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Trump carries the stain of conviction like a crown. Will the verdict matter to voters?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The bravado behind Donald Trump’ s boastful hypothesis in 2016 — “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters” — is headed for a real-world reckoning.

Until now, at least, he’s been uncannily right. Through his two impeachments, his desperate agitations to stay in power after losing the last election and the far-ranging series of criminal charges against him from Florida to Georgia to Washington to New York, Trump has held sway with his acolytes and the bulk of the Republican Party.

But now he’s the first president in history to carry the stain of felony conviction. Will it matter in the November election?

After the damning verdict, everyone seemed to rush for the partisan ramparts. But this is untraveled territory for Americans — this finding of criminal behavior signed, sealed and delivered by unanimous jurors against the only man who has been the subject both of a presidential portrait and a mug shot.

Even some firm anti-Trumpers aren’t counting on the convictions making a difference. “Get ready for a felonious president,” said Joan Marks, a 58-year-old Democrat who offered her glum prediction of a Trump victory while standing outside Manuel’s Tavern, a popular liberal hangout near Jimmy Carter’s presidential library in Atlanta.

Contributions flowed in to the Trump campaign — more than $1 million for each for the 34 convictions, his people said.

The case will go down in history as “The People of the State of New York vs. Donald J. Trump.” But after the verdict, just as before it, leading Republicans and a variety of likeminded voters wrote it off as just another egregious example of Us vs. Them.

“Political persecution at the highest level,” said West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, the Republican nominee for governor. Republican party chairs in South Carolina, Illinois and New York each assailed “banana republic” justice.

There was plenty of talk from other high places in the party about a “sham” trial, “rigged verdict,” “kangaroo court” and Soviet-style shenanigans, as if apparatchiks had delivered the 34 convictions, not a jury whose 12 members were selected by the defense as well as the prosecution.

Even Moscow weighed in, on Trump’s side. “As regards Trump, it’s quite obvious that the effective removal of political opponents by all lawful and unlawful means is going on and the entire world can see it with a naked eye,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Trump’s early reaction to the verdict suggested he will wear his conviction like a crown, and there were already signs of retribution against any Republican who dared to stand up for the trial.

Shortly before the verdict, Larry Hogan, the anti-Trump Republican Senate candidate in Maryland and a former governor, posted an appeal for all Americans to accept the jury’s decision, whatever the outcome, and added: “At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders — regardless of party — must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship.”

Chris LaCivita, a senior Trump campaign adviser, shot back on X: “You just ended your campaign.”

Among voters, Justin Gonzalez, a 21-year-old student and tutor in the border city of McAllen, Texas, said he did learn something quite troubling about Trump in the trial. “He’s a lot of things, but I never personally thought of him as a liar,” he said. “I guess this would change my perception of him.”

Yet as he prepares to vote in his first presidential election, Gonzales cares more about immigration enforcement than the icky business centered on the cover-up of payments to silence a porn actor. “Out of all the other issues, this is still bad but it’s not enough to sway me to vote for Biden.”

An ABC-Ipsos poll conducted in late April found that 80% of Trump’s supporters said they would stick with him even if he were convicted of a felony in the hush-money case. Only 4% said they would withdraw their vote, though 16% said they would reconsider it. In an election that is expected to be close, even small shifts in support could make a difference.

In the Lower Manhattan courthouse, the first president to come to power propelled by tabloid fame and reality TV faced the ultimate tabloid kind of charges and yet, in a story of our time, he is the Republicans’ presumptive nominee for president.

With his ever-present sense of spectacle — though there was no televising of the proceedings — Trump turned the trial into a campaign stage for reelection as best he could.

He has succeeded in other contexts by the use of his bullhorn — shouting down his opponents, savaging them on social media, branding them with humiliating nicknames — but this time some of his normal moves weren’t available to him. He did not have control of the situation. He couldn’t simply hector away the constraints of a courtroom and the clear language of the law. He tried on occasion and the judge ordered him to be silent, slapped him with fines and the threat of worse. Mostly he glowered and, at times, looked Zen or sleepy.

New Yorkers weren’t used to seeing this happen to Trump. Love him or hate him — and there’s little in between — they have long considered him an escape artist through career-spanning thickets of legal, business and political thorns.

This time he didn’t get away.

“Finally, some accountability,” said Nadine Striker, who celebrated the verdict at a public pond across the street from the courthouse, a mile from Fifth Avenue. She held up a big banner reading “TRUMP CONVICTED” and wore a headband propping up a hand-sized cutout of Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor.

Back in November 1973, Richard Nixon famously declared to a meeting of newspaper managing editors in The Associated Press cooperative: “I am not a crook.” At the time, in the Watergate scandal that ultimately consumed his presidency, it looked like he might be just that.

But for Nixon that question was never put to the test in court. With Trump, it has been.

Still, with Trump, you never ever know. He may have some Harry Houdini left in him.

“Anybody else would go to jail,” Striker said. “I don’t expect him to.”

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Associated Press writers Cedar Attanasio in New York, Bill Barrow in Atlanta, John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, and Valerie Gonzalez in McAllen, Texas, contributed to this report.

Calvin Woodward, The Associated Press






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