AI's verdict on Donald Trump: He'll win! He'll lose! He'll go to jail! Shrug emoji!

We asked AI programs to analyze the effects of Trump's conviction. Was it any worse than conventional wisdom?

Published June 23, 2024 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump on a computer screen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump on a computer screen (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Countless articles have been written in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s May 30 criminal convictions in the New York hush-money trial. There's the question of Trump's potential path to the Supreme Court, the sentence he presumably faces next month, his feelings about procedural issues, Michael Cohen’s never-ending opinions on what should happen to the twice-impeached, multiply-indicted and now felony-convicted ex-president — and that’s just a small slice of what’s been put into print or pixels since the verdicts were announced.

But all that analysis and opinion, as far as we can tell, has been provided by human observers. No one seems to have considered the views of our future robot overlords — the various AI programs that are learning and growing every day with access to the vast majority of the so-called information available on the internet. 

Salon's initial questions for the AIs were perhaps overly broad, in an effort to gauge the evaluations of various programs on the big-picture effects of the criminal verdicts. Whether the answers we received tell us more about the consequences of Trump's convictions, the criminal justice system or the limits of artificial intelligence (not to mention human intelligence) is up for debate. In any event, the resemblance between most AI responses and what might be called the conventional wisdom of the political classes was striking. Let's begin with some thoughts from ChatGPT, by far the best known of public-facing AI platforms:

  • Solidification of support: Trump’s core supporters are likely to view his convictions as politically motivated, which may strengthen their loyalty and increase voter turnout among his base.
  • Political comeback: Trump could use the convictions to fuel a political comeback, rallying his base and potentially winning elections by portraying himself as a martyr.
  • Fundraising boost: Trump may use the convictions to rally his supporters and raise funds, framing himself as a victim of a biased legal system.
  • Dominant narrative: The media coverage of Trump’s legal battles will dominate the news cycle, potentially overshadowing other political issues and candidates.

Most of that is reasonable, if not exactly groundbreaking. Trump has indeed raised millions in post-conviction donations, although he appears to have lost ground in the polls and now slightly trails President Biden in the most recent surveys.

Next we turned to the Meta AI (i.e., Facebook's), built on software called Llama 3. Its prognosis was far more pessimistic for the former president and heartening for the hashtag-resistance: 

  • Loss of political support: A conviction could lead to a significant loss of political support and credibility, potentially damaging his chances of winning the election.
  • Legal consequences: Trump could face fines, imprisonment or other legal consequences, which could impact his ability to campaign and serve as president.

As we explored more detailed and specific questions, the answers became more specific as well. We asked an AI called Claude, built by a company called Anthropic, to discuss how Trump's supporters were likely to react to the convictions. It appeared aware of MAGA loyalists' concerns about the "deep state":

  1. Anger and outrage: Many would likely express fury at what they see as a corrupt and biased legal system unfairly targeting Trump. They may believe the conviction is an effort by Trump's enemies to undermine his political influence and prevent him from running for office again.
  2. Conspiracy theories: Trump supporters might promote conspiracy theories alleging that the conviction is part of a "deep state" plot or a witch hunt orchestrated by Democrats, the media or other perceived adversaries.
  3. Rallies and protests: There could be a resurgence of "Stop the Steal"-style rallies and protests, with supporters gathering to express their solidarity with Trump and their opposition to the conviction.
  4. Increased mistrust in institutions: A conviction could further erode Trump supporters' already low trust in government institutions, the mainstream media and the democratic process itself. They may view it as validation of Trump's claims that the system is rigged against him and his followers.
  5. Continued loyalty and support: Despite a conviction, many die-hard Trump supporters would likely stand by him and continue to view him as a leader and a martyr for their cause. They may double down on their commitment to Trump and his "Make America Great Again" movement.

Meta, despite its initial skepticism about Trump's future prospects, struck a notably different tone when asked similar questions about MAGA Nation, offering a relatively sophisticated analysis that appeared informed by political science textbooks: 

[I]t's possible that a conviction could lead to Trump gaining support from his base or even gaining sympathy from some voters. This phenomenon is often referred to as the "martyr effect" or "backlash effect."

Some of his supporters might view a conviction as:

  1. Political persecution: They might believe that the legal system is unfairly targeting Trump due to his political views or actions.
  2. Overreach by the opposition: Some might see a conviction as an attempt by Trump's political opponents to discredit him and undermine his political power.
  3. An attack on their values: Trump's supporters might feel that a conviction is an attack on the values and beliefs they associate with him, such as conservatism, patriotism, or anti-establishment sentiments.

In response, they might rally around Trump, viewing him as a victim of a biased system or a political witch hunt. This could lead to increased support, donations and political engagement among his base.

ChatGPT offered observations that sometimes used virtually identical language:

  • Framing as a witch hunt: Many Trump supporters are expected to view the convictions as part of a broader political strategy to undermine him. This narrative of a "witch hunt" has been a recurring theme in Trump's rhetoric and is likely to resonate strongly with his base.
  • Distrust in the legal system: There may be a significant increase in distrust towards the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, perceived as being biased against Trump. Supporters might argue that the legal proceedings were unfair or manipulated by political adversaries.
  • Mobilization and activism: Trump’s base might become more politically active, engaging in rallies, protests and campaigns to support him and his political agenda. This could lead to heightened participation in elections and increased grassroots organizing.

Meta and ChatGPT appear to have absorbed standard political-science textbooks — but offer competing narratives about whether Democrats are exhausted or energized.

Intriguingly, the AIs offered conflicting analyses of how these convictions might affect Biden's supporters. ChatGPT has evidently consumed media narratives about liberal exhaustion:

  • Scandal fatigue: After years of continuous political scandals and controversies involving Trump, some Biden supporters might experience fatigue and become desensitized to yet another legal issue. This could lead to a more subdued reaction.
  • Media overload: Given the constant flow of news, supporters might feel overwhelmed and choose to focus on more immediate and personal concerns rather than the latest developments in Trump’s legal battles.
  • Expectation of convictions: If Biden supporters anticipated Trump’s convictions for a long time, the actual news might be met with a sense of inevitability rather than surprise or elation. This could dampen the intensity of their reaction.
  • Skepticism about impact: Some supporters might be skeptical about the practical impact of the convictions, believing that they won’t significantly change Trump’s influence or the political landscape, thus reacting less vigorously.

Claude, on the other hand, viewed the potential Democratic response in more optimistic terms, appearing to offer at least a modest celebration of the return of political norms and institutional guardrails:

In the hypothetical scenario of a criminal conviction of Donald Trump, I think it's unlikely that the reaction from Biden supporters would be muted or underwhelming…

  1. Vindication: Many Biden supporters and Democrats have long viewed Trump as corrupt and criminal. A conviction would be seen as validation of their beliefs and a victory for the rule of law. They would likely celebrate it as a triumph of justice and accountability.
  2. Political impact: Biden supporters would recognize the enormous political implications of a Trump conviction. It could severely damage Trump's prospects in the 2024 election and give Democrats a major boost. They would see it as a game-changer that shifts the political landscape in their favor.
  3. Media attention: A Trump conviction would dominate the news cycle and be discussed extensively on left-leaning media outlets and social media platforms frequented by Biden supporters. This constant exposure and commentary would keep the issue front and center and generate ongoing reactions.
  4. Contrast with Trump's conduct: Biden has framed his presidency as a return to normalcy, decency and respect for institutions after the chaos and controversy of the Trump era. A Trump conviction would underscore that contrast and be seen as a repudiation of Trump's conduct and leadership style.

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Meta seemed focused on pragmatic aspects of Democratic or liberal reactions, offering, if you will, a bit of political meta-commentary:

  1. Avoiding perceived gloating: Some supporters might deliberately avoid celebrating a Trump conviction to avoid appearing insensitive or vindictive.
  2. Concerns about political divisions: Biden supporters might be aware of the deep political divisions in the country and avoid actions that could exacerbate them.
  3. Expectation of appeals and legal challenges: A conviction might be seen as just the beginning of a lengthy legal process, potentially leading to a more subdued reaction.

The Claude AI leaned into the wildly unlikely scenario that Trump could be forced from the race and replaced by an "establishment-friendly Republican." Was this written by an old-school Beltway reporter?

Finally, there was the most important question of all: How will all this affect the November election? This remains unanswered and unanswerable IRL, and AI reactions reflected that confusion. Claude appeared to contradict its own earlier opinions about increased solidarity and righteous anger among the pro-MAGA right, leaning into the unlikely scenario that Trump could be forced out of the race and the outright nonsensical fantasy that a mainstream Republican could replace him. Was this written by an old-school Beltway political reporter?

  1. Trump's candidacy: If Trump is convicted before the 2024 election, it would likely severely damage, if not end, his presidential aspirations. He might be pressured to withdraw from the race, or face insurmountable obstacles in terms of fundraising, organization and voter support. However, if he remains defiant and continues to run, it could create an unprecedented and highly volatile situation.
  2. Democratic enthusiasm: A Trump conviction could energize and motivate Democratic voters, who would see it as a validation of their opposition to Trump and a reason to turn out to prevent a return to Trumpism. However, without Trump himself on the ballot, Democrats might struggle to replicate the record-breaking turnout and enthusiasm of the 2020 election.
  3. General election: In the general election, the impact would largely depend on who emerges as the Republican nominee. If it's a candidate closely tied to Trump and his brand of politics, they might struggle to expand their appeal beyond Trump's base and could face backlash from moderate voters turned off by the association with a convicted former president. If it's a more traditional, establishment-friendly Republican, they might have an easier time pivoting to a general election message.

Meta also seemed to ignore its own analysis of the likely response from the right, predicting various scenarios that would make Democrats party like it’s 2020. Some may conclude that these reflect "liberal bias," but they seem more closely tethered to reality than Claude's responses:

  1. Biden landslide: A conviction could lead to a significant shift in public opinion against Trump, potentially resulting in a landslide victory for Biden.
  2. Trump's base erosion: Some of Trump's supporters might abandon him due to the conviction, leading to a decline in his poll numbers and making it harder for him to win.
  3. Mobilization of Democratic voters: A conviction could energize Democratic voters, leading to higher turnout and increased motivation to vote against Trump.
  4. Increased scrutiny of Trump's fitness for office: A conviction could raise further questions about Trump's fitness for office, potentially leading to increased scrutiny from voters and the media.
  5. Legal implications: Depending on the nature of the conviction, Trump might face legal consequences that could impact his ability to run for office or serve as president.

ChatGPT provided an extensive and sometimes outside-the-box level of analysis, hinting at a possible surge of support for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other third-party candidates, although without mentioning any by name:

  • Trump's base: Trump’s convictions are likely to galvanize his core supporters. They may view the convictions as politically motivated and rally around him with increased fervor. This could lead to higher voter turnout among his base, motivated by a sense of grievance and loyalty.
  • Biden's base: Biden supporters could also be mobilized by the convictions, seeing them as a confirmation of Trump's unfitness for office. This could lead to increased activism and voter turnout among Democrats and independents who oppose Trump.
  • Negative perception of Trump: Swing voters and moderates who are concerned about ethical and legal standards may be swayed against Trump due to his criminal convictions. This could result in a shift towards Biden among these voters.
  • Skepticism of both candidates: Some swing voters might become disillusioned with both candidates, viewing the election as a choice between two undesirable options. This could lead to lower voter turnout among moderates or increased support for third-party candidates.
  • Dominant media coverage: Trump's legal issues will likely dominate media coverage, potentially overshadowing policy discussions. This could benefit Biden if the focus remains on Trump's legal troubles rather than on criticisms of Biden’s administration.
  • Republican Party: The GOP could experience internal divisions over Trump’s candidacy, with some members distancing themselves from him while others continue to support him fervently. This division could affect party cohesion and strategy.
  • Democratic Party: Biden’s campaign may enjoy greater unity within the Democratic Party, with a common goal of preventing Trump from returning to office. However, enthusiasm levels among progressive factions will also be crucial.

Some readers may have noticed that Google’s large-language AI, now called Gemini — the subject of significant negative media coverage since its launch — has not been mentioned. That's because Gemini has been politically neutered by its creators, and answers all election-related questions with an expression of faux-innocence: “I'm still learning how to answer this question. In the meantime, try Google Search.”

Curiously enough, Gemini offers that same answer if you ask such purely factual questions as “Who is Joe Biden?” or “What happened in the election of 1860?” Unlike the other AIs, Gemini has apparently been programmed to reach the same conclusion about politics that the computer in the 1983 movie "WarGames" reached about nuclear war — the only winning move is not to play.

Perhaps that makes Gemini the smartest AI of them all.

By Joe Tauke

Joe Tauke ( is an economics and politics writer, and previously worked in communications on Capitol Hill.


By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

MORE FROM Andrew O'Hehir

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Ai Analysis Artificial Intelligence Chatgpt Conviction Donald Trump Meta Trump Trial