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Trump's next rally arena: a Manhattan courthouse

Former President Donald Trump appears in a New York court on Oct. 2, 2023, to face civil fraud charges, denouncing the case as a "sham" intended to torpedo his campaign to retake the White House.
Ed Jones
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AFP via Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump appears in a New York court on Oct. 2, 2023, to face civil fraud charges, denouncing the case as a "sham" intended to torpedo his campaign to retake the White House.

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump will have a new rally arena on Monday: the hallways of the Manhattan Criminal Court.

Next week marks the start of the first criminal trial featuring a former president of the United States. As he's competing for voters across the country as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump will be required to be in New York every day of the trial, which is expected to be four days a week for at least six weeks.

At this point, Trump is used to the halls of Manhattan courthouses as an extension of his campaign trail to protest the charges and motivate his base.

"This is the single greatest witch hunt of all time," Trump said in October outside of a courthouse where he was tried for business fraud. "They're trying to damage me so I don't do as well as I am doing in the election."

His claims have echoed across the country, as he falsely casts separate state and federal indictments as part of a partisan conspiracy against him.

"Their whole plan is to go after Trump in every way possible, especially criminally and legally," Trump said in Rome, Ga., last month. "I come home to our wonderful first lady who had never heard the word indictment. Neither did I until I got indicted so many times in the last few months."

To cheering crowds and pointed cameras in both places, Trump lobs personal insults at judges and prosecutors across all of his 88 charges, in some cases leading to gag orders.

The charges in Monday's trial, brought by the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, allege that Trump falsified New York business records to conceal damaging information before the 2016 presidential election. That information boils down to payments dubbed "hush money" to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, who threatened to go public with accusations she'd had an affair with Trump not long after he married Melania Trump. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Trump speaks during a press conference at 40 Wall Street after a pretrial hearing on March 25 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Trump speaks during a press conference at 40 Wall Street after a pretrial hearing on March 25 in New York City.

Trump is required to attend this time

Trump has come to New York City on several occasions to listen to jury selection and witness testimony in his most recent cases.

These have been civil lawsuits — one accusing him and his flagship organization of committing fraud and another for defaming columnist E. Jean Carroll when he denied her claims of sexual assault. Trump did not have to show up for these, but he chose to exercise his right to be there.

Unlike his past civil trials in the Big Apple, for this criminal trial, Trump is required to attend each day in person — although the judge could grant permission for special absences. The former president has vowed to attend court during the day and travel to campaign events at night— a schedule he also kept up during the defamation trial ahead of the New Hampshire primary, though his current campaign schedule is about one or two events a week.

During those earlier trials, Trump was also competing against other Republicans for the party nomination. Now, he's fully in general election mode against President Biden.

Merchandise is seen for sale during a Trump campaign rally in November 2023 in Houston.
Brandon Bell / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Merchandise is seen for sale during a Trump campaign rally in November 2023 in Houston.

Trump's courthouse stage

Even as Trump protests that the trials prevent him from campaigning, he has been using them as opportunities to fundraise and to add to his talking points in the actual rallies he hosts.

In a majority of his visits to the New York courtrooms, Trump made sure to speak to the press assembled outside the courtroom.

He used his time in front of cameras to be vocal about his opinions on the judge, court staff, the public officials bringing charges against him and the cases.

He also uses these appearances to talk about the issues he is running on, like being tougher on the southern border, foreign policy and congressional debates.

While in the city, he's also held bigger press conferences at places like 40 Wall Street — one of his buildings in New York. He brings in American flags and cheering supporters.

Initial swell of GOP support is weakening

At first, there was immediate payoff. There were big spikes in donations around news events related to the cases he's been involved in. And his campaign was quick to make and sell merchandisewith a fake Trump mugshot from Fulton County, Ga.

His campaign sends emails out to supporters following court appearances or rulings, which contribute to these spikes. The trials are often a focus of his posts on his social media site Truth Social.

But federal election committee filings show that heisn't raising as much as he used to on these legal events.

He went from raising about $4 million after pleading not guilty to the alleged hush money payments in New York a year ago and again after pleading not guilty to election interference charges in Georgia in August, to only bringing in $200- to $400,000 in November and December following major court appearances then, including after his first time testifying on the witness stand.

In this close presidential election, any shifts in voter attitudes in the swing states could determine control of the White House. And while polls show Trump slightly ahead in key places, an NPR/PBS/Marist poll shows that if Trump is convicted of a crime, Biden opens a 6-point lead, particularly because a gap would close among independent voters.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.
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