Trump is now a convicted felon. That will actually matter in November

A demonstrator reacts to the guilty verdict announced against former president Donald Trump on Thursday  (AP)
A demonstrator reacts to the guilty verdict announced against former president Donald Trump on Thursday (AP)

Whether it was by luck or some other means, Donald Trump has spent his entire life evading consequences, moving through the world with impunity and accusing others of being criminals when his own conduct was called out.

This “I’m rubber, you’re glue” strategy was in part how he defeated New York senator turned Obama administration secretary of state Hillary Clinton when they faced off in the 2016 presidential election.

For those who may not remember, Clinton spent much of the 2015-2016 election cycle embroiled in a scandal stemming from her use of a private email server when she was serving as America’s top diplomat. A congressional investigation had found that some of the emails she’d received from aides contained information later deemed to be classified, which – in theory – may have been enough to charge her with violating US laws governing the handling of national defense information.

On the stump during that campaign, Trump repeatedly branded her a criminal. At an October 2016 debate between the two candidates, he told her that she’d “be in jail” if he were to become president.

Now, eight years later, Trump’s luck has run out. He’s been branded a criminal where it matters most: in a court of law.

A jury of 12 New Yorkers found him guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in an effort to unlawfully influence the 2016 presidential election. He had been accused of covering up reimbursement payments to his then attorney Michael Cohen for $130,000 paid in hush money to Stormy Daniels, whose story about having sex with Trump threatened to derail his campaign against Clinton.

Though Trump now claims that his conviction was “rigged” and “corrupt” and has vowed to appeal, he will, for the first time, face real consequences.

He may be barred from voting in his new home state of Florida – but only if he’s behind bars. He could be barred from obtaining some professional licenses and operating some forms of business in many states. And some countries may bar him from entry or require him to jump through extra hoops before being granted visas to travel to them.

But for Trump, the most serious consequence – and the one with the most wide-ranging effect on his future – could come from voters.

According to a new poll commissioned by NPR and PBS and carried out by Marist College, 17 percent of respondents surveyed said a guilty verdict against Trump would make them less likely to vote for him this November.

That 17 percent may not seem like much. It represents just one in six voters, while much larger percentages of respondents said a guilty verdict against Trump would not make a difference in how they cast their vote, for or against.

But in American presidential elections, it’s the small margins that can matter most. That’s because we pick presidents not by a single national plebiscite, but by 50 individual elections, with the results weighted by each state’s population.

That byzantine system is how Trump managed to defeat Clinton in 2016, by carrying three key states (Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania) even though he lost the overall national election by a margin of several million.

What mattered, in the end, was roughly 30,000 votes across those three states. It was only a few more – 44,000 votes – in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin that kept Biden and Trump from a tie when they faced off four years later.

And even though Biden appears to be lagging in many opinion polls, if one in six Trump-inclined voters stays away or votes for the incumbent this November, it could doom Trump’s chances of returning to the White House.

And should he fail to win a second non-consecutive term this November, the combined weight of the three remaining criminal cases against him means Trump could spend his remaining years in prison.