Biden thinks this is a victory – he may be disappointed

Donald Trump
Donald Trump spoke to the media after the guilty verdicts - Seth Wenig/POOL AP

Donald Trump’s conviction is the biggest moment in this presidential race – and any other in living memory.

He had claimed to be a political martyr and bragged that the charges against him were “a great badge of honour”.

But even “Teflon Don” will not welcome becoming the first former US president to be convicted of a crime.

His conviction does not bar him from seeking or taking up the presidency again, nor even prohibit him casting a vote, himself.

But Trump must now wage his battle for the White House as a convicted felon, and convince voters it does not morally disqualify him from the job.

The trial itself may also have chipped away at some of Trump’s crucial strongman image.

In Manhattan’s criminal court, Trump, 77, was more like a caged bear glimpsed behind security barricades, and at the mercy of 12 men and women of his native New York.

Under the unflattering glare of the industrial lighting, he was forced to sit silent at the defence table as lurid claims about his personal life were combed through. Occasionally, he appeared to fall asleep.

The former president, of course, argues the Manhattan case was “rigged”, and a politically-motivated “witch hunt”.

“Mother Teresa could not beat the charges,” he said when the jury began its deliberations.

Mr Trump's team argued the Manhattan case was a politically-motivated 'witch hunt'
Mr Trump's team argued the Manhattan case was a politically-motivated 'witch hunt' - Jane Rosenberg/REUTERS

But it was a jury of Mr Trump’s peers, and not a cabal of Democrats, who found him guilty on all counts.

That they did so – leaving no doubt, no wriggle room as to their view of his behaviour – is a further blow, and raises the prospect of a harsh sentence.

However unlikely, the spectre of a prison term now hangs over him. His “Teflon Don” moniker has been left in tatters.

An acquittal would have been a formidable rallying cry for his campaign, a message of strength that would have wrong-footed his Republican critics and tempted back sceptical GOP donors.

Speaking in the court’s hallway on Thursday, a red-faced and clearly stunned Trump declared he was a “very innocent man” who had been subject to a “rigged disgraceful trial”.

Trump’s argument is still a potent one which holds sway with many Republicans.

Trump’s senior aides say that his conviction will only fire up his “MAGA” base and turbo charge their fundraising potential.

That may well be true, but it is undecided voters who will make or break November’s White House race, and polls suggest a conviction may damage his standing among them.

Still, if Joe Biden’s campaign believes this will secure their victory, they may be left disappointed.

This was the weakest of the four criminal cases Trump could have faced before November’s election.

Few Americans have punctiliously followed the trial day-by-day. For many, the possibility of a Trump conviction has already been priced into their decision.

And for those still making up their minds, the evidence so far suggests a conviction would only shift the race by a few points.

A recent survey for PBS said 10 per cent of Republicans and 11 per cent of independents would be less likely to vote for Trump in the event of a conviction.

That could prove decisive in a close race, but it is not the electoral albatross for Trump that the Biden campaign had hoped it would be, nor may it be enough to salvage the 81-year-old president’s own faltering re-election bid.

A prison sentence, which would further tilt the scales, is extremely unlikely. Trump will almost certainly appeal his conviction immediately, likely delaying the serving of his sentence until after November.

Mr Biden now faces a dilemma in how to respond to the trial’s outcome. The country’s deep political divisions have only been further strained by the verdict.

His senior aides have been carefully debating whether the president should refer to his opponent as a convicted felon, aware that explicitly seeking political opportunity from the case could backfire.

On Thursday night, senior campaign sources suggested Mr Biden may let other Democrats attack Trump over the case while he focuses on bread and butter issues.

Despite its outcome, the end of the trial brings one major benefit for Trump: no longer bound to the courtroom, he is now free to return to the campaign trail.

As Trump said himself on Thursday night, “the real verdict” will be election day on November 5. “This is far from over,” he said.