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Would a conviction sink Trump? These Republicans are convinced

Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN

(CNN) — If you took the summer off from the threads of the American political conversation –

– this is the week to tune back in.

Trump’s political fortunes will collide, not for the last time, with his legal problems when he briefly surrenders to authorities in Atlanta this week but skips the first GOP primary debate in Milwaukee.

Could Trump be disqualified? Unlikely

There’s a push by legal scholars, including the influential conservative and former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, to encourage states to bar Trump from their ballots. The 14th Amendment technically bars those who support insurrection from holding public office.

But that idea to end-run his candidacy, however appropriate on the merits, would have to be taken up by election officials in key states and survive a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives.

For now, it is a mere hypothetical.

Would Americans vote for a convict?

The question alarming many Trump-skeptical Republicans this week is whether Americans would ever send a convict to the White House.

Trump is the subject of four criminal trials in state and federal courts. Two trials – in state court in New York related to a hush-money payment scheme and in federal court in Florida related to his treatment of classified data – won’t get underway until after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next year.

Trial dates have not yet been set for charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election in federal court in Washington, DC, and state court in Georgia.

Any conviction could change the equation for Trump

“I think that Joe Biden needs to be replaced, but I don’t think that Americans will vote for someone who has been convicted,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican, during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

Cassidy is among the minority of Republicans who voted to remove Trump from office after the January 6, 2021, insurrection and thinks Trump should end his candidacy now (something there is zero evidence will happen).

But Cassidy is not alone in his concern about how a conviction will alter the current landscape.

“It would make it almost a metaphysical certainty that he couldn’t get elected president if he were convicted of a felony,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican campaign adviser and CNN political commentator who opposes Trump’s candidacy, on Monday.

Most Americans don’t think a convict should be eligible for the White House

Jennings pointed to a recent Quinnipiac University poll in which 68% of all Americans and 58% of Republicans said a person convicted of a felony should not still be eligible to run for president.

That wording sounds similar to the 14th Amendment question raised by Luttig and others, but it does not account for the possibility that, eligibility preferences aside, a major party nominee next November may be convicted of a crime.

Jennings predicted Trump’s GOP rivals – there are eight who have qualified for the debate stage Wednesday – will mention that poll when they square off without Trump on Fox News.

Trump, rather than stand up to any of the criticism from his fellow Republicans, has taped an interview with the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who has fanned so many of Trump’s false conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. It’s expected to be used as counterprogramming for the debate.

This is the impossible riddle of American democracy right now. Large majorities of Americans say they don’t want a convict on the ballot. But Trump’s command of the Republican primary continues to gain strength.

Predicting a blowout if Trump wins the primary

One top Republican who decided not to run for president, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, is engaged in a PR campaign to get long-shot candidates to drop out and allow Republicans to coalesce around someone not named Trump.

“…winnowing down the field of candidates is the single best chance to stop Mr. Trump,” Sununu wrote in The New York Times on Monday.

He predicted an anti-Republican blowout if Trump is on the ballot for the party next November.

Here’s one excerpt:

Every candidate with an (R) next to their name, from school board to the statehouse, will be left to answer for the electoral albatross at the top of the ticket. Instead of going on offense and offering an alternative to Joe Biden’s failing leadership, Republicans will continue to be consumed with responding to Mr. Trump’s constant grievances and lies, turning off every independent suburban voter in America.

And Mr. Trump, ever the narcissist, will spend the entire campaign whining about his legal troubles and bilking his supporters of their retirement savings to pay for his lawyers.

It was a similar prediction from The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, which on Sunday condemned Trump for skipping the debate and suggested Democrats are salivating at the idea of running against Trump yet again because the former president is “the greatest voter turnout machine for the Democratic Party since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

Is Trump even vulnerable?

Sununu dismissed national polls that show Trump’s support among Republicans well over 50% and said to look at polling in early contest states.

“Both Iowa and New Hampshire, where the conversation is really happening, where that retail politics where other candidates are having a little more media and accessibility, that’s where Trump is down in the 42, 44% range, right?”

That’s still well above any of his rivals in those states.

A new poll in Iowa by the Des Moines Register/NBC News/Mediacom suggests Trump has the support of 42% of likely Republican caucusgoers. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has the support of 19%, and no other candidate breaks into double digits, although South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has 9%.

Opposing views of Trump’s support

CNN’s Harry Enten looked at that Iowa poll and argues that much of Trump’s support is committed. Two-thirds of the likely caucusgoers who say they will support Trump also say their mind is made up.

But Sununu pointed to the same poll to argue that leaves more than half of all likely Republican caucusgoers.

What’s not clear is if that committed kernel of the Republican base in Iowa can sway the contest when it occurs in about five months. Trump placed second in the Iowa caucuses on his way to the Republican nomination in 2016 with support from less than a quarter of caucusgoers.

Trump won the New Hampshire primary in 2016 with just about 35% of the vote. Four other candidates all got more than 10%.

Trump can win the general election

“This idea that Donald Trump can’t win the general election – I want you to lose that idea,” Enten said on “CNN This Morning,” pointing at multiple recent polls that show no clear leader between Trump and Biden.

“Donald Trump is polling better right now than basically at any point during the 2020 election,” Enten said. The four indictments just have not affected the polling.

But a conviction is a very different thing than an indictment. And Trump’s legal future is now completely tied to the coming election.

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