Trump’s historic conviction isn’t doing much to shift these voters’ 2024 picks

Some things take time to sink in. But don’t expect committed Donald Trump voters to suddenly waver because their candidate is now a convicted felon.

“Just an abuse of the justice system,” Billy Pierce, a semi-retired consultant and Trump backer in Hartsville, South Carolina, said shortly after the former president was found guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records in his Manhattan hush money trial. “Biden and Democrats can’t win the 2024 election in the polls, so they use prosecution of Trump to try to keep him out of office. This verdict will not hold up through appeals,” he added, repeating Trump’s false claims about President Joe Biden being behind the New York prosecution.

Andrew Konchek, a commercial fisherman and Trump supporter in New Hampshire, responded to the verdict with sarcastic references to former President Bill Clinton’s personal scandals. “There’s no direct evidence and from who, Cohen? Who’s a habitual liar and has been disbarred? I smell some bullshit,” he added referring to the prosecution’s star witness, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

Another Trump backer in New Hampshire, Debbie Katsanos, texted during the jury deliberations. “I see no crime,” she said. “Certainly at a felony level. I am sorry to say I can’t trust the justice system when it’s being used in a political way. … Yes, no one is above the law, when a law is broken they should be held accountable. I’m just not seeing it in this case.”

Iowa Trump supporter Chris Mudd, who owns a solar energy business, said his backing of the former president is solid.

“I do think the verdict is bad for America,” Mudd said in a text. “Can’t believe this is happening in this country.”

Betsy Sarcone was a Nikki Haley voter in the Iowa caucuses and late last year said she would vote Biden if it ended up a Biden-Trump rematch. But she has shifted dramatically since the caucuses.

“I’ve been following this sideshow semi closely,” she said after the jury verdict that gave Trump a place in history as the first former president or presumptive party nominee convicted of a felony. “This does not impact my plans to vote Republican. I don’t even like Donald Trump and this was a witch hunt, made up crimes on the part of the judge and DA. It will never stand on appeal. … I actually don’t think it will hurt him. People are so sick of the sideshows to distract/avoid/gaslight people away from the real problems in this country. To be clear, I’m still not a Trump fan, but it’s pretty clear these cases are being motivated politically.”

Pierce, Konchek, Sarcone and Katsanos are all participating in a CNN project to follow the 2024 election through the eyes and experiences of voters who live in key battlegrounds or are part of key voting blocs. We will check back as news of the historic 34 count conviction sinks in, and as the former president prepares to be sentenced in July – days before he is to be officially nominated for president at the Republican National Convention.

But our conversations before and during the trial were eye opening: the overwhelming majority of the Trump supporters in our voter groups viewed the cases against the former president — especially the Manhattan one — as politically motivated. (The former president pleaded not guilty in this and three other looming criminal cases.) Even many Republicans who are not Trump fans share the view that he is being unfairly targeted. Biden supporters, on the other hand, saw the verdicts as Trump finally being held accountable for what they see as a lifetime of cheating and lying.

Matt Vrahiotes, a Christian conservative who runs a fruit winery in Hall County, Georgia, was troubled by the charges in the Manhattan case: falsifying business records to hide hush money payments to an adult film star, allegedly to help the 2016 Trump campaign.

“I mean it sounds crazy, its sounds like an irresponsible person, an irresponsible thing to do,” Vrahiotes said in April. “But there’s a lot of things going on with both candidates, and a lot of things that are morally in question for both of them, so, it’s really hard for me to say, oh don’t like one candidate because of what’s going on, versus promoting another. You know, you got to let the trial go through, you’ve got to let the judge decide what’s right and what’s wrong, and I’ll go from there.”

Jan Gardner, a Trump backer who lives in Dunwoody, an Atlanta suburb, said before the verdict that he has lost faith in the justice system.

“Do we feel that some of the things that go on, that there’s a double standard?” Gardner asked, mentioning Hillary Clinton, who, in his view, was treated differently than Trump. ” I have questions about the … how much in honesty and how much power can buy you things.”

Republican and likely Trump voter Devin McIver said he did not closely follow the trial but would not be putting “time or energy” into thinking about Trump being found guilty, writing in a text that he believes he was “better off when Trump was president.”

Uneasy about Trump, but not sold on the Manhattan case

We hear the unfairness argument a lot in our travels, even from Republicans who are Trump critics.

Linda Rooney is a Haley supporter from Media, Pennsylvania, wrestling with whether to cast a reluctant Trump vote or write in the former South Carolina governor or someone else.

Rooney has “mixed feelings” about Trump being convicted, telling us she didn’t think the case had “merit” but saying she’d “love to see him behind bars but for one of the many other things he’s done. Like the White House records case or January 6.”

She said she hoped that with the conviction, Trump would “bow out of the race on his own now and let someone more suitable run — like Nikki Haley.” But she acquiesced, “I don’t think it’s in Donald Trump to bow out.”

Similarly, fellow Pennsylvania voter Irma Fralic, who voted for Haley in the primary, sees politics behind the Manhattan case.

“The current trial in New York, it’s totally political,” Fralic told us last week at her Montgomery County home. “I looked briefly at some of those things, and it just doesn’t hold water.”

Former Trump voter Joan London had a mixed take on the convictions.

She was a Republican for more than 40 years, switching her registration to independent after casting a vote for Haley in the April Pennsylvania primary. She left the GOP because of Trump.

London, an attorney, said she expected a “more mixed verdict” because “President Trump didn’t sign all of the checks that were at issue, and Michael Cohen’s past history of lying and stealing.”

Still, London said, “This verdict has no impact on my voting plans. Still no plans to vote for either Trump or Biden.”

Celebration and some caution among Biden voters

Darrell Ann Murphy offered a reaction typical of the Biden supporters in our voter groups.

“Wow! A great day,” said Murphy, who lives in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. “Finally he’s found guilty!! Friends texting me like crazy all happy. Lots of Biden voters I talk to.”

Pat Levin, another Biden voter in Northampton County, said of the verdict: “It supports and reinforces I believe in the rule of Law. It supports my attitude towards the limits of executive power. It reinforces my belief in the tenets of democracy. They have a strong judicial system. I am enormously grateful to this jury and its seriousness of purpose.”

David Moore is a registered Republican in Nogales, Arizona, but plans to vote for Biden because he cannot support Trump.

He responded to the verdict with a question: “Can he still run if he’s in appeals?”

Yes, the conviction does not preclude Trump from running.

“I’m not counting chickens,” Moore said. “A lot of folks around me seem very happy about it. I’m curious to see how this all goes.”

Recent University of Michigan graduate Jade Gray was a co-president of the College Democrats on campus. “From the minute he was elected it was historical for all of the wrong reasons,” she said of Trump. “Being the first president who is a convicted solidifies that legacy. This is what accountability looks like. I know it’s said a lot, but no one is above the law and Trump has repeatedly shown himself to be a crooked, untrustworthy person.”

Nanette Mees, a Republican but Trump critic who lives in suburban Loudon County, Virginia, offered this: “Personally I am thrilled he was found guilty and pray that there are no big riots because of his followers.”

And Joanna Brooks, a Black voter who runs a yoga studio in suburban Milwaukee, described herself as “shocked but happy. … It’s bizarre to me that this wouldn’t necessarily impact his run for presidency. He will appeal and play victim and his supporters will probably love him all the more.”

Deep divide among voters

The sharp divide was again evident as more reactions from voters flowed in Friday morning.

Trump supporter Rachel Kulak, a Christian conservative who lives in the Richmond, Virginia, suburbs called the verdict “deranged” and part of a justice system she views as warped by Democrats.

“Biden cannot win in ‘24 so we have weaponization, lawfare against Trump,” Kulak said, comparing the case to political prosecutions in Russia and Venezuela. “To not be able to trust the legal system according to our own laws, to know that it is not blind but being used to further the agenda of ruining our country, we are in a dangerous place. I do not recognize America for America anymore.”

Attorney Priscilla Forsyth of Sioux City, Iowa, was a Haley supporter in the Iowa caucuses but said Trump has her “complete support” now.

“I am very sad about what this has done to our criminal justice system and very angry that the system I have given 38 years of my life to was perverted into an attempt to destroy a political opponent,” Forsyth said. “I feel it was a travesty of justice and it makes me sick to my stomach.”

“Never Trump” Republicans and Democrats, however, voiced gratitude at the convictions.

Angela Lang, a community organizer in Milwaukee, said the convictions might help her canvassers when they encounter voters who are considering voting for Trump.

“These are more facts to talk about when we talk to voters,” Lang said. “One of our ambassadors mentioned that we have to make sure people know about this and what this actually means. It’s not just ‘he slept with a porn star,’ it’s deeper and how it tried to impact the 2016 election.”

Zoila Sanchez, a Las Vegas real estate agent who describes herself as a Reagan Republican, said she followed the trial closely.

“Although I believed he was guilty, I thought he might be acquitted due to his remarkable luck,” Sanchez said. “I am pleased that our legal system has once again prevailed.”

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

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