Top 1 Magazine

Top One Magazine

Trump’s New York trial is knocking him off balance

By the end of the first week of his criminal trial, Donald Trump had never looked more frustrated.

Confined to a worn, burgundy leather chair for hours on end — without social media to scroll or a throng of associates to entertain him — the former president listened to average New Yorkers give their opinions of him. He weathered admonishments from the bench. He complained at the courthouse about the temperature in the room (“freezing”) and, on Friday, his gag order (“They’re taking away my constitutional rights to speak — and that includes speaking to you,” he said to reporters).

And when he got time away from the courtroom — posing in front of a wall of potato chip bags at a Harlem bodega (“a beautiful place,” he called it) and dining with the Polish president at Trump Tower — Trump still took to posting online about the trial, grumbling on his day off not only about “Stupid Jimmy Kimmel,” but about the jury selection process.

For the first time in months, despite his many legal entanglements in New York and elsewhere, it was Trump, not his opponent, President Joe Biden, who seemed to have been thrown off balance, constrained by a judge’s schedule and gag orders as he whipsawed between the courtroom and the functions of his campaign.

And even Trump seemed to acknowledge the liability that the trial was becoming for him — and likely will be for weeks more as the general election campaign picks up and, simultaneously, his court proceedings drag on.

“I should be right now in Pennsylvania and Florida — in many other states, North Carolina, Georgia — campaigning,” Trump told reporters in the court hallway this week. “This is all coming from the Biden White House, because the guy can’t put two sentences together. He can’t campaign.”

Trump’s prosecution was not coming from the White House, in fact, but from a Democratic prosecutor in New York.

To his supporters, part of Trump’s appeal as a politician has always been the show he puts on. And in that respect, the court spectacle was not a total loser for him. He drew nearly nonstop press, as cameras and reporters chronicled his every step to and from the courthouse. News coverage of Trump and his trial easily surpassed that of Biden and his campaign stops this week.

But another part of Trump’s strength has traditionally been the impression that he was in command, performing on his own terms. What became obvious in New York this week was that is no longer the case, with Trump confined to the courtroom and, on trial days, campaign events restricted to New York and its environs. At a minimum, that is limiting Trump’s ability to respond to the unfolding presidential campaign.

While Trump was in court this week, Biden embarked on a three-day tour of the critical swing state of Pennsylvania — talking about taxes and the economy — before announcing he would on Tuesday visit Florida, Trump’s home state, when Trump will again be tied up in court.

“Under my predecessor, who’s a little busy right now, Pennsylvania lost 275,000 jobs,” Biden said while speaking to steelworkers in Pittsburgh on Wednesday — acknowledging, which the president rarely does, the demands of Trump’s ongoing legal saga.

The next day, with Trump again in court, Biden surrounded himself with members of the Kennedy family who have endorsed him, a maneuver designed to neutralize the third-party threat of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has the potential to siphon votes from Trump, as well.

Asked about his week in court, Trump’s spokesperson, Karoline Leavitt, told POLITICO in a statement that Trump “proved he will remain defiant in the face of this unprecedented political lawfare, and it is clear that his support from the American people will only grow as they watch Joe Biden, Alvin Bragg, and the Democrats putting on this bogus show trial six months before the election.”

An official with the Trump campaign, granted anonymity to speak freely, noted his team was pleased with some of the news commentary surrounding the trial this week, including from sports radio host Stephen A. Smith, who opposes Trump but blamed Democrats for prosecuting the case, saying he wants to see Trump “lose the right way.”

Trump’s advisers had long sought to delay the trial. And while they maintained that he would still be able to campaign during the proceedings, the opportunity cost this week was clear.

As Trump’s campaign, trailing Biden in cash, sent fundraising solicitations pegged to the trial, Biden was unloading on the airwaves. The president quadrupled his spending last month, the bulk of which was on ads, and opened dozens of campaign offices in battleground states. He has narrowed Trump’s polling lead, now running nearly even with him.

And even positive polls for Trump have more recently suggested the trial could hamper him in ways that did not previously seem as clear. A recent New York Times/Siena poll, which showed Trump’s lead slipping to one percentage point, found that a majority of voters, including a majority of independents, believe the charges he faces in his current trial are at least somewhat serious. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll last week, 13 percent of people who said they would vote for Trump today reported they would not vote for him if he is convicted of a felony. And a Harvard Youth Poll released Thursday that showed Trump cutting into Biden’s lead with young voters also found that if Trump is convicted in any of his four criminal trials, Biden’s lead would expand.

An Associated Press poll released this week, however, found that just one in three Americans believe Trump did anything wrong in the current hush money case, despite a higher number putting the blame on Trump in his other pending legal cases.

Trump is still plowing ahead with his campaign when — and where — he can, visiting Pennsylvania the weekend ahead of his trial and, on Saturday, holding both a rally and fundraiser in North Carolina, another November battleground.

After holding a series of rallies across Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in January and February during the Republican primary, Trump had slowed the pace of his in-person campaigning even before the trial began. And Trump can still retreat to his social media platform outside of court, as he did during breaks this week.

He declared outside the bodega that in between his packed schedule he would be spending more time “campaigning locally” in New York. Trump also said he would make a “heavy play” to win the heavily Democratic state, even though Biden is almost certain to win there and as polls have tightened for Trump in key, much more competitive battleground states.

But the public campaigning he did pull off this week was hampered by the trial. And everything else about his trial week, unlike so much of Trump’s political persona, was not at all of his own making.

Instead, it was Trump being admonished by the judge for gesturing and muttering about a juror, or learning that he might not be allowed to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation next month. Or watching his attorneys be denied a list of names of the first witnesses scheduled to testify — typically routine information — because, as the prosecutor put it, “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses” leading up to the trial.

And next week, it will be more of the same. In addition to expected opening statements in the hush money case, Justice Juan Merchan has said he will hold a hearing to consider prosecutors’ request to hold Trump in contempt and fine him for allegedly violating his gag order in the case.

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