GOP senators: Trump hush money trial won’t move political needle

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Republican senators, whose hopes of winning the Senate majority are riding on former President Trump’s strength as a general election candidate, say the hush money trial beginning this week in Manhattan will have little impact on the presidential race.

Senate Republicans by and large predict that few votes will change in November even if Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) convicts Trump of some or even many of the 34 felony counts he faces for falsifying business records in connection to payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

Some Republicans believe that Trump could even benefit politically, pointing to his surge in the polls when Bragg first unveiled the multicount indictment a year ago.

“I think people have processed the fact that Donald Trump paid a porn star and committed adultery and misreported that on his tax forms. I think people assume that’s the case, and it’s not going to move the needle,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, who doesn’t plan to vote for the likely GOP presidential nominee.

Still, Romney said Bragg made “a poor political choice” in bringing what Republicans view as a weak case against Trump.

Critics of the case point out that the alleged crimes are already past New York’s five-year statute of limitations for falsifying business records, and that Bragg had to connect them to state and federal election violations just to get them into court.

“I don’t understand how from a legal standpoint you can get a conviction. The statute of limitations for things that happened back in 2017 has long since lapsed, so Alvin Bragg is trying to string this to an unindicted campaign expenditure violation, which strikes me as untenable,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and former Texas Supreme Court justice.

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio), who is getting buzz as a potential running mate for Trump, waved off the case as something that will only help Trump argue to voters that he’s being unfairly prosecuted.

“I actually think this particular case is so preposterous that it actively helps the president, and I’ve seen some polling to this effect,” he said, pointing out that Bragg was endorsed by a liberal group that accepted money from the financier George Soros, a major Democratic donor.

He also noted that Bragg pledged to hold Trump accountable and follow “the facts where they go” when he campaigned for district attorney in 2021.

“It’s the worst of all of the cases against Donald Trump in terms of fairness, and I actually think it drives home the idea that this is not about justice, this is about politics,” Vance said, adding that he worried whether Trump could get a fair trial in Manhattan.

GOP lawmakers acknowledge the trial could take unexpected twists and turns.

“Any time there is public attention on any sort of court activity, it can sway or it can have an impact,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). “What impact it has is yet to be determined.”

Senators in both parties have said for months that Bragg’s case is the weakest of the four criminal cases facing the former president.

Special counsel Jack Smith has brought federal prosecutions against Trump related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and the former president’s mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. And Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) has charged Trump with interfering with the 2020 election in Georgia.

“This particular trial based on Stormy Daniels is just not something that’s going to capture a lot of public imagination,” Romney said. “I don’t think a conviction in this trial in particular would have any impact. The other trials are more associated with his responsibilities as president, and I think the jury’s out on that, pun intended.”

An AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll published Tuesday found that only a third of U.S. adults think Trump broke the law in the hush money case, while half of Americans think Trump violated the law in the other three pending criminal cases.

The poll also found that half of U.S. adults think Trump would be unfit to serve in the Oval Office is found guilty of falsifying business records to cover up payments to Daniels.

While the Bragg case may not be viewed as compelling as the other prosecutions, it has the greatest chance of reaching a verdict before Election Day.

Jury selection for the Manhattan trial began Monday.

Several exit polls conducted after the Republican presidential primary contests earlier this year found a substantial percentage of Republican votes said they would view Trump unfit for office if convicted of crimes.

Three in 10 Iowa caucus voters said Trump wouldn’t be fit for office if convicted on one of the 91 criminal charges he faces while 42 percent of New Hampshire voters said Trump wouldn’t be fit to be re-elected if convicted of a crime.

But GOP senators, including those who in the past have raised concerns about Trump’s viability in a general election for other reasons, don’t see a conviction as striking a serious blow to his campaign.

“I ascribe almost no credibility to those polls at all, not because of the pollster but because of people’s inability to recognize that they’re going to get influenced by what Donald Trump tells them,” Romney said.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who has repeatedly warned that Trump needs to appeal to moderate, independent and swing voters, said Tuesday that Bragg’s case, even if it results in a conviction, will hardly matter in November.

“I think people have kind of made their mind up on that already,” he said of the New York case. “I just think this one in particular is viewed through a political lens by most people.”

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