‘Access Hollywood’ vs. now: How the GOP learned to stand behind Trump: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior political editor Mark Murray compares the GOP’s response to Donald Trump’s guilty verdict to its responses to the “Access Hollywood” tape in 2016. Plus, senior political reporters Jonathan Allen and Matt Dixon gauge the political fallout from the hush money trial.

‘Access Hollywood’ vs. now: How the GOP learned to stand behind Trump: From the Politics Desk

By Mark Murray

Almost eight years ago, key figures in the Republican Party distanced themselves from Donald Trump after the “Access Hollywood” video revealed him making lewd and aggressive comments about women.  

Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., disinvited Trump from a campaign event. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked him to step down as the GOP nominee. And then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, withdrew his endorsement.  

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“I’m out. I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine,” Chaffetz said in October 2016. 

Then Trump won the presidency just a month later. 

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Since then — after two impeachments, a 2020 presidential defeat and multiple indictments — today’s Republican Party has learned to stand 100% behind Trump when it is faced with bad news about its former president and current presumptive presidential nominee. 

Indeed, the reaction from Republican elected officials and candidates for office after Trump was found guilty of all 34 charges in the New York hush money trial was overwhelmingly supportive. 

“This verdict is a travesty of justice,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a potential Trump running mate. 

“This case should never have been brought in the first place, and this miscarriage of justice is despicable,” Pennsylvania Senate candidate Dave McCormick said

“WE THE PEOPLE stand with PRESIDENT TRUMP!” Montana GOP Senate candidate Tim Sheehy reacted in a statement. 

Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidate and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s post on X, which didn’t mention Trump and called on “all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process,” drew a swift rebuke from the MAGA crowd. 

Tracking the reaction from elected Republicans and convention delegates will be the most instructive indicator of whether the party is standing behind Trump as its standard-bearer, even after he was found guilty. 

Because if there’s no GOP distance or dissent, he’s on track to remain its nominee.

Guilty but unashamed, Trump says he will see Biden in November

By Jonathan Allen and Matt Dixon

Donald Trump is guilty but not ashamed. The question now is whether he will suffer politically for his crimes.

The first former American president convicted at trial — found guilty Thursday on all 34 counts of scheming to help his 2016 campaign by falsifying documents to cover up an alleged sexual encounter — Trump rallied quickly to raise money and votes from the verdict.

He blasted out a fundraising message to donors just minutes after the jury finished its work, and he vowed in the courthouse that “the real verdict is going to be Nov. 5 by the people” when he faces President Joe Biden in a rematch of their 2020 election.

Biden agreed.

“There’s only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: At the ballot box,” he said in a statement posted to X along with a link to donate to his campaign. He took no victory lap, uttered no insult and offered no prediction of Trump’s political demise.

Trump also called himself a “political prisoner” in another fundraising appeal shortly after the verdict, even though he is not in prison.

There’s simply no precedent for a convicted candidate carrying a major party’s banner into a general election. Many political experts say it is too early to tell whether the outcome will add fuel to Trump’s 2024 campaign or make it toxic to persuadable voters. 

Democrats who spoke to NBC News on Thursday were split on whether Biden might get a bump from the verdict, with some seeing genuine upside to Trump’s troubles and others expressing more doubt. 

“This is the result we wanted and is another talking point against Trump but doesn’t mean a lot for actual votes,” said a Biden campaign official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to give an assessment without fear of retribution.

On the other side of the political divide, Republicans followed Trump’s lead, voicing confidence that the jury’s decision would create a powerful backlash in his favor. 

James Blair, political director for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee, conducted a conference call with GOP state party chairs shortly after the result was made public, according to two people who were on the call.

“There’s a clear message they want us to convey,” a participant said of Trump’s political apparatus. “It is an unjust witch hunt. We will appeal, and we will win the appeal. Guys, we just elected the next president of the United States.”

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More Trump verdict coverage from NBC News

What else happened today …

  • 📝 Independent variable: Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has gathered the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot as an independent candidate, five people familiar with the matter told NBC News. Read more →
  • 🇺🇦 Changing course: Biden secretly gave Ukraine permission to use U.S. weapons to strike inside Russia, a U-turn that Kyiv’s allies hope helps turn the tide of the war. Read more →
  • 🚫 RSVP’ing no : Chief Justice John Roberts declined to meet with Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island to discuss Supreme Court ethics after reports emerged that controversial flags were flown at Justice Samuel Alito’s houses. Read more →
  • ⚖️ The Supremes: Meanwhile, the Supreme Court sided with the NRA in a government coercion case in New York state. Read more →
  • 👬 Turning it around? Polls have shown Biden losing support among Black and Latino voters, but his campaign says it has a game plan to keep them in the fold. Read more →
  • 🏀 Blowing the whistle: Former NBA player turned-right-wing Minnesota Senate GOP candidate Royce White has faced court actions over unpaid child support. Read more →
  • 💰 Frenemies: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hopes to raise at least $10 million for Trump in a fundraising swing starting this summer. Read more →
  • 💸 Cash dash: Politico reports thatMiriam Adelson, the longtime GOP megadonor and the widow of Sheldon Adelson, plans to help fund a pro-Trump super PAC. Read more →
  • ❗The hits keep coming: The House Ethics Committee is opening an investigation into indicted Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. Read more →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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