Donald Trump Is a Convicted Felon. Democrats Must Shout It From the Rooftops.

Donald Trump Is a Convicted Felon. Democrats Must Shout It From the Rooftops.

Donald Trump Is a Convicted Felon. Democrats Must Shout It From the Rooftops.

Pundits and pearl-clutchers are warning Joe Biden to campaign on his record and leave Trump’s legal troubles alone. That would be political malpractice.

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It was a moment of understated wit and comic timing by President Joe Biden. After a statement Friday unveiling the latest proposal for a cease-fire to halt the carnage in Gaza and step up the flow of humanitarian relief, a reporter asked Biden about convicted felon Donald Trump’s claim that he’s a “political prisoner” and that Biden is “directly” to blame. Biden kept walking away, said nothing, then turned to face reporters with an enigmatic smile. It was perfect.

But of course, not to the Trump campaign and its toadies in the media. Axios founder Mike Allen called Biden’s smile a “smirk,” and wrote an entire story over the weekend hailing the campaign’s verve in turning the moment into an anti-Biden video.

“An in-house Trump campaign team added horror music, and put the video in slow-mo,” Allen wrote breathlessly. “At 4:21 p.m., campaign co-manager Chris LaCivita tweeted the video and labeled it ‘The face of corruption’—a phrase you’ll hear again.”

You certainly will, if reporters like Allen have their way.

Is it possible the Biden team will be outplayed on the issue of “corruption,” with Trump convicted of 34 felonies, and another 50-plus felony indictments awaiting trial? It’s always possible that Democrats will be outplayed by the GOP. But as The New Republic’s Greg Sargent wrote,

A guilty verdict is powerful new information—the fact that one of the major party nominees is a convicted felon is an unprecedented and deeply jarring situation. We should hold institutional Democrats responsible if they don’t use it, and use it ruthlessly and effectively.

Brian Beutler of OffMessage wrote over the weekend: “I consider this something like a final test of whether the [Democratic] party, as currently constituted, is capable of advocating for itself and its constituents in high-stakes moments.”

But some liberal strategists disagree. Increasingly out-of-touch Bill Clinton adviser James Carville told the The New York Times that Biden should strike a patriotic tone, not a partisan one: “The jury, the jury, the jury—for God’s sakes, hide under the dress of the jury,” Carville said. “And you don’t need to say much more than that.”

“Under the dress” ought to make clear how out of date Carville’s thinking is.

Even MSNBC’s Jen Psaki, Biden’s first press secretary and a reliable liberal, has voiced concern about Biden’s going all in on attacking Trump for his conviction. On her show Sunday, she suggested that labeling Trump a convicted felon is not Biden’s “style.”

“Donald Trump is a convicted felon,” Biden Harris communications director Mike Tyler replied matter-of-factly, implying that the campaign is not afraid of leaning into the message.

Despite widespread insistence that Trump’s legal troubles won’t affect the election—that they’re “baked in,” as the cliché goes—a Reuters/Ipsos poll found 11 percent of Republicans, and 26 percent of independents, saying they are less likely to vote for Trump post-conviction. Another poll found that 49 percent of independents believe he should drop out. Those numbers are only slightly worse for Trump than pre-conviction polls, but it is still early, and they still represent a significant potential constituency for Biden.

Meanwhile, on Sunday Trump sat for an interview on Fox and Friends, in which he seemed even more deranged than usual. As the prolific cable news chronicler Acyn observed on X: “Trump’s interview with Fox and Friends is heavily edited for some reason. Abrupt cuts while he’s still talking. Very curious what they edited out.”

Trump falsely claimed he’d never said, about his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, “Lock her up.” Of course, it was easy to find clips of him doing just that. (In 2015, he even said having a presidential candidate under felony indictment would create a “constitutional crisis.”) He also lied about whether he was “OK” with the notion of going to prison. “I’m OK with it.… You don’t beg for anything.… I’m not sure the public would stand for it.… I think it would be tough for the public to take. You know, at a certain point, there’s a breaking point.” Once again, that’s Trump encouraging violence from his supporters, albeit more subtly than he has before.

Later, he posted on Truth Social: “The ‘Sentencing’ for not having done anything wrong will be, conveniently for the Fascists, 4 days before the Republican National Convention. A Radical Left Soros backed D.A., who ran on a platform of ‘I will get Trump,’ reporting to an ‘Acting’ Local Judge, appointed by the Democrats, who is HIGHLY CONFLICTED, will make a decision which will determine the future of our Nation? The United States Supreme Court MUST DECIDE!”

One thing Carville is correct about: Democrats should routinely rebut such paranoid nonsense by relying on the fact that it wasn’t District Attorney Alvin Bragg but a jury of 12 New Yorkers—of different genders, races, occupations, and political backgrounds—that unanimously found Trump guilty of 34 felony counts. But Democrats, including Biden, should not shy away from routinely labeling Trump the “convicted felon” that he is.

Of course, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris should run on their record, which is as progressive as anyone’s since President Lyndon Johnson. They should talk about what they intend to do to make the post-pandemic economic recovery their policies created a reality for still-struggling Americans. They must remind voters of how Trump has repeatedly bragged that he appointed the conservative judges who repealed Roe v. Wade. There is plenty to talk about.

But failing to lean into the reality of Trump’s historic conviction, and all the legal trouble he still faces, would be political malpractice. After all, Biden’s enigmatic smile got turned into a hysterical Trump campaign ad accusing the Democrat of “corruption.” They will use anything he says or even doesn’t say about Trump’s conviction against Biden. He, and top Democrats, should make sure everyone knows which 2024 candidate is indeed corrupt. There is no contest.

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