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In this edition: Republicans form a wall around Trump, insurgent conservatives fall short in Texas, ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
cloudy New York City
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thunderstorms Austin
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May 31, 2024


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David Weigel

A taxonomy of Republican rage against the Trump verdict

Stephani Spindel/REUTERS


Donald Trump’s criminal conviction in New York threw the Republican Party into a state of rage.

Congressional Republicans and their leaders called the verdict — guilty, on 34 different counts of falsifying business records — “unAmerican,” “rigged,” and a “sham.” Rivals who Trump crushed in the GOP presidential primary called it an “injustice” from a “kangaroo court.” Candidates on the 2024 ballot raced to condemn it; Maryland US Senate nominee Larry Hogan, who alone urged “respect” for the verdict, was instantly denounced by Trump campaign manager Chris LaCivita.

As Trump left the courtroom, the WinRed donor portal preferred by Republicans crashed. “Every single one of my friends has donated,” said Carlos Trujillo, a former ambassador for the Trump administration. Scores of elected Republicans had pointed to the home page for Trump’s joint fundraising committee, which spent millions of dollars on his legal fees this year.

On Friday morning, the Trump campaign announced that it had raised $34.8 million since the verdict, the single best fundraising day of the campaign.


The Republican reactions to the conviction of their presumptive nominee fit into five categories. Here’s a taxonomy, roughly arranged by intensity — from suggesting that Trump made this problem for himself, to asking whether 12 New York jurors just ended the American experiment.

Time for plan B. In 2018, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks lost a Senate primary after Trump allies’ TV ads attacked his 2016 presidential endorsement of Ted Cruz. In 2022, Brooks ran and lost again; Trump, who initially supported him, flipped and endorsed now-Sen. Katie Britt. Now retired, Brooks said that his party could do better than Trump: “Keep Trump as nominee & gamble USA’s future, OR Replace Trump with a good character nominee & BEAT THE STEW OUT OF BIDEN!”

Brooks was on his own. Within two hours of the verdict, all but one Republican who’d run against Trump for the GOP nomination — Nikki Haley — had spoken out. Just one of them suggested that the verdict was fair.

Respect the process. Two Republicans who’d never disparaged the case said that they respected the verdict. Hogan, who has said he won’t vote for Trump in November, urged “all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process,” and called on his fellow politicians not to “pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship.” (LaCivita wasn’t the only Republican who disagreed.)

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had said during his presidential primary bid that the party should not nominate a convicted felon, had the same basic take as Hogan. “It is not easy to see a former President and the presumptive GOP nominee convicted of felony crimes; but the jury verdict should be respected,” he wrote. “An appeal is in order but let’s not diminish the significance of this verdict.”

It’s a travesty. Most Republican responses denounced the verdict as an abuse of power designed to swing the 2024 election against Trump. And most of the Republicans who said that predicted that the tactic wouldn’t work.

“Democrats cheered as they convicted the leader of the opposing party on ridiculous charges,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said in a statement. “This was a purely political exercise, not a legal one.” In the hour after the verdict, dozens of House Republicans posted on X with similar views, including links to the Trump donation site. Candidates for governor posted pictures of themselves with Trump, promising to fight for him.

Ohio Sen. JD Vance, who like Johnson had traveled to Manhattan to support Trump in court, wrote that “Dems invented a felony to ‘get Trump,’ with the help of a Soros funded prosecutor and a Biden donor Judge, who rigged the entire case to get this outcome.” North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, who is considered more independent from Trump, had the same dark view of the DA’s office: “From the beginning, it was clear that a radical, politically-motivated state prosecutor was using the full weight of his office to go after President Trump at the same time he turned a blind eye to violent criminals.”

How can I help? Texas Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton, who also traveled to Manhattan to support Trump, said mysteriously that he might use his office to help the former president. “I will unleash every tool at my disposal to fight this blatant corruption and political persecution spewing from New York and the Biden administration,” he wrote; Paxton’s willingness to sue swing states over their handling of the 2020 election, in the hope of halting Joe Biden’s victory, had deepened the bond between himself and the former president.

In the run-up to the verdict, multiple Republicans, including Vance and House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, had called for criminal investigations into DA Alvin Bragg or ethics investigations into Judge Juan Merchan. (On Thursday, Vance told Fox News that Merchan should be subpoenaed, and asked: “Did George Soros ever talk to Alvin Bragg” about prosecuting Trump?) Abe Hamadeh, a Republican running for a safe House seat in Arizona, joined that chorus: Merchan needed to be “disbarred and prosecuted” for his role in the trial.

It’s the end of democracy. Other Republicans were even more apoplectic about what the jury had done. “Millions of Nazi and Imperial Japanese soldiers could not take down America but one Scumbag New York judge just did,” wrote Wisconsin Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a freshman who Democrats are targeting in November.

“Biden and the MARXIST CLOWNS in his NYC Circus just declared WAR ON DEMOCRACY and the American people!!” wrote Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, a former White House physician who Trump helped elect to Congress, on X. “They just convicted their political opponent in order to win an election! This is no different than what happens in Communist China, North Korea, or the former Soviet Union.”

In states and districts that have yet to hold primaries, the Trump verdict reaction became a differentiator. Blake Masters, who’s facing Hamedeh in the race for a suburban Phoenix House seat, shared an X post from Tucker Carlson, warning that Trump would “win the election if he’s not killed first.” That had been a refrain for part of the pro-Trump right — that the ex-president’s opponents would simply not let him win again, and would stop him by means legal or otherwise.

“That’s a little tough, as a son, to read,” Donald Trump Jr. said after reading the post on “Triggered,” his live show on the conservative video network Rumble. “That’s a little hard. But probably not wrong.”


Thirteen months ago, near the end of a candidate cattle call in South Carolina, Vivek Ramaswamy announced an emergency press conference. “What I’m about to say has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” he explained, “and everything to do with the election integrity of a self-governing democracy.” Trump had just predicted that Bragg would indict him; Ramaswamy condemned that, and wanted every other GOP contender to join him.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but this was the end of the Republican primary. You can ask Ron DeSantis: Weeks before losing the Iowa caucuses, he told the Christian Broadcasting Network that Trump’s indictments “sucked out all the oxygen” out of the race. He’d tested whether the news could pry votes away from Trump, first joking that “I don’t know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star,” then promising to protect Trump — “I will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor.”

What explained that quick, strange turnaround? DeSantis found out that Republican voters considered the Bragg case, like all of the Trump cases, an election-rigging sham. Ramaswamy, who knew that immediately, never figured out a way around the issue either; he closed out his own campaign with the slogan “Save Trump, Vote Vivek,” a convoluted, podcast-ready argument that the MAGA movement needed him as a backup, in case the deep state took out Trump.

It wasn’t obvious that Trump would be convicted, but it was clear that conviction wouldn’t change these facts. Democrats used to panic about Hillary Clinton’s legal problems, worrying (correctly) that swing voters would be squeamish about electing a president under occasional threat of indictment. Republicans don’t think that way about Trump. Most voters have told pollsters that Trump committed a crime, when he directed a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to prevent her story of a sexual encounter with him from being told before the 2016 election. Republicans, almost to a man, say otherwise. Their goal isn’t changing public opinion about Trump, but attacking the verdict from so many angles that those nervous voters think again.


They were wary of making it look like Republicans were right about the trial — that it was a political hit on Trump. President Biden did not make remarks, though his campaign put out a short statement saying the verdict showed “no one is above the law.” Two hours after the verdict, the campaign also sent a fundraising message to supporters, warning that Trump could benefit.

“Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president,” read a campaign text. “But there is one other certainty — as you read this, Donald Trump’s supporters are fired up and likely setting fundraising records for his campaign.”


  • In Slate, Jeremy Stahl reports from the courtroom, where “gasps could be heard.”
  • Elsewhere in Semafor, Shelby Talcott and Kadia Goba look at the first Democratic response: “The administration, which has been careful to avoid the appearance of interference in legal affairs, is unlikely to get involved.”
  • In New York Magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti asks whether the Biden campaign can benefit off of what, in other elections, would be a gift to an incumbent: “Democrats have wrestled for years now with a broad public feeling that Trump always skates politically when it comes to his personal scandals.”
  • In National Review, Rich Lowry agrees with Trump that the trial was basically “rigged,” and that “Alvin Bragg failed in his duty as a prosecutor by flagrantly distorting the process to manufacture the 34 felonies he charged Trump with.”
State of Play

Texas. Conservative insurgents made gains in Tuesday’s runoffs, but fell short in the day’s two marquee races — challenges to House Speaker Dade Phelan and Rep. Tony Gonzales. Phelan, who’d trailed in the March primary, bested Trump-backed activist David Covey by 366 votes; Gonzales defeated social media firearms influencer Brandon Herrera by 407 votes. “I will be your speaker for the Texas House in 2025,” Phelan told supporters on Election Night, as anti-Phelan candidates continued to make gains in safe Republican seats. Herrera celebrated his near-miss, after badly trailing Gonzales in round one: “We went all 12 rounds in a fight that nobody expected to even be close, and we staggered the current champ.”

Ohio. The Republican-led legislature was on track to approve legislation that would push back the state’s ballot deadline for presidential candidates, while including some reforms favored by their party — including a ban on donations to ballot measures by foreign nationals, and new disclosure rules for those campaigns. “They’re trying to create a scheme that hurts organizations and people who want to get involved,” former Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper told Semafor, worrying that the new rules would allow Attorney Gen. David Yost to slow down ballot campaigns with investigations. In a statement to Semafor, Yost endorsed the new foreign money restrictions: “I did not ask for the authority in this bill, and I don’t care whether it is my office or someone else that does the work — but the work must be done.”

Elect Paul L. Bondar Committee/AdImpact

The theme of the week: Republicans brutalizing each other in Texas runoffs. Those races are over, but the trend will run through next month, in a series of primaries where both arch-conservatives and establishment conservatives are being accused of betraying Trump and his priorities.

South Carolina Patriots PAC, “Border Security Bill.” In September, Rep. Nancy Mace joined a bloc of conservatives to oppose a short-term funding package sweetened with border wall funding. It failed. This anti-Mace super PAC, which has spent or reserved $3 million to beat her, re-frames that as a vote against border safety, alongside her opposition to the Senate immigration compromise that Trump, and therefore most Republicans, came out against.

American Patriots PAC, “The Real Bob Good.” Strategic conservative border votes have come back to haunt Good, too. It doesn’t matter that the House Freedom Caucus chair opposed last September’s stopgap funding bill to negotiate for a better one; by voting no, he “voted to halt the pay” of the border patrol, leaving its agents “abandoned.”

Elect Paul L. Bondar Committee, “Loves Adam Schiff.” Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole’s self-funded challenger digs deep into the vault for this ad, pulling a decade-old clip of the incumbent praising Democratic colleague Adam Schiff, and a 2018 clip of Schiff praising Cole at a panel for lobbyists. The premise is true: Cole gets along with Schiff who he worked with on the House Appropriations Committee, but the most recent proof is that Cole voted to table one version of a Schiff censure before supporting the one that passed.


No pollster has figured out how Trump’s convictions will affect his campaign. The last pre-conviction poll found that it would be a wash, thanks in large part to overwhelming GOP support for Trump and disinterest in the cases against him. Asked if they’d be willing to swap out Trump for primary runner-up Nikki Haley, who frequently polled better than Trump, just 14% of Republicans said they would.

The gap between voter perception of the local economy, and voter perception of the national economy, is particularly wide in Virginia. A majority of voters (53%) say that the commonwealth is moving in the right direction, and just about as many (52%) approve of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who lost control of the state legislature six months ago. But just 27% of Virginians think the country’s on the right track, and just 25% say that the Biden years have been “mostly good” for them. Those numbers haven’t budged in years; in 2021, when Youngkin led a GOP sweep of state government, a majority of Virginians also said that the country was on the wrong track, but their state was on the right one.

To qualify for the June 27 debate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. needs to crack 15% in four national polls. He’s done so in three of them. He continues to fare more poorly in swing state polling, even here, the first competitive state where he got ballot access, thanks to the shell of the Natural Law Party giving him its nomination. In Michigan, despite a well-organized movement of Arab-American voters threatening not to support Biden, few left-leaning voters are tempted by a third party, and almost none support Kennedy. His support comes from independents and Trump voters.

On the Trail
David Swanson/REUTERS

White House. The Biden campaign kept its comments on the Trump conviction crisp and limited — a quick reaction on Thursday, but no statement from the president. By the next morning, he had announced an address on Israeli ceasefire negotiations, annoying some Democrats who wished he would at least make space for Trump’s conviction to linger in the news more.

More active was Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who initially declined to comment (“I’ve been disciplined in not talking about court cases, and talking about issues,” he told reporters in Austin), then told Fox News that the decision would “backfire” on Democrats. “The DNC feels like it has a candidate that cannot win fair and square in the polls, and so they have to win in the courts,” he told host Jesse Watters. On X, running mate Nicole Shanahan decried the “weaponization of the justice system,” and Kennedy’s campaign director and daughter-in-law fretted about the “road to tyranny” that Democrats were walking down; “playing the useful idiot,” as a Democratic campaign strategist put it. The Biden campaign sees all of that as a way to discredit Kennedy as an option for 2020 Democratic voters.

Senate. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin left the Democratic Party on Friday, re-registering as an independent just weeks after party primaries in his state. “I have seen both the Democrat and Republican parties leave West Virginia and our country behind for partisan extremism while jeopardizing our democracy,” Manchin explained in a statement. That decision frees Manchin up to seek office this year as an independent as governor or senator; the deadline for making the ballot is August 1. (Manchin had endorsed Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott in the Democratic primary for his seat, helping him defeat a more left-wing candidate.)

Mixed Signals

Media Circus of the Century, a Buzzfeed Comeback, and Sleeping with Your Phone

The debut episode of Mixed Signals from Semafor Media, presented by Think With Google, is ready for your ears. Ben Smith and Nayeema Raza catch up with New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy to talk about the media circus of the century, the future of BuzzFeed, and the case for sleeping with your phone, according to Editor Max Tani.

Listen wherever you get your podcasts

Jonathan Drake/REUTERS

How did the crypto industry start to win again? One year ago, when North Carolina Rep. Wiley Nickel got to Congress, Sam Bankman-Fried had been arrested; the millions of dollars he’d spent to lobby for favorable regulatory reform had been wasted.

But this month, the freshman Democrat helped pass the Financial Innovation and Technology for the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan rejection of Biden’s SEC. It empowered the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to regulate digital currency, defying crypto critics who supported the SEC guidelines that have discouraged banks from holding digital assets. Stand With Crypto, an advocacy group backed by industry players, supported the bill and gave the Congressman their highest rating.

Nickel, who’s retiring this year after Republicans gerrymandered his seat, was an unexpected warrior for reform. “Banking is a really big industry in our state,” he explained, and crypto reform was “one of the rare places where I think we can actually get something really important done in a bipartisan way.” The industry is spending tens of millions of dollars to elect pro-crypto candidates this cycle, but he won’t be on the ballot in November (future races are another story). So why did this happen? Nickel talked with Semafor about it, and this is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Americana: What was the mood about crypto in January 2023, when you got here? Where was the momentum for this idea?

Wiley Nickel: This whole issue has been colored by FTX and what happened there. The question is: How do we prevent another FTX? Whether you love crypto or you hate crypto, you should want to have regulation. And this bill regulates the industry; it fixes these regulatory gaps between the SEC and the CFTC. We are operating this industry based on 100 year-old securities law, and this was a place where Congress needed to act.

Americana: So why should the regulatory authority be moved from the SEC to the CFTC? What’s the rationale?

Wiley Nickel: It’s really just clarifying the gaps that exist. The SEC still has a very important role to play. The CFTC plays an important role in how you differentiate securities and commodities. That’s the place where we’ve gotten a lot of uncertainty right now. So, you’re looking at not co-mingling funds. You’re looking at heavy regulators on the beat.

Americana: How is this legislation different from what FTX was lobbying for, back in 2022?

Wiley Nickel: I wasn’t in Congress, and I don’t know what they were asking for. They didn’t support me being in Congress; they supported my opponent. But there are good actors in the space, and that’s been one of my frustrations. You don’t hear enough about all the good actors, like you hear about FTX.

Americana: What are the good actors doing?

Wiley Nickel: They’re not stealing people’s money. They’re not commingling funds. They’re just trying to exist, and they don’t understand what the rules are. I’ve been frustrated by [SEC Chair] Gary Gensler and his approach of regulation by enforcement. You have all these companies who are leaving the US, because the rest of the world is putting in regulations for this industry, and they know what the rules are. When you get these lawsuits from the FEC, over and over, folks don’t understand what the rules are, and that’s where Congress comes in.

Americana: You got some credit, from Politico, for talking to the White House and seeing that there wasn’t a veto threat on this bill. What was the skepticism about there?

Wiley Nickel: There are a lot of people in the administration who have different opinions about Gary Gensler. For me, the overarching issue is: I don’t want to hand this issue to the Republicans. It should not be a partisan issue. If it becomes that way, it’s going to be a real problem for getting anything done.

Americana: How does Trump’s flip on crypto factor into that? When he was president, he didn’t like crypto; a week ago, I watched him speak to the Libertarian convention and praise it.

Wiley Nickel: He will say or do anything, and he will lie to the American people over and over. He’s obviously changed his position because he sees an opening, with what the SEC is doing. Certainly, I’m concerned that if that’s the only voice you’re hearing, a lot of pro-crypto voters are going to take a good look it and ask: Hey, where do Democrats stand?

Americana: The crypto industry has put millions of dollars into PACs, saying they’ll get into races against candidates who oppose crypto. If you run again, are you hopeful that the industry will notice what happened in Congress, that you were an ally?

Wiley Nickel: It’s very likely I’ll announce for the US Senate right after this election, in what I believe will be an open seat. So, North Carolina has a chance to send Democrats to the Senate so we can reform the filibuster. How will my constituents see the work I’ve done, in terms of protecting consumers? That’s our focus. Love or hate crypto, you should want to regulate the industry.

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