Republicans are divided over whether former President Trump’s 2024 reelection chances could be hurt following a verdict reached Tuesday in a case involving writer E. Jean Carroll.
A federal jury in Manhattan found Trump liable of sexual abuse and defamation against Carroll, awarding her $5 million in damages.
In a lawsuit filed last year, Carroll accused the former president of raping her in 1996 in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room, though the jury did not find Trump liable of rape in the trial.
Some Republicans pointed to the verdict as reason to move on from the former president.
Republican strategist Doug Heye tweeted that Trump’s statement “should be more ammunition for Republicans to dump Trump once and for all.”
Alyssa Farah Griffin, who served as Trump’s White House communications director and is now a frequent critic of the former president, tweeted that the GOP “must walk away from this man. It is beyond morally indefensible.”
The verdict comes just one day before the former president is scheduled to take questions at a CNN town hall — the first time Trump has done an interview with a major non-conservative network since 2020 — and weeks after Trump was indicted on federal charges by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) in a separate probe.
Republican strategists offered mixed views on the effects of the verdict on Trump’s election chances.
“It certainly won’t help among the suburban women that were with Trump in 2016, but abandoned him in 2018, 2020 and 2022,” Arizona-based GOP strategist and Trump campaign alumnus Brian Seitchik said in a text message.
“Trump was able to justifiably portray the [Bragg] indictment as political. Will he be able to do the same here? That’s the key question for this week,” Seitchik said.
Trump has denied the accusations, and his campaign has vowed to appeal the case.
The former president also reacted to the news on his social media platform Tuesday, calling the verdict “a disgrace.”
“I have absolutely no idea who this woman is,” Trump said. “A continuation of the greatest witchhunt of all time.”
Some of Trump’s 2024 Republican rivals offered mixed reactions.
Vivek Ramaswamy, an investment manager seeking the GOP presidential nomination, said the verdict seemed like “just another part of the establishment’s anaphylactic response against its chief political allergen: Donald Trump.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), a candidate who has been critical of Trump, called for the verdict to be taken seriously.
“Over the course of my over 25 years of experience in the courtroom, I have seen firsthand how a cavalier and arrogant contempt for the rule of law can backfire,” Hutchinson said. “The jury verdict should be treated with seriousness and is another example of the indefensible behavior of Donald Trump.”
But some Republicans argued that Tuesday’s verdict will only strengthen the former president’s standing among his base.
“Trump has a base that will stick with him through thick and thin, and trying to use today’s ruling against him will do nothing to dampen the resolve of his supporters,” said Ford O’Connell, a Florida-based Republican strategist.
Veteran Republican strategist Keith Naughton said the Tuesday verdict wouldn’t have a substantial impact on Trump’s 2024 bid.
Naughton said possible indictments in separate probes into Trump’s conduct during the 2020 election, headed by the Justice Department and Fulton County (Ga.) District Attorney Fani Willis, would be more significant.
Still, Naughton suggested that Trump’s response — and whether he brings it up regularly — could impact his standing with women.
“I think where this really hurts him is in his reaction, just another thing for him to rage about. And when he goes on appeal … it could make it worse,” Naughton said.
“He tends to make things worse for himself. [The wild card is], does he keep bringing this up in the future? If he does, it could hurt him more with women, which is already a weak group for him,” he continued.
Just 44 percent of women voted for Trump in the 2020 election, while 55 percent voted for President Biden.
There are reasons to remain skeptical that Trump will face a political backlash in the immediate future.
“The laws of political gravity don’t seem to apply to President Trump,” said one official who advised Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
While the Carroll verdict is the first time Trump’s myriad personal legal troubles has led to a conviction, it is far from the only cloud looming over his third White House bid.
Last month, he was charged with 34 felony counts for his alleged role in a hush money scheme involving adult-film star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
A Justice Department special counsel is simultaneously investigating Trump’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election and whether he improperly handled classified documents after leaving the White House.
And a Georgia prosecutor is looking into Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results.
Even so, Trump has retained a healthy lead in national polls of GOP primary voters.
A Morning Consult poll released early Tuesday showed Trump with a 41-point lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Sunday showed Trump with a 28-point lead.
The Trump campaign and its allies have been adamant that Trump’s legal woes will only reinforce his support within the Republican primary electorate, which views the various investigations into the former president as an attempt to target him and bring him down.
The greater concern, which even some of Trump’s allies acknowledge, is whether the accumulation of legal problems and scandals will ultimately drive away independent voters in a general election against Biden.