Lorcan Nyhan: Joe Biden can win if he uses felon fallout as bait to trap Donald Trump

Conviction could be the end for Republican candidate, but only if Democrats can make it a core election issue.

9th Jun 2024
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Originally published in the Sunday Independent.

It’s early days. But it looks like Donald Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts might actually matter come November. However, that’s only if Joe Biden’s flagging presidential campaign is brave enough to seize the opportunity presented.

Last week, the New York Times did a survey with 2,000 voters who they had previously polled to see if the trial changed their minds. It had. In the previous poll, they favoured Trump by three points; now they do so by just one.

A small, but noteworthy, swing.

More interesting again are the answers of those voters who were for Biden in 2020, but intended to vote for Trump in 2024.

Of that essential group, almost a quarter said they are swinging back to Biden.

Finally, a small crack has appeared in Trump’s electoral defences; now is the time for the Democrat machine to flood water into it, expand it and make it a fissure.

Biden’s initial response to the ­historic verdict has been characteristically cautious.

He has belatedly talked about how it is reckless for Trump to dispute the verdict, but he’s done so tamely. And he hasn’t majored on the issue.

That was fine while Democrats were waiting to see what the reaction of the electorate would be, but now they know.

So it’s time to unleash a comprehensive strategy. One that cements the verdict as a core election issue and ensures the right people continue to care come November.

They need those few essential swing voters asking themselves constantly: are we really going to elect a convicted felon?

Step one is to roll out Biden surrogates to aggressively target Trump on the issue.

Over the next month, Democratic heavy-hitters — think the Obamas, Clinton, Sanders, Newsom, Harris, Whitmer — should be focused on strong statements on what the conviction means. Highlight it. And make the media cover it.

Ask questions about what it means for Trump’s remaining trials, mock him for needing to cheat to win in 2016 and ask whether a man who is no longer allowed to carry a gun in New York should be trusted to control a nuclear arsenal in a time dominated by global conflict.​

All of this would help motivate the Democrat base, and also dominate the media cycle. This is something Republicans innately understand and Democrats often forget. You can convince people to care about a scandal.

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