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How Trump's conviction may — or may not — affect how people vote in the fall


We're joined now by Susan Glasser. She has covered Washington politics for decades, currently for the New Yorker. Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much. Great to be with you.

DETROW: I have told people for years that I think the best way for future generations to make sense of what this political era has been like is to read your weekly dispatches in the New Yorker about the Trump era. You have written about so many moments where it looked like Donald Trump was finished and so many moments where the Republican Party rallied around him anyway, didn't care, and his political power grew. And I'm wondering how you're thinking about today.

GLASSER: (Laughter) Well, thank you for that setup. You know, I think we are living in the era where the ability to maintain one's shock while, at the same time, not being surprised is very important. And that certainly holds for the 2024 election. It is, of course, shocking and historic to have a former president of the United States not only on trial in a criminal case but now to bear the label of convicted felon. In any other moment in American history, you might say that this was a crippling, if not completely death knell for a political campaign.


GLASSER: And yet this sentencing will take place just a few days before Donald Trump is set to be renominated by the Republican National Convention. You know, you hear a lot of bluster from Trump and those surrounding him that this will become even more at the centerpiece of his campaign of grievance and this narrative of revenge and retribution that has shaped his 2024 comeback effort. You know, right now, it's astonishing to find, even with everything that is already known about Trump, that he is running even or slightly ahead of Joe Biden in the polls. So I don't see even this as the definitive statement about Trump's political prospects.

DETROW: What factors will you be looking forward in the coming months to see if this matters or not and to see what it means?

GLASSER: Well, look - you know, if you see the polling line, essentially, for Donald Trump and Biden, it's almost a flat line. They're - it's almost an immovable American electorate at this point. People's minds are largely made up about both candidates. So it's really at the margins and in only a few key states. And so that's where this question of, are the polls accurate? And before the verdict, there have been many, many findings suggesting that some small but yet significant percentage of Republican Trump voters say that they wouldn't vote for him if he were a convicted felon.

Now, I think you should be - you know, approach that with all due skepticism. It's a lagging indicator. Again and again and again, Republican voters have found excuses for what we would have previously said were unthinkable things to excuse. But even if a small percentage - so say, maybe it's not 17% of Republican voters. Maybe it's just three or 5%. Well, that, of course, in a very close race, could actually make a difference.

DETROW: This is kind of a weighty question, but I feel like you've been wrestling it for a while now from week to week, as a regular reader. What does a convicted felon having a chance to win the White House say about the health of American democracy?

GLASSER: (Laughter) Just the fact that you're asking me a question like that and - it's an important moment. It's a moment that we need to mark. And it will be one, by the way, that will define however this chapter in our political history is written. I saw that the historian Michael Beslas, upon the news being read out just not even an hour ago of these 34 different guilty findings and the 34 different counts - he tweeted out the quote from Gerald Ford in August of 1974 when Richard Nixon left office. He said, this is a country that is of the rule of law and not of men. And that's a statement

DETROW: But is it if someone is elected president again several months later? I ask you that with about 30 seconds left - I'll underscore.

GLASSER: Well, I think that's the answer right there. You know, history will answer. The voters will answer, too. If Trump wins after this, it means we're in a different place as a country.

DETROW: We actually had a little bit more time, so I'm going to sneak one more question in. What are your big questions about how Joe Biden handles this? Because on one hand, he has tried so hard to remove himself from the politics and separate the politics and the legal system. On the other hand, you have Donald Trump saying, this is all political. Joe Biden was directing New York to bring charges against me, which is, of course, not true.

GLASSER: Yeah, I think it's incredibly delicate for Biden. From the very beginning, Trump has insisted that even these state charges were somehow orchestrated by Joe Biden and the White House. No evidence, obviously, of that. And notable that Biden isn't going to say anything tonight. So we'll wait to hear what he has to say tomorrow.

DETROW: We have a brief statement from the White House and a longer statement from the campaign, but nothing from Biden himself. Susan Glasser writes for the New Yorker. Thank you so much for joining us.

GLASSER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA SONG, "THINK TWICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.