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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trump’s unprecedented trial is unremarkable for some swing voters

By Hannah Knowles Washington Post

CHESANING, Mich. - Judy Loachridge, a rare undecided voter, keeps up with Donald Trump’s criminal trial by reading the news and hearing about it from her daughter. She said she thinks Trump was dishonest about his finances and was caught in lies.

But as the case nears its conclusion, it has not shifted Loachridge’s thinking about her ballot in November. She already disliked Trump, who she said “doesn’t respect women,” but might still vote for him. She also has concerns about President Biden, who she thinks has been weak on foreign policy. Regardless of what the jury decides, Loachridge reasoned, she is left to contemplate what she regards as a lousy choice in November.

“I’m still deciding the lesser of two evils,” said Loachridge, 74, who lives in a swing county in a swing state that narrowly backed Trump in 2016 and then Biden in 2020.

The first criminal trial of a former president is in its final stages in a Manhattan courthouse, where jurors will deliberate on whether Trump falsified business records to cover up a hush money payment to a porn actress. While the long-term political effects of the case are not yet known, three dozen interviews with voters in Saginaw County the past few days show many have shrugged off Trump’s case, with still-persuadable residents unmoved by historic legal proceedings that in another election year could dominate public attention.

After norm-shattering campaigns, a tumultuous Trump presidency with two impeachments, and a Biden term rocked by high inflation and concerns about his age, a rematch many have dreaded has so far centered much more heavily on deeply held views about the candidates and issues such as abortion and immigration. The interviews with voters in this closely divided swath of Michigan offer a glimpse of Americans’ cynicism toward the presumptive nominees this year, and the limited capacity of even major events to sway the undecided.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in New York and denied having sex with Stormy Daniels, the adult-film actress who testified about a sexual encounter she said she had with him. He faces 88 criminal charges across four indictments on charges including election interference and mishandling classified documents. But the New York case might be the only one to go to trial before the election in November.

Few people in Saginaw County brought up Trump’s legal woes unprompted, more eager to talk about grocery prices or their dismay at the country’s politics. And fence-sitters said they already had plenty of strikes to consider against Trump, relegating weeks of court testimony about old scandals to the backs of their minds.

Samantha Roznowski, a former Trump supporter who recoiled from his pivotal role in overturning Roe v. Wade, was surprised to learn that Trump can continue running for president if he is convicted or sentenced to jail. But she did not think a conviction would change her calculus for November and said she is not preoccupied with Trump’s trial or its tawdry allegations.

“He’s a man,” 39-year-old Roznowksi said of Trump outside a tiny Baptist church where she had just emerged from Sunday services with her daughters. “What he did in his marriage is between him and his wife.” She said she is just as sour on Biden and might sit things out in November.

Standing beside her, 18-year-old Lacey Roznowski said she hadn’t seen anything about the trial on TikTok. But she did remember hearing the false claim - circulated in an apparently satirical video that some have taken at face value - that Biden was one of the first presidents to fail a random test of his ability to recite the alphabet. In fact, there is no “ABC test” for presidents and no evidence of Biden taking one.

Some Trump and Biden supporters said they were following the trial closely, either angry at what they viewed as an underhanded effort to keep Trump out of the White House or upset that a man accused of so many things could go to jail and still win in November. But their views of the candidates were typically baked in beforehand.

Trump supporters and undecided voters sometimes suggested that Trump’s charges were unremarkable in a sea of bad behavior by politicians. They brought up an investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents - which did not result in criminal charges - and the charges against his son Hunter Biden, who is set to stand trial soon and is accused of tax evasion and lying about his drug use when he purchased a firearm.

Sometimes, they raised accusations that are false or unsupported by evidence - including that Biden is a pedophile, or that Barack and Michelle Obama lost their law licenses for lying (they registered as inactive but not because of any discipline).

Some allowed that Trump may be guilty of the accusations in his New York trial. But they said that they think the felony charges are a stretch. They hinge on a claim that hush money from Trump was meant to benefit his campaign and violated finance rules.

Trump supporter Brian Walsh, 62, kept coming back to the same thought: “Why do they hate Trump so bad?”

“I think it’s because they’re so crooked,” he said, using one of Trump’s favorite words to describe critics. “That they don’t want him in there, shining light on the crookedness.”

Curtis Barancik, another Trump backer in his 60s, felt similarly as he stood in the parking lot outside Chesaning’s supermarket, admiring another man’s antique car brought out for “Cruise Night.”

“I believe our news is very biased,” he said as old cars roared by, occasionally drowning him out. “Every night all you hear is Trump bashing. Trump did this, Trump did that, blah blah blah.”

“Let it go, you know?” said the other man, Don Louchart. “Let it go.”

Barancik said he heard 86 percent of jurors in Trump’s trial are “against” him. (Manhattan voters broke more than 80 percent for Biden in 2020; the judge and attorneys for the prosecution and defense screened jurors for their ability to set aside their political beliefs). He was skeptical of Daniels’s testimony against Trump: “Don’t come out these years later when somebody gets famous.”

He said he was deeply Christian and cared more about Democratic policies on abortion and LGBTQ issues than he did about Trump’s personal life.

“You’re not hiring a saint,” he said.

Nearly a quarter of registered voters who back Trump said in April that a conviction in one of his four criminal cases might cause them to reconsider supporting him, according to a CNN poll. But strategists said his New York case appears to be the easiest for voters to dismiss.

In Georgia, another swing state, most participants in two recent focus groups of Trump-to-Biden swing voters said they were not paying close attention to the trial in Manhattan. “The former president of the United States is on trial for 34 counts, and you don’t want to pay more attention to that?” moderator Rich Thau, the president of Engagious, pressed a participant at one point. “It doesn’t concern me,” replied the woman, identified on screen only as Miaisha.

With Trump polling ahead of Biden in battleground states such as Georgia and Nevada, the “blue wall” of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania may be Biden’s best path to reelection. Saginaw County has been a bellwether for past presidential elections: Obama won it handily in 2008 and 2012, Trump won it by about one percentage point in 2016 and Biden prevailed in 2020 by some 300 votes - just a few tenths of a point ahead.

Trump held a rally here this month in Freeland, and Biden campaigned early this year in the city of Saginaw. The city is more racially diverse and more Democratic than the towns that fan out into surrounding farmland.

The rural roads are dotted with American flags and, outside one house on the edge of Montrose, a big Biden-Harris lawn sign designed to look as if it’s full of bullet holes.

Lynne Gold, the 55-year-old homeowner, said her husband had it specially made at the local sign shop a few years ago after someone spray-painted their Trump sign and then slashed it with a knife. She said no one seems to mind the bullet depiction. “People will honk and wave,” she said.

“Do I think he had an affair?” Gold said of Trump and the allegations surrounding his trial. “It’s possible, I don’t know. But he wouldn’t be the first person to pay hush money, and what they have him up for trial for, that is not a crime.”

The lack of hand-wringing over Trump’s trial did not surprise another voter in the area, 34-year-old Lisa Muirhead, who said she voted for Trump in 2016 because many people around her were supporting him but recoiled from him after following politics more closely. Muirhead hasn’t heard much about the trial in her small community, she added.

“Small-town life - people here, they only really notice what affects them,” said the resident of St. Charles, population roughly 2,000. She has concerns about Biden but said she would vote for him if necessary because she opposes Trump.

Her prediction: “I think if you’re still a fan of Trump, you’re still a fan of Trump, whether he goes to jail or not.”

Many Trump critics are equally set in their views.

“He’s guilty. He’s been guilty. It’s known he’s guilty,” said Lyle Mikolanz, 63. “Why even go to trial, just slap the cuffs on him.”

If Trump is not convicted of anything, he added, “I give up on this country, I really do.”