The political fallout from Trump's sexual abuse verdict

·3 min read

A New York jury has concluded that it is more likely than not that Donald Trump sexually abused and defamed E Jean Carroll. The verdict may be a harbinger of political and legal damage to come.

While the ruling may not make a dent in Mr Trump's base within the Republican Party, where his supporters view the US legal system with scepticism and have stood by him through all manners of adversity, it could have a lasting sting.

The response of two Republican senators highlights the risk this moment poses to his 2024 bid to regain the White House.

"It has a cumulative effect," said Senator John Thune of South Dakota. "People are going to have to decide if they want to deal with all the drama."

"I don't think he can get elected," warned John Cornyn of Texas. "You can't win a general election with just your base."

In the end, Mr Trump may have been his own worst enemy in this case.

Central to Ms Carroll's lawsuit was the former president's deposition testimony, in which he seemed both demeaning and defensive. He explained away his infamous Access Hollywood tape boasts about grabbing women by their genitals as reflecting a historical truth about the power of celebrities - "unfortunately or fortunately".


He said that both Ms Carroll and another woman who testified that Mr Trump sexually assaulted her were not his type - a description he also applied, voluntarily, to the female attorney conducting the deposition itself.

For a jury weighing whether Mr Trump was the kind of person capable of sexual assault - or, at least, whether he was more credible than his accuser - it was exactly the wrong attitude to present.

He also mistakenly identified a photograph of Ms Carroll as being of his former wife, Marla Maples, directly undercutting that "not his type" assertion.

In the 2020 presidential election, suburban voters, particularly women, recoiled from Mr Trump's brand of brash politics. The jury's ruling in this case can only push those kinds of voters farther away from him.

The former president was defiant on his social media platform, calling the verdict a disgrace and insisting he had no idea who "this woman" was. Outside court, his lawyer told reporters Mr Trump would appeal.

Up until now, the former president has run a fairly disciplined campaign to regain the White House in 2024. His team has methodically built up grass-roots support in key primary states across the country. His focused attacks on his rival Ron DeSantis appear to be drawing blood. He has managed to turn his New York indictment into a badge of honour among his base.

The sexual abuse and defamation ruling could give his Republican opponents an avenue for attack, however. If they can rattle him the way Ms Carroll's lawyer did, forcing him off message and into a defensive crouch, it could knock a candidate seemingly in control of his party into committing more unforced errors.

At the very least, it is another historic first for a former president who already faces one criminal indictment and has possibly others to come.

Up until now, Mr Trump has shrugged off such legal concerns. But the New York jury's decision lands a blow against Mr Trump in a way that mere "investigations" do not. A jury of everyday Americans have considered the evidence and found that Mr Trump did wrong.

None of it bodes well for those other legal headaches, including special counsel Jack Smith's inquiry into the former president's involvement in the attack on the US Capitol and his handling of classified documents after he left the White House, as well as Georgia's investigations of Mr Trump's attempt to reverse that state's 2020 presidential election results.

While it's unlikely in the extreme that Mr Trump would ever take the stand if those investigations turn into indictments - or will testify in the current New York indictment - prosecutors may look for ways to use the former president's statements or previous testimony against him as effectively as Ms Carroll's lawyer did.