Opinion | If They Can’t Make a Federal Case Out of Trump …

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In a Dec. 26 Times guest essay, “A Trump Conviction Could Cost Him Enough Voters to Tip the Election,’ Lake, Norman Eisen, special counsel for the 2019-20 impeachment of President Trump, and Anat Shenker-Osorio, a political consultant, write:

Why do the polls register a sharp decline for Mr. Trump if he is convicted? Our analysis — including focus groups we have conducted and viewed — shows that Americans care about our freedoms, especially the freedom to cast our votes, have them counted and ensure that the will of the voters prevails. They are leery of entrusting the Oval Office to someone who abused his power by engaging in a criminal conspiracy to deny or take away those freedoms.

Why is a conviction so much more important than an indictment?

Lake, Eisen and Shenker-Osorio write:

Voters understand that crime must be proved. They recognize that in our legal system there is a difference between allegations and proof, and between an individual who is merely accused and one who is found guilty by a jury of his peers.

Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, described in an email the cross-pressures on voters, particularly Republican voters in the event of a trial and, possibly, a conviction:

The exit polls for G.O.P. primary voters asked if voters would consider Trump unfit for office if he is convicted of a crime, and the numbers were significant: 31 percent in Iowa, 47 percent in New Hampshire, and 36 percent in South Carolina. But that tells you nothing about how these people would vote in a Trump-Biden race, because they also likely consider Biden unfit because he’s too old to run again.

Another key factor, Ayres wrote, is “which trial we are considering. If I were designing a case that would be easy for Republicans to dismiss as a partisan witch hunt, it would be the Alvin Bragg-Stormy Daniels-hush money case in New York.”

Conversely, Ayres continued, “the Jack Smith indictments — classified documents and the Jan. 6 insurrection — are far more serious, and could conceivably change some voters’ minds if they come to trial before Election Day. But recent events and the current calendar make that highly unlikely.”

Overall, Ayres was dismissive of the potential of the trials to determine the outcome of the election: “If Democrats want to defeat Trump, they need to get Biden to step aside and nominate someone who would be truly competitive with Trump, which Biden is not right now. Putting their hope in trials that haven’t happened yet is a pipe dream.”

Ayres’s last point about Biden’s age raises the question: Can the Biden campaign somehow lessen or mute concerns about his ability to perform the tasks essential to the presidency? Can it shift public attention to the broad range of Trump liabilities and to the threats, coming from Trump himself and many others — that a second Trump administration would pose to American democracy, its constitution and the rule of law?

These doubts as to Biden’s competence have remained a dominant public concern — despite a significantly improving economy with average annual G.D.P. growth for the first three years of the Biden administration at 3.4 percent, outpacing the 2.6 percent during the first three years of the Trump years, declining rates of inflation and an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.