Donald Trump seemed to be riding high while heading into court on Monday morning to testify in his civil fraud trial. Over the weekend, a poll was dominating the news cycle. A poll which apparently filled him with this confidence.
The New York Times/Siena College results found Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden in five of six key battleground states. Trump held leads in Arizona (+5%), Georgia (+6%), Michigan (+5%), Nevada (+11%), Pennsylvania (+4%). Biden led Wisconsin with +2%.
Of course, we have to take all polls with a grain of salt, especially this far from election day. Remember the 2022 red wave that never hit our shores? I prefer to look at real-world, recent election results for insight into where the electorate stands.
In any case, Donald Trump clearly felt emboldened. Trump has long held the belief that his legal troubles would help his 2024 campaign, and his team likely looked at the new poll as vindication of that belief. But if we scrutinize his approach and look deeper into the results, there are flashing red warning lights for Trump.
As he took the stand, Trump again sought turn his courtroom appearance into a campaign event. The Independent’s Alex Woodward, who was inside the Manhattan courtroom, reported that a “red-faced” Trump raged as he was questioned about the inflation of his assets.
“You ruled against me, and you said I was a fraud,” Trump said, not looking directly at the judge. “He called me a fraud, and he didn’t know anything about me.”
Judge Arthur Engoron repeatedly admonished Trump and his lawyers for Trump’s meandering speeches: “Can you control your client? This is not a political realm.”
While Trump may be attempting to bait Judge Engoron into making a mistake that Trump’s lawyers can exploit in an appeal process, there is another tactic at play.
Trump is clearly running a political strategy, not a legal one. The way he’s behaving indicates he simply wants to show his base he’s “fighting.” Monday’s testimony will surely make it into Trump’s fundraising emails. The false idea that he is the victim of a weaponized justice system is a key part of his campaign. He doesn’t seem to care that he’s antagonizing the singular figure who already decided he’s liable for fraud and will soon decide his punishment.
Trump and his team clearly think that the way he has approached this testimony and all his legal cases is gaining him support. But what Trump may see as short-term political wins could prove to be long-term political and legal losses.
This New York civil fraud trial is not a jury trial. Judge Engoron is going to decide the fate of Donald Trump’s business, so repeatedly using his testimony to antagonize that very same judge won’t help his case.
When you look at the substance of Trump’s testimony, it gets even worse. Donald Trump made admissions his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, refused to make. Trump’s kids attempted to distance themselves from the accounting process while Trump openly admitted to being involved in the valuations.
“I would look at them, I would see them, and I would maybe on occasion have some suggestions,” Trump said on the stand, under oath. Not only did he admit to being involved in the valuation process, but he also admitted to lowering the value of his Seven Springs property because he “thought it was too high.”
This civil fraud trial goes to the very heart of Donald Trump’s persona as a successful businessman, and his punishment in this trial could be paying up to $250m in damages and losing his New York businesses.
While on the stand, Trump also lambasted the entire process: “This is a very unfair trial… And I hope the public is watching.” Trump should be careful what he wishes for. The public is watching his legal developments very closely, and if he continues to lose in court, evidence indicates they will punish him for it.
On the flip side of his polling lead, there’s also a little-discussed cross-tab within the NYT/Siena poll that shows Trump’s legal troubles could prove to be his downfall.
When asked if Donald Trump is convicted and sentenced in one of his criminal trials, an average of 6% of registered voters across those same six battleground states said they would switch their vote over to Biden, with 4% opting for another candidate and 4% choosing to sit out the election. This would put Biden in a large lead in all six battleground states, handing him the 2024 election.
Donald Trump faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments, and his 2024 calendar is stacked with trial dates.
January 15, 2024: Second E Jean Carroll defamation trial
March 4, 2024: DOJ trial over 2020 election subversion
March 25, 2024: NYC Hush Money trial
May 20, 2024: DOJ classified documents trial
The most damning of these trials is undoubtedly Special Counsel Jack Smith’s 2020 election subversion case, currently set for March and overseen by Judge Tanya Chutkan in DC. Fani Willis, Fulton County, Georgia DA, is also currently seeking a March 2024 trial for her 2020 election subversion RICO case. DA Willis has already secured multiple guilty pleas from Trump’s former attorneys, which is not good news for Trump.
Given the sheer number of criminal cases Donald Trump faces and the voluminous evidence laid out in each of them, the chances of a conviction are high. If the NYT/Siena poll is any indication, voters would overwhelmingly reject Trump if that happens.
The majority of Americans typically don’t fully tune in to the presidential race until well into the election year. When they do tune in, they are going to learn about Donald Trump’s increasingly unhinged promises and the authoritarian agenda of the Republican Party.
President Biden also has a lot of time to change course and potentially repair the support he’s lost due to his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.
A lot can happen in the next year, including multiple Trump convictions. Trump shouldn’t take a victory lap just yet. He may look back and wish he had focused more on his legal strategy than his campaign. His freedom could be at stake.