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Swing-district Republicans in New York decried Trump's conviction. It could cost them politically.

John L. Dorman   

Swing-district Republicans in New York decried Trump's conviction. It could cost them politically.
  • Key Republicans in NY swing districts are standing behind Trump after his hush-money conviction.
  • The lawmakers have parroted Trump's argument that the conviction undermines the judicial system.

For GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, former President Donald Trump continues to wield immense power over their political futures.

Since 2016, Trump has effectively maintained a stranglehold over the party by molding its ideological direction, keeping Republican lawmakers in line, and cultivating a political base that has remained unflinchingly loyal to him for nearly a decade.

After Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to conceal a 2016 hush-money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels, that dynamic has only strengthened.

But to the surprise of many, Trump's conviction elicited vocal outrage from a contingent of House Republicans in New York, including Reps. Marc Molinaro and Anthony D'Esposito, who represent some of the most competitive districts in the country. In these districts — concentrated in suburban areas outside of New York City — the upcoming House majority could be decided by swaths of moderates and independents.

Intense reactions

Molinaro, a first-term Republican representing the swing Catskill-and- Hudson Valley-anchored 19th district that Biden carried by nearly 5 points in 2020, blasted the Manhattan verdict.

"This is how we're going to do politics now?" he said in a statement on X. "Not through spirited debates, but by weaponizing the justice and court system to attack a political rival right before the election."

D'Esposito — a retired New York Police Department detective who flipped the Long Island-anchored 4th district in 2022 — said this week that the "best revenge" for Trump's conviction would be winning the November general election.

"It is clear to me that Democrats are so afraid of engaging in a fair fight against President Trump that they continue to weaponize the justice system in an attempt to stop him," the congressman wrote.

In 2020, Biden won D'Esposito's district — filled with the sort of affluent, college-educated voters who have been trending toward Democrats in recent cycles — by nearly 15 points.

Mike Lawler, who narrowly won the purple 17th district north of New York City, said Trump's conviction "undermines our electoral process and our judicial system" and deemed Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, state Attorney General Letitia James, and Gov. Kathy Hochul as "hyperpartisan New York Democrats."

Long Island GOP congressman Nick LaLota suggested that Hochul should pardon Trump and "pre-emptively commute any sentence" that the ex-president might receive on his July sentencing date.

The sharp reactions from the House lawmakers, which are akin to Republican politicians from safely red seats in more conservative states, underlies one of the party's biggest challenges headed into November: corralling suburban voters around the GOP.

The suburban dilemma

While Biden isn't all that popular in New York State at the moment — with the latest Emerson College survey showing him with a 39% approval rating and polling ahead of Trump by only 7 points in a state that he won by 23 points in 2020 — many voters remain unplugged from the race or have indicated that they'd consider a third-party option like independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

But in a decidedly Democratic state like New York, Biden is likely to gain some ground ahead of the election.

While suburban voters on Long Island trended Republican in the 2022 midterms — a trend which could continue in 2024, especially given Trump's support among many active and retired law enforcement officials — lawmakers like LaLota and D'Esposito are still running in districts where the former president remains a polarizing figure.

In a presidential year, it's become more difficult for many down-ballot candidates from an opposing party to win as ticket-splitting has waned. And the vulnerable GOP lawmakers will be tasked with defending their records while explaining their stance on Trump, which could be a tall order for voters who believe that the former president committed a crime.

Across the country, suburban voters were already turning away from Trump even before his conviction — as former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has continued to win significant blocs of GOP voters even after suspending her presidential campaign in March.

The decision by vulnerable New York House Republicans to tie themselves to Trump's crusade against his hush-money case is an incredibly risky one — but one that is emblematic of a GOP that remains firmly under the former president's grasp.

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