal will make them feel vindicated and validated.”

But she said the lurid details that came out in trial testimony and the case’s central allegation – that Trump arranged a hush money payment to a porn star – could still damage him even if jurors find him not guilty.

“What’s come out during the case could turn off these suburban women that Trump still has a problem with,” Finney said, although she said he would play an acquittal as a “huge victory.”

HUNG JURY

If the 12 jurors hearing Trump’s case can’t agree on an unanimous verdict, the result will be a hung jury and the judge will have to declare a mistrial, legal experts say.

Trump will spin a mistrial as a victory, the political consultants and analysts said, but without the validation that an acquittal would give him.

The trial has kept Trump in the news, something he likes, said John Feehery, a Republican consultant who has worked for congressional leaders. A mistrial would end that, he said, while simultaneously not giving Trump a “clean bill of health.”

Democratic consultant Finney said that, whatever the verdict, Trump is expected to then be free of a gag order imposed by the trial judge. She expects Trump to lash out at his perceived enemies in even harsher ways once the trial concludes.

Regardless of a hung jury, Finney added, the tawdry facts of the case are now in the public domain. A mistrial will also tell voters that at least some jurors believed Trump was guilty, she said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)