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What’s in a name? Trump’s legal team faces an unusual balancing act: From the Politics Desk

What’s in a name? Trump’s legal team faces an unusual balancing act: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior national political reporter Jonathan Allen explains why it’s important to note the various names Donald Trump has been called during his New York criminal trial. Plus, chief political analyst Chuck Todd examines the impacts a disinterested electorate could have on the 2024 race.

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What’s in a name? Trump’s legal team faces an unusual balancing act

By Jonathan Allen

Donald Trump has been called a lot of names in the first six days of his New York hush-money trial.

“We will call him ‘President Trump’ out of respect for the office that he held from 2017 to 2021,” Trump lawyer Todd Blanche told the jury Monday. “And as everybody knows, it’s the office he’s running for right now. He’s the Republican nominee.”

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Longtime tabloid publisher David Pecker, who testified that he conspired with Trump in 2015 and 2016 to “catch and kill” stories that could harm Trump’s election effort, told the court that when they spoke, “I would call him Donald.”

Judge Juan Merchan greeted the former president Tuesday with a standard address for a defendant: “Good morning, Mr. Trump.” That’s also been the form favored by prosecutors.

The what’s-in-a-name question is just one of the unusual aspects of the first criminal trial of a former American president, but it points to tension points for Trump and his defense team.

Blanche has a tough balancing act between the audience of one at the defense table and the audience of 12 in the jury box — and between Trump as the most powerful man in America at one time and as a common defendant now.

Trump demands that his employees refer to him as “president,” which is not uncommon for former presidents.

But there are other reasons for Trump’s lawyers to call him that. For one, his broader legal and public relations strategy for the more consequential federal charges facing him relies on an argument that he should be immune from prosecution for acts undertaken as president.

And while the New York defense team would surely like for jurors to conclude that Trump was too powerful to be bothered by the details of how an aide was repaid for silencing a porn star, Blanche suggested he is cognizant of the risk that a jury could be alienated if the defendant seems to think he is above the peers assigned to judge him.

After explaining why he would call Trump “the president,” Blanche immediately sought to frame his client as a normal guy.

“But — and this is important — he’s not just our former president. He’s not just Donald Trump that you’ve seen on TV and read about and seen photos of,” Blanche said. “He’s also a man. He’s a husband. He’s a father. And he’s a person, just like you and just like me.”

Trump may be the most recognizable man on Earth. And yet the jurors will have to decide whether this Trump, by any other name, would be as guilty or not guilty.

Read more here →

Will voters wake up by Election Day?

By Chuck Todd

The latest NBC News poll contains an alarming result. We asked a question that we ask every election year — on a scale of 1-10, how interested are you in the upcoming election? And according to the results, we recorded the lowest level of interest in the election this decade. Fewer people picked “10” in this poll than in any presidential election year we’ve tested since 2004, with one brief exception early in 2012 that soon ticked back up.

As I’ve documented recently, it’s not surprising that so many voters have indicated disinterest in this election. The electorate desperately wants to change leaders, and yet both political parties offered up more of the same, so there’s logic to the electorate showing less interest in this election than it did in the first Joe Biden-Donald Trump matchup in 2020 or Trump’s race against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Ultimately, barring some event in the fall that resets the electorate’s mindset, it appears we are headed for a lower turnout election. That has its own consequences up and down the ballot, and it makes the third-party candidates — and the various idiosyncrasies of each battleground state — matter more than usual. When variance increases, so do the potential Electoral College outcomes.

Bottom line, this poll only reinforces the trends that I’ve been writing about these last few weeks. This will be a late-deciding electorate, thanks to voters who have decided to tune out an election they believe they already understand without needing any new information. I truly believe that most polling between now and October will tell us very little. We know what 90% of the electorate is going to do — it’s the last 10% of “swing” voters who either swing between the two parties or swing between voting and not voting who will decide this election.

And the lack of appeal of the top of the ticket, combined with the feeling among a number of voters that neither party has the answers on the economy or foreign policy, means Robert F. Kennedy Jr. could become a very powerful “none of the above” factor in deciding who exhausts their way to victory.

Read more from Chuck here →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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