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Donald Trump is a convicted felon. How is that shaping his campaign messaging?


You have almost certainly heard by now that as of this past Thursday, former President Donald Trump is a convicted felon. This historic fact makes an already wild election cycle even more unprecedented. And it leads to a question we haven't had to ask before - what does it even look like to run for president under these circumstances? NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is here with a look at what his campaign is up to. Hey, Danielle.


DETROW: So this past week, Trump had a lot to say. He spoke to reporters immediately after the conviction and then again at a lengthy Friday press conference. But do we have a sense, broadly, of what campaigning looks like right now for him?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, at least in the last few days, he really seems to be going for visibility after being confined to that courtroom for several weeks. He made an appearance at a UFC fight last night. And he also just joined TikTok, and his first post was a video of his entrance at that fight last night.


KURTZLEBEN: He also just announced a Las Vegas rally next weekend, and his campaign tells me they'll be announcing more events this week. And he sat down for a very friendly interview with "Fox & Friends" this weekend. He was asked if he feels the need for revenge after the verdict, and here was his answer.


DONALD TRUMP: It's a very interesting question. And I say it, and it sounds beautiful, right? You know, my revenge will be success, and I mean that. But it's awfully hard when you see what they've done. These people are so evil.

KURTZLEBEN: And that's really been his messaging for a long time, that he's the victim of a politicized and unfair justice system. Now, it bears repeating there is no evidence of political bias or interference in this court case. So that's Trump. Now as for his campaign strategy, they just announced an initiative called Trump Force 47, which is an effort that's cooperative between the campaign and the RNC, signing volunteers up to make calls, distribute signs for the campaign, that sort of thing. What you can imagine is that the campaign is really hoping to leverage whatever enthusiasm the guilty verdict stirred up in their voters.

DETROW: We know that both campaigns were using this verdict to fundraise. Do we have a sense, at this point, how the verdict drove donations?

KURTZLEBEN: Well, for Trump, we have some sense. The campaign reported that they raised 53 - nearly $53 million in the first 24 hours after the verdict. Now, that is really big. Now, this is not verified in a campaign finance report yet. It's possible, for example, that some of these donations could be refunded if some donors have given over their legal limits, and official numbers will come later this month. But even if the correct total is in that ballpark, that's huge. In all of April, for example, Trump and the GOP together raised 76 million. So 53 in 24 hours is big.


KURTZLEBEN: Now, as for the Biden camp, they told my colleague Tamara Keith that they also had strong fundraising post-verdict, but they didn't put numbers on. So we'll watch for that.

DETROW: We know that there's many polls to come in the wake of this verdict. Rather than get your hot take on what they might say, I think I will instead ask you to help listeners understand what to look for, how to make sense of these polls when they start coming.

KURTZLEBEN: Sure. Well, first off, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are very well-known quantities. A lot of people already had their minds made up about both of those guys well before this.


KURTZLEBEN: But second of all, Trump is now a convicted felon, and it's going to stay that way. It's going to stay that way, barring a successful appeal, and we'll wait to see what happens there. It's possible that this verdict, though, doesn't create just a momentary polling bump or polling dip but that it could sway opinions in weeks down the line as more people start paying attention. Now, to me, the big question is how Biden uses this verdict. What story does he tell about it? Is this about democracy? Is this about Trump's values, his fitness for office? What we can say is that it's a close election right now. We may never know exactly what sways things, but more is going to happen - the sentencing, the conventions and the debates. There's still so much time for things to get even more unprecedented.

DETROW: More unprecedented - all right - plus three other criminal cases out there. That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Thank you so much.

KURTZLEBEN: Thanks, Scott. 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.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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