Temple community reacts to former President Donald Trump’s felony convictions

With only five months until the 2024 presidential election, the presumptive Republican nominee was convicted on May 30 on 34 felony charges related to a hush money case and falsifying business records.

Jules Bernando is happy former President Donald Trump was convicted in his Manhattan hush money trial. | BAYLEH ALEXANDER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As the verdict comes down in the most politically-charged trial to take place on American soil in at least 30 years, Owen Bush does not expect the fallout to touch Temple.

“I feel like the demographic politically here is very liberal,” said Bush, a sophomore film major. “I feel like I want to say [students are] mostly anti-Trump, so I feel like there’s not really going to be much tension here.” 

On Thursday, a New York jury convicted former president Donald Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges stem from a hush money scandal in which Trump paid adult film actors Stephanie “Stormy Daniels” Clifford and Karen McDougal a total of $280,000 to keep their alleged affairs with him out of the press on the eve of the 2016 election. 

Trump is the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for the next presidential election, scheduled for Nov. 5.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg of Manhattan called the payment scheme, known as “catch-and-kill,” illegal election spending, alleging the cash was paid to save Trump’s presidential campaign from additional scandals.

Michael Cohen, the lawyer responsible for paying the stars, pled guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018, and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker acknowledged he bought the rights to McDougal’s story to prevent it from surfacing before 2016’s Election Day.

Since Trump allegedly routed the cash through lawyers and business partners to hide a paper trail, prosecutors also charged fraud on the ledgers, invoices and checks that recorded the reimbursements.

Dominique Hazel-Criss was surprised that the hush-money scandal proved Trump’s downfall, given what she called “all the other crazy shit” — from the deadly Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally of 2017 to the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021 — that followed his first ascent to the presidency, seemingly unpunished.

“There’s just so much he’s done,” said Hazel-Criss, a second-year law student. “And, in a sense, he does seem kind of invincible.”

Some students felt that Trump’s money and political clout insulated him from legal consequences for his actions. But his conviction in a municipal courthouse, in a trial much like any other American defendant’s, punctured the aura of invincibility that’s coated the former president since his entrance into the political fray.

Political tensions between peers on campus are not the primary concern among Temple students. But they are conflicted whether to feel relieved he was convicted, or disappointed in his presidential eligibility.

“Honestly, it just makes me mad too, that he’s probably still gonna be able to run for president like, regardless of all of this,” said Jules Bernardo, a junior media studies and production major. “But I don’t know. I mean, I’m happy he was convicted.”

Although he was convicted, Trump’s current charges have no impact on his reelection eligibility and will not hinder him from a potential 2024 win in November. His sentencing is set for July 11, just days before the Republican National Convention, where the party plans to nominate him, again, for the presidency. 

The timing of his conviction is precariously close to the upcoming election, raising concerns about whether or not felons or citizens with criminal backgrounds should be eligible for the presidency.

The U.S. Constitution states a president must “be a natural-born citizen, at least thirty-five years of age, and a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.” 

Nothing in the Constitution bans citizens with criminal records from presidential candidacy, and pollsters and observers agree the conviction is unlikely to derail Trump’s 2024 campaign.

Seventy percent of Americans followed the trial “somewhat” or “very closely,” according to a survey by Quinnipiac University — almost double the share that tracked former president Bill Clinton’s scandals in the 1990s and only a single percentage point less than the audience for the Nixon Watergate hearings of 1973 and 1974, according to contemporary Pew Research Center studies.

Josh Sternburg, a 2024 risk management alumnus, is not worried about the possibility of sending a candidate to the White House after they’ve been convicted of a crime. 

“Depending on what they are convicted on, I feel like it’s okay if a convicted felon can run for president,” Sternberg said. “At the end of the day, it’s democracy and it’s up to the United States to decide who they want to be president.” 

Several other students seconded Sternburg’s sentiments, arguing a convict’s political future depends on what crimes they were found guilty of.

On the other hand, journalism professor Linn Washington argues that even if a nominee is eligible, certain crimes should deter voters from electing that candidate. 

“Mr. Trump is a multiple convicted fraudster, and that alone should disqualify voting for him, which is different from him being eligible to run,” Washington said.

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