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How Trump's guilty verdicts in N.Y. hush money case could alter other GOP candidates

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We find out this fall how, if at all, former President Trump's criminal conviction affects his bid to return to the White House. We also find out what voters think of candidates who demonstrated their loyalty by denouncing the jury verdict. They include Kari Lake of Arizona, one of the Republicans aiming to help their party recapture the Senate.

KARI LAKE: This will go down as a stain in American history. It's called lawfare, and it will only make Trump stronger.

INSKEEP: How does Republicans' fealty affect them? David Wasserman is senior editor and elections analyst for the Cook Political Report, which is a nonpartisan newsletter. Welcome back to the program, sir.

DAVID WASSERMAN: Thanks so much, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, help me think this through politically. If you're a Republican, what is the political calculation of publicly rejecting this jury verdict?

WASSERMAN: Well, just to set the scene, Steve, to date, most Democrats have been running ahead of Joe Biden down-ballot because they have their own brands, and they're more personally popular than Biden is. And in our polling in battleground states from mid-May, Trump was up 47-44 in six key battleground states, but Democratic Senate candidates were ahead, and the House ballot was tied at 44-44. And so it's been telling to see some of the reactions of these Republicans, and so far, it suggests that they don't see any upside - those who are running in competitive states and districts - in telling voters to respect the verdict.

To the contrary, some of them see upside in decrying what they say is the weaponization of the justice system. And this conviction might have some slight upside for down-ballot Republicans - not in a major way, and it's going to take a while to gauge the impact on polling. But it sparks tremendous anger among Trump's base, and to the extent turnout is a bit higher among those supporters of Trump's, it has the potential to lift all Republican votes. Where the conviction could cost Trump is among soft independents who would be hesitant about voting for a convicted felon, but they may not change their minds down-ballot.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is really interesting. I want to try to summarize what you've told me, Dave. You're telling me that Republicans broadly are not doing as well as their presidential candidate in surveys, and so by attaching themselves more firmly to their presidential candidate, they may feel they can pull themselves up a notch on the ladder. Is that it?

WASSERMAN: And in addition, many Republican candidates and committees have gotten a fundraising boost, not as decisively as Trump has himself in the aftermath of this, but they've been able to engage that Trump base more to raise money. And keep in mind that at a candidate level, Democrats have had an advantage to date in these races, particularly in House seats, where there's been a noticeable drop-off in Republican candidate fundraising since the speakership changed.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about one critical race, though. In Maryland, which is a blue state, Larry Hogan, the rare Republican who could plausibly win - and he is the Senate candidate there for the Republican Party - urged people to respect the verdict, which is a normal thing that would normally have happened in most circumstances in the past. And this drew a harsh reaction from the Trump campaign, saying, your campaign is over. Laura Trump, the former president's daughter-in-law, now co-chair of the Republican Party, said this about Larry Hogan. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARA TRUMP: He doesn't deserve the respect of anyone in the Republican Party at this point and, quite frankly, anybody in America.

INSKEEP: I can think of other occasions where the president or presidential candidate would be OK if somebody in their party had to keep their distance. Why not this time?

WASSERMAN: Larry Hogan's in an extremely unique situation. He is running in a state that Joe Biden carried by more than 30 points last time, and so Hogan needs Democratic voters to get to his win number. It's unlikely he will, at this point, given that the Democratic nominee, Angela Alsobrooks, has a bit of a halo after winning the primary. But what's more telling is the reaction of Republicans in more evenly divided states and districts. We're not seeing them say the same thing that Hogan did, and it suggests that public opinion about this trial and conviction is very closely aligned to the breakdown of support in the presidential race to begin with. And the reaction of Lake, who - it's not surprising; she's one of Trump's most hardcore supporters anywhere on the Senate battlefield - it shows that she needs to get closer to Trump's number in Arizona in order to win. After all, she is running behind him at the moment.

INSKEEP: David Wasserman is with the Cook Political Report. Thanks very much, as always, for your insights. Really appreciate it.

WASSERMAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.