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What impact will Trump's guilty verdict by a New York jury have on the electorate?


All right. So we connected with Elaine Kamarck. She's a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, also a member of the Democratic National Committee and the DNC's Rules Committee since 1997. We were talking about the guilty verdict for Donald Trump yesterday, Elaine. So how does this moment feel like in American history for you?

ELAINE KAMARCK: Wow, it's a very big moment, and it's a very sad moment. What makes it sad is that we have the first former president ever indicted and convicted of a felony. And what makes it even more sad is that half of the country absolutely believes that he's guilty, and half of the country absolutely believes that he isn't. We are still a very polarized country.

MARTÍNEZ: So on that, Steve Inskeep just spoke to Hugh Hewitt not that long ago - he's a talk show host who interviews Trump. And he said that the verdict will help Trump because it's motivating his supporters. Does that hold water for you?

KAMARCK: I think no, it doesn't. I think Trump's supporters are already very motivated. They believe anything that he says. They are out there and active. This is a very close race with two very large camps divided, and there's a very small group in between. And that small group is going to decide this election. And what that small group heard over the weeks of this trial is a narrative about Trump having an affair with a porn star while his wife was home with a newborn baby.

Now focus on this for a minute, OK? Most American women understand the feeling of vulnerability after a baby's been born. Having estranged husband is bad. Having estranged husband while you're recovering from childbirth? Unforgivable. No wonder Melania, unlike many political wives before her, did not go near the courtroom in New York and has been silent on the legal proceedings.

To make matters worse, what did Trump then do, or what did they show the jury? They showed the jury that Trump was not at all concerned about Melania's well-being. She was not the reason he was trying to cover this up. He was trying to cover it up because of his worries about its effect on women voters. And that, I think, is where this will have a big impact in November.

MARTÍNEZ: Elaine, you mentioned how Trump supporters are already motivated. On the other side of this, a poll suggests that President Biden's base is not as enthusiastic about him, but - just about 30 seconds left, Elaine - could this verdict change that for President Biden?

KAMARCK: It absolutely could, and I disagree about that. Biden supporters may not be as crazy about Biden, but boy, Biden supporters are really against Trump. We saw that in the 2022 elections. We saw that in '20. We saw that in the by-elections in 2023. So I think that Democrats and Biden supporters are very, very motivated, and a guilty verdict like this is going to increase their motivation.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. Elaine, thank you.

KAMARCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.