Trump Once Warned About A Felon In The White House. Now, Republicans Should Do The Same

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference from the lobby of Trump Tower the day after being found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree at Manhattan Criminal Co... Former President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference from the lobby of Trump Tower the day after being found guilty on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first degree at Manhattan Criminal Court, in New York, NY on Friday, May 31, 2024. Trump became the first former president to be convicted of felony crimes as a New York jury found him guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through hush money payments to a porn actor who said the two had sex. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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In the aftermath of last week’s jury verdict convicting Donald Trump on 34 felony counts, some commentators and reporters have been overthinking things, asking whether the guilty verdict might somehow help Trump in this November’s election. Let’s stop dancing around what is obvious. It would be stark, raving madness to elect a convicted felon as president. 

It’s true that Trump could be elected — despite the guilty verdict and despite the pending criminal charges against him in three other jurisdictions. None of these legal stains on Trump’s record bar him from running for president. But it’s also true that people can run for president if they’ve been adjudged mentally incompetent and institutionalized. There’s no bar against electing someone who slips into a coma during the campaign. Voters are allowed to elect a candidate who pledges, once in office, to order the military to execute every inhabitant east of the Mississippi River. None of these scenarios would legally prevent a candidate from running — but I hope we can all see why it would be absurd to vote for any of these hypothetical candidates. It would be similarly preposterous to elect Trump.

Trump’s new status as a convicted felon should, by itself, disqualify him from consideration as a serious candidate. It’s essential, normal and eminently reasonable to hold presidential aspirants to very high standards. Refusing to elect a convicted felon isn’t a high standard — it’s the barest of minimums. 

During the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton was under investigation for using a personal email system during her time as Secretary of State. She was never charged with any crime, much less convicted. Nevertheless, that investigation persisted as a central issue throughout the campaign. When then-FBI Director James Comey publicly announced that he was re-opening an investigation into Clinton’s emails just days before the 2016 election, a front-page New York Times story quoted Trump’s claim that this news “changes everything” and is “the biggest story since Watergate.” Critics were understandably outraged that Comey’s last-minute announcement may very well have delivered Trump the win in 2016, but Trump was right (putting Comey’s bumbling aside) that it was a big deal for a presidential candidate to be under investigation by the FBI. Trump then took things further. “If she wins, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis,” he speculated days before Election Day. “We could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and, ultimately, a criminal trial. It would grind government to a halt.” If we hold Trump to the same standard he applied in 2016, his situation is far worse — unlike Clinton, he has actually been charged and then convicted of felonies. Trump should — as a practical matter — be disqualified as a serious candidate even though he is not legally barred from remaining in the campaign.

Former first lady Laura Bush and former President George W. Bush greet President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump outside of Blair House December 04, 2018 in Washington, DC. The Trumps were paying a condolence visit to the Bush family who are in Washington for former President George H.W. Bush’s state funeral and related honors. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The problem, of course, is that voters can still choose Trump and it is certainly conceivable that he could win the election. The challenge for those of us who don’t want to see someone with a rap sheet take the highest office in the nation is how to prevent this from happening. It’s time to think creatively and make clear this is a matter that transcends ordinary partisan divisions. One way to drive this point home would be for prominent Republicans and conservatives — George W. Bush, Liz Cheney, John Kelly, and others — to publicly endorse President Biden while explaining that we cannot elect a convicted felon as president.

Former Congresswoman Cheney has made clear that she fully understands why Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy. John Kelly, who served as Chief of Staff during the Trump administration, has similarly warned about the threat Trump poses. Former President Bush has been quieter, but there is some indication that he recognizes Trump is not fit to serve. However, none of these well known Republicans has actually endorsed Biden. They all can and should. Other Trump critics — including officials who served in the Trump administration, witnessing firsthand his dangerous unfitness for office — should also endorse Biden. So far, former Georgia Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan is among the only high-profile Republicans to have publicly declared his support for Biden. Many more should follow his lead.

There is no guarantee that any of this would help keep Trump out of the White House, but it’s well worth trying. If prominent Republicans and conservatives endorse Biden, it will be harder for Trump — as well as media commentators — to paint Biden as an extremist, or as equally prone to abusing the rule of law as Trump. Biden would be presented as a reasonable, trusted choice — someone voters can confidently vote for in place of a convicted felon. In ordinary times, it wouldn’t be necessary to make this clear. But in today’s United States, where the Republican party has become a cult of personality built around one man, it is essential for sane Republicans and conservatives to speak up and do all they can to make sure a convicted felon does not occupy the same office once held by Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt.

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