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GOP strategist examines the political implications of Trump's felony conviction

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Donald Trump is now a convicted felon. The jury in the New York hush-money trial found him guilty on all 34 criminal charges earlier today. Of course, Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, so how might these guilty verdicts affect his candidacy and his campaign? That is something we are going to ask Ron Bonjean. He's a Republican strategist and held a number of top communications and strategy positions for Republicans in both the House and Senate. Welcome.

RON BONJEAN: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.

CHANG: Great to have you, Ron. So just let me get your reaction to the verdict. What is it (laughter)?

BONJEAN: Well, first of all, really super surprising that he was found guilty on all 34 counts. I don't think anybody was expecting that. Or maybe if people were, many Americans weren't paying attention. So I think that they're going to take pause and notice this for sure.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, conventional wisdom is that this will not hurt Trump among his hard-core supporters. Do you think that wisdom is correct?

BONJEAN: Yeah, listen - you never want to have the title of a convicted felon when you're running for president ever. Having said all that, this is only going to help his candidacy with Republicans that were going to vote for him anyway - and maybe a sliver of independents. The big question is, how are the remaining - you know, those small segments of the population that haven't made up their minds - how is this going to affect them one way or the other between now and November?

CHANG: Exactly, 'cause...

BONJEAN: Because there's a lot of time on the clock.

CHANG: Right. And as you know, this is an election that will be won on the margins. We're talking about the swing voters - the undecided voters, as you say. So yeah, for a voter who's maybe on the fence right now, maybe doesn't want to vote for Joe Biden, how do you think these convictions will weigh or not weigh on their minds - those undecided voters' minds?

BONJEAN: Yeah. I think that, you know, they're going to be hearing a lot about it from the Trump campaign. They're obviously going to be targeted by them, for sure. You know, and I think you just said this, but it's definitely not going to have any impact on Biden voters who are turning their backs on the former - I mean, on the current president's administration right now. That's not going to do anything to get them to change their mind to vote for President Biden. That's not a motivator. They - a motivator would be for Biden to do something that would motivate these voters to vote for them - vote for him. But I think that in order to get - pull over these independents, Trump is going to be banging the drum that he was unjustly convicted, and...

CHANG: Can we talk about that strategy?

BONJEAN: Yeah. Mmm hmm.

CHANG: Because I noticed, you know, minutes after the verdict was read, his campaign sent out a fundraising email saying he is now a, quote, "political prisoner." I mean, does any candidate truly want to be known as a convicted felon? My guess is no. You mentioned probably not. At the same time, he is marketing off of the fact that he is now a convicted felon. So how do you - I mean, how do you frame what's happening right now - what the campaign strategy is?

BONJEAN: Yeah. His political strategy has largely worked so far, I mean, by calling - by saying he's been persecuted by the courts. By doing that, he's cleared the field of anybody who wanted to oppose him. So he's now the Republican nominee. He's - the fundraising site apparently, this evening, crashed because they had so many donors. And, you know, it's really working in his favor at this point. Whenever we think Donald Trump is down and out, there is - the opposite effect is what occurs.

CHANG: Right.

BONJEAN: And I don't think this is going to affect his polling margins between him and Biden right now, especially in the swing states, because people are - they're more dug in than ever before. I just don't see that really impacting, especially if they appeal the decision and this gets...

CHANG: Yeah.

BONJEAN: ...Dragged out, and it becomes more diluted in the news as time goes on. Right now, it's a huge shock value today.

CHANG: Right.

BONJEAN: This is a historic moment. I mean, this is the equivalent, to me, of like a - I mean, people died on January 6 - that was - you know, there are some differences. But in terms of our nation's history, this is a big, big seminal moment that a former president has been convicted. However, will it be diluted down by November? It could very well be.

CHANG: And do you expect Republicans, like Republican Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, to be talking about these convictions, as - well, as he put it, absurd?

BONJEAN: There's a huge rally effect going on right now, with Republicans flooding the airwaves in support of the - in support of Trump. And that's going to continue for a while.

CHANG: That is Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. Thank you so much, Ron.

BONJEAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erika Ryan
Erika Ryan is a producer for All Things Considered. She joined NPR after spending 4 years at CNN, where she worked for various shows and CNN.com in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Ryan began her career in journalism as a print reporter covering arts and culture. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, and currently lives in Washington, D.C., with her dog, Millie.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.