Trump's conviction and a course correction for the GOP

"This high-profile moment of accountability was critically important"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published June 5, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference from the lobby of Trump Tower the day after being found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree at Manhattan Criminal Court, in New York, NY on Friday, May 31, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference from the lobby of Trump Tower the day after being found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree at Manhattan Criminal Court, in New York, NY on Friday, May 31, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Donald Trump, now a convicted felon, has not been cowed or beaten back by the possibility of prison time – something that legal experts are suggesting is increasing in likelihood based on Trump’s recalcitrant and openly hostile and contemptuous behavior towards Judge Merchan, who presided over Trump’s New York criminal trial. Trump is escalating his attacks, calling Judge Merchan a “devil” during an unhinged speech last Friday, and in interviews and other communications attempting to incite his MAGA followers to commit acts of violence and mayhem in his name if he is put in prison for his crimes. 

Trump’s propagandists, which include senior leaders of the Republican Party, have rallied around him in the aftermath of his felony conviction and are attacking the United States justice system, the legitimacy of the courts, and the rule of law. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Trump MAGA supplicant, is openly pressuring the right-wing extremists on the United States Supreme Court to somehow find a way to void the New York hush-money election interference conviction. Republicans in Congress are also promising to launch (more) retaliatory false investigations into leading Democrats (and Manhattan District Attorney Bragg and presumably other law enforcement involved in Trump’s hush-money election interference trial).

"The Republican Party died nearly ten years ago. Its reanimated corpse isn’t just anathema to the former party, it’s un-American. This zombie party, that’s been hollowed out and ensnared by Donald Trump."

In essence, the Republican Party is a de facto crime organization and authoritarian cult of personality. Donald Trump is the MAGA boss and aspiring dictator who is above the law. Instead of being repulsed by Donald Trump’s conviction and how their support for him reflects poorly on their individual character and morality, his MAGA people are rallying around him. Trump’s campaign claims that it raised more than 50 million dollars in the 24 hours after his guilty verdict was handed down last Thursday. The criminal political church of Trumpism is, once again, very lucrative.

How are President Biden and his campaign responding to Trump’s historic felony conviction? Instead of swiftly going on the offense and hammering Trump as a corrupt, compromised, and dangerous felon, it was initially reported that Biden and the Democrats had decided to not emphasize Trump’s unprecedented felony conviction so as not to upset new voters in what will be a very close 2024 election. But there are indications that President Biden may pivot. In a meeting with donors on Monday evening, Biden did not hold back, describing Trump as a "convicted felon" who is "unhinged" and "snapped" after being defeated in the 2020 election, which then inspired the reprobate ex-president to attempt a coup on Jan. 6. 

And what of the American mainstream news media? To this point, for more than eight years they have failed to consistently practice pro-democracy journalism that emphasizes the existential danger of Trumpism and American neofascism to the day-to-day lives and well-being of the American people and the nation. Ultimately, it will be up to the American people on Election Day to save their country from Trumpism and American neofascism in the voting booth. The elites will not save them or their democracy.

In an attempt to make better sense of Donald Trump’s historic felony conviction and its meaning and implications for this political moment, the 2024 election, the country’s democracy and what may happen next, I recently spoke to a range of experts.

Read part one here.

Will Bunch is a national opinion columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Look, any time that a former president of the United States is convicted of 34 felonies, it’s a big deal. Don’t let anyone tell you anything otherwise. But given the state of America right now, where people disagree not just about ideology but basic facts, what that ultimate meaning will be is very much up in the air.

Will we see Donald Trump’s conviction as the long-awaited end of a con man’s long and inglorious career? Yes, if even a relatively small sliver of GOP voters now abandons him in November. But the former-political-party-turned-cult known as Republicans see this a lot differently. They can smell the end, too…but of the American Experiment itself. The cynical comments from U.S. senators and other GOP leaders comparing the United States to Cuba or a banana republic because Trump was convicted by a jury of his peers are nothing less to destroy the slender remaining trust in our institutions and our elites. In doing so, they want to create the climate for Trump to rule America as a “red Caesar” dictator running roughshod over what’s left of a weakened system.

That’s a depressing thought, but take some hope from this. After what has been essentially a decades-long crime spree by the defendant, first in business and then in national politics, the defendant has evaded accountability thanks to various feckless prosecutors, a pliant news media, and kowtowing members of Congress. In lower Manhattan, Trump finally faced the judgment of 12 everyday American folk; teachers, a software engineer, a salesman, etc. And they saw right through his shtick. Hopefully about 80 million or so Americans can do the same on Nov. 5.

David Pepper is a lawyer, writer, political activist, and former elected official. His new book is "Saving Democracy: A User's Manual for Every American."

A primary reason our political system is off the rails is the sense that there is no accountability left, even for egregious lawbreaking, at multiple levels.

Think about it:

A federal court system has been unable to take up, in a timely manner, critical cases involving national security and the peaceful transition of power. Conflicts of interest appear to suffuse our highest courts (federal and state), tainting their deliberations and decisions. We have rampant corruption that seems untouchable in so many places, including in statehouses and the Trump White House. We have politicians behaving in ways that, in any other field, would get them fired or worse.

That lack of accountability, continuing on and on, rewards the lawbreakers (who have grown accustomed to getting away with it all) and punishes those in public service who follow the rules. The entire incentive system is turned on its head.

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And that lack of accountability is settling in as just how the system works. Which ends up eroding the rule of law in politics—and the rule of law in governance itself. And that could not be more dangerous.

So even though the verdict involved a set of illegal acts that feel smaller than the federal cases Trump also faces, the verdict did—at long last—result in accountability for those illegal acts. That may shock a lot of people on one side of the political aisle, who have grown so used to a world with no accountability. That shock provides more evidence of the problem. But for the country, and a system that desperately needs the rule of law as its anchor, this high-profile moment of accountability was critically important.

Cheri Jacobus is a political strategist, writer, ex-Republican, and host of the podcast "Politics With Cheri Jacobus."

Justice at long last.

Lifelong criminal Donald J. Trump is facing serious, substantive justice for the first time in his life — a verdict that may actually carry a prison sentence. The tragedy is that it took far too long, and the vast majority of Trump victims will never be made whole, and Trump and his thugs will never be held accountable for all of their other crimes. This era of Trump has exposed the gaping holes in a justice system and judiciary that our culture and leaders made us believe was far stronger than it is. Cheerful, largely untested American patriotism made us soft and gullible. Malleable.

MAGA media (everything owned by Rupert Murdoch plus other "media" that depends on the survival of Trump) will have some success in making a large swath of voters believe the trial was "rigged," just as Trump was able to convince millions that the Trump University trial was rigged, the Emmys that did not give him a win for "The Apprentice" were rigged, the 2020 election was "rigged" (even though he can't seem to explain how the Republicans on the very same ballot won). 

Trump will take his appeal all the way to his corrupt, hand-picked, MAGA-majority Supreme Court. There is no reason to believe that they won't do his bidding.

My concern and fear is that Democrats and non-MAGA institutions will do what they have done for nine years — flinch. From declining to impeach Trump over obstruction in the Mueller Report to declining to refer to the Justice Department for indictment people who lie to Congress under oath or refuse to honor subpoenas to media putting ratings and rubbernecking over journalism, many have been asleep at the switch. They seem unwilling to fully accept that we are in this fight, and we must be ready for it. No half measures — no believing in our institutions and the guardrails which have long since been crashed through. We did not choose this fight, but this is the fight we are in, and the fight we must win. Like it or not.

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It's now become necessary for Trump to tap Nikki Haley as his Vice-Presidential running mate, as he needs her voters — many of whom declared they will never vote for him. The Trump-Haley ticket may have to run on the undercurrent of "Should Trump not be able to actually do the job of President due to prison, you'll get your Nikki, after all", a stronger position than merely getting their Nikki, after all, but only if Trump dies.

The media is salivating at the ratings that Trump keeps delivering and at what lies ahead. Their appetite for ratings they don't have to actually work for is likely not to abate any time soon, if at all. The challenge for Team Biden is to break through the noise and the Trump garbage to highlight one of the most successful presidencies in a century. It has already proven far more perilous an undertaking than most of us predicted.

Darrin Bell is a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, creator of the syndicated comic strip “Candorville”, and author of the graphic novel “The Talk." He is also a contributing cartoonist for the New Yorker.

The Republican Party is the canary in the coal mine. It used to portray itself as the “party of law and order.” It once claimed that “character mattered.” There was a time when it would routinely reauthorize the Voting Rights Act and help ensure Black people could vote. As late as 2012, its standard-bearer considered Russia to be the USA’s greatest geopolitical threat. It didn’t use to parse its way out of acknowledging that our country was a modern democracy. Both parties are microcosms of America, in all its flaws and pretenses. But pretense is important because it reminds us of who we want to be as a nation, even if it’s not really who we are.

Only one party is abandoning the pretense altogether. Only one party wants us to become something else - a country where the rule of law is subordinate to the whims of an autocrat, his political party, and their brownshirts (sorry, “redhats.”)

There once was a Republican Party that would not have threatened to grind government to a halt or tear down the criminal justice system just because a jury found their favorite sleazy bigot guilty of lying about payments to a porn star in order to win an election. The Republican Party died nearly ten years ago. Its reanimated corpse isn’t just anathema to the former party, it’s un-American. This zombie party, that’s been hollowed out and ensnared by Donald Trump and his fanatical followers, is a precursor to America after 2025, if we send the convicted felon back to the White House.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Commentary Democracy Crisis Donald Trump Election Fascism Hush-money Trial Maga Trump Trial Verdict