(Bloomberg) -- It begins at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, with a black motorcade pulling into the morning rush.

It ends four miles downtown, at a dingy courthouse – with TV cameras, photo-ops and the familiar soundbites: “rigged,” witch hunt,” “disgrace.”

Now, repeat – back and forth, every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday — until 12 citizens reach a verdict.   

So goes the strange new rhythm of the Trump 2024 presidential campaign and what has become its driving counter-beat: the first criminal trial of a former president in the nation’s history.

Donald Trump this week brought his campaign to New York, his old hometown, with scenes unlike anything in American politics. With 12 jurors now seated and opening arguments expected as soon as Monday, Trump is both on trial and on the trail.

As the polarized nation knows, Trump has been accused of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels; he has pleaded not guilty to all charges, claiming the case is part of a plot by his political enemies to prevent him from retaking the White House.

But now, at last, it’s official: Trump is campaigning for the highest office in the land while simultaneously defending himself in a salacious criminal case that probably would have ended the career of any other US politician.

Campaign Arc

Seven months before Election Day, the historic trial has already created a head-snapping tableau. For the next few months – exactly how long the trial will run is uncertain — Trump, the Republican standard-bearer, and Trump, the criminal defendant, will meld into one.

Trump’s challenges, legal and logistical, are formidable. Like countless criminal defendants who have stood trial in room 1530 of the Manhattan Criminal Court, Trump is required by law to attend the proceedings each day. That will drastically limit his ability to campaign, at least outside greater New York, a Democratic-leaning area he considers enemy turf. Large rallies in Republican strongholds, catnip to his supporters, will, at best, be pared back.   

But Trump already has seized on the wall-to-wall news media coverage of the hush-money trial. Under New York law, cameras aren’t allowed in the 15th-floor courtroom, but Trump has turned the street below into a near-daily campaign stop.

On Monday, as the television crews descended, Trump inveighed against the US legal system and what he characterized as a miscarriage of justice. On Tuesday, after a second day in court, he visited a bodega in Harlem and railed against crime and Alvin Bragg, the district attorney who has leveled the 34 felony counts against him. By Thursday, Judge Juan Merchan had ordered a hearing next week over Trump’s alleged violations of a gag order. This Saturday, he’ll use the weekend trial break to go to North Carolina to attend a fundraiser and a rally.

Media Mania

The hallway outside the courtroom has been staffed with television camera crews, photographers and reporters, from as far as Japan, Germany and Spain, giving the media savvy, former reality television star free air time to publicly defend himself while spreading his campaign message.

New York City’s status as the media center of the country is a boon for Trump, affording him the opportunity to summon hoards of reporters on short notice, not unlike the press pool that followed him around as president. Last week’s campaign stop at a bodega to talk about crime or a side-by-side with Polish President Andrzej Duda at Trump Tower drew much more coverage than Trump typically receives from sending social media posts from behind the gates of his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

“Joe Biden and the Democrats’ entire strategy to defeat President Trump is to confine him to a court room,” Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. “President Trump is undoubtedly the strongest candidate to lead our country, and he will continue to fight for truth in the court room and to share his winning message on the campaign trail.”

While Trump was largely confined to the greater New York area last week, President Joe Biden crisscrossed the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, attacking Trump’s economic platform, including a stinging shot about the share performance of the former president’s media company. 

Predictably, Republicans are putting a positive spin on Week 1 of what late-night host Stephen Colbert dubbed “the trial of what feels like a century.” The case, one of four criminal indictments Trump faces, may be the only one to go before a jury before the November election. Trump’s knack for grabbing media attention, as well as his presence on social media, will help rally his supporters, GOP operatives say, even as Biden ramps up his own campaign.   

“All you’re hearing about is Trump, all we’re all talking about is Trump,” Republican strategist Mark Campbell said. “It’s actually a tsunami of good news for Trump because we now live in an environment where there’s no difference between being famous and infamous.” 

Cash Opportunity

The Trump campaign has capitalized on the former president’s myriad legal troubles in ways few might have expected. It continues to use what most politicians would consider bad news to court its base of small-dollar donors. Ten minutes before the proceedings began on Monday, for instance, Trump’s team sent a fund-raising email. “I’m in Court right now!” the email read. “But knowing I have your support, even their endless sham trials can’t take me down.”

Still, even the former president’s supporters acknowledge the trial is bound to sap Trump’s attention and energy. At one point on Monday, Trump, 77, appeared to doze off in court, several news outlets reported.

“It’s a very physically draining experience,” Andy Puzder, a former trial attorney and restaurant CEO who was briefly Trump’s pick for labor secretary, said of trials in general. “Particularly if you’re the person who’s the subject of the litigation.” 

Polls have been relatively clear: If Trump is found guilty, voters are likely to punish him. A February Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll found that as many as half of all voters in key swing states would be unwilling to vote for Trump if he were to be convicted.

But die-hard supporters are unlikely to be swayed. 

“They will take away from that what they want to hear,” Campbell, the Republican strategist, said. “And at this point, they want to hear Donald Trump’s our guy.”

--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado and Stephanie Lai.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.