The heads of US experts are spinning. What does the Trump verdict mean for the 2024 presidential election? And what will the convicted ex-president’s recent attacks on the justice system do to the already highly unsettled country?

The conviction of Donald Trump is historic. Never before in American history has a former US president been convicted of a crime. On Thursday, the likely Republican front-runner was found guilty of falsifying documents to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to derail his 2016 presidential campaign.

Experts are already seeing a storm brewing that could hit the country harder than after Trump lost the 2020 election. Fears that he and his team could misuse the jury’s decision for election campaign purposes are already coming true.

The former president and now officially convicted criminal presented himself as a martyr during the trial. Shortly after the verdict, he appeared in front of the cameras in the New York courthouse and quickly made it clear which wind will now blow in the election campaign.

“That was a disgrace,” Trump began his new fierce attack on the rule of law. These are not his problems. These are the problems of the entire nation. Not because he concealed payments to a porn star, but because “our entire country is being manipulated” and “has gone to hell.”

Trump continued: “We are a nation in decline, in serious decline. Millions and millions of people are pouring into our country, from prisons and from mental institutions, terrorists. And they are taking over our country,” he said. What Trump does not say: What all this has to do with his verdict. But it is as always with him: everyone is against him and he is fighting against evil forces.

And of course this too: In contrast, he was “a very innocent man”. He was doomed from the start – a New York jury would never have acquitted him. Later that evening, his team sent a text message to his supporters: “JUSTICE IS DEAD IN AMERICA! Our country has fallen!”

Presidential historian Timothy Naftali said on CNN on Thursday that Trump’s call for a campaign against the justice system now means every Republican will be forced to make it the center of their campaign for Congress in 2024.

And the first prominent Republicans have already jumped on this bandwagon. CNN reports that there is a real race within the Republican ranks to fire off verbal attacks against the US justice system.

House Speaker Mike Johnson condemned “the weaponization of our justice system” and said in a statement: “President Trump will rightly appeal this absurd ruling – and he WILL WIN.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: “This charge should never have been brought in the first place. I expect the verdict will be overturned on appeal.”

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise was more vocal. He wrote on social media: “I will not stand by and watch the leader of our party be ambushed by our own government. Will you stand with Trump before midnight tonight and condemn this witch hunt once and for all?”

And New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, chair of the House GOP conference and a possible Trump running mate, criticized what she called a “sham trial.” “We must redouble our efforts and work around the clock to ensure President Trump wins this November to save America from Biden’s failed far-left agenda,” she said.

These are statements that make it clear what a critical situation the USA is in. Representatives of a constitutional state, who were elected to defend it, are simply denying it any legitimacy.

Americans are not the only ones wondering what the Trump ruling means – and what consequences it will have. Historian Naftali is certain that the new campaign “will generate a flood of venom that will probably be worse than the ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign that preceded January 6.”

In 2020, Donald Trump lost the US election to Joe Biden. At the time, he said the election had been stolen from him. On January 6, 2021, his supporters finally stormed the American Capitol.

Naftali is concerned because the “Stop the Steal” campaign raised widespread doubts about the US electoral system. “Many people were led to believe that fraud was committed in 2020.” The new campaign against the justice system will further unsettle an already sensitive country, the expert told CNN.

The verdict shows two things, said Naftali. “The first is that the former president can be tried and found guilty by a group of his peers. That shows the strength of our system. But the other verdict is still pending: Can those in power use our political system to avoid the consequences of a guilty verdict? And the verdict will be made in November.”

This was also emphasized by the Biden campaign’s communications director, Michael Tyler. The verdict does not change the fact that the American people are confronted with a simple reality. “There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box. Whether convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican presidential candidate,” Tyler said.

“The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater,” he warned. A second term for Trump would mean chaos, curtail Americans’ freedoms and fuel political violence,” he fears. But Tyler is convinced: “The American people will reject this in November.”

There are still five months until then, and a lot can happen. Doug Schoen, a pollster who has worked with Democratic President Bill Clinton and New York’s independent mayor Michael Bloomberg, told the BBC that American voters may be less aware of the hush money scandal by then, partly because “it relates to events that happened eight years ago.”

“While being convicted of a crime is not a great thing, voters in November will be thinking about inflation, the southern border, competition with China and Russia, and the money being spent on Israel and Ukraine,” Schoen added.

Ariel Hill-Davis, co-founder of Republican Women for Progress, a group that has tried to turn the party away from Trump, sees the ruling somewhat differently. “I think it will have an impact and will damage him as a candidate,” she told the BBC.

Young voters and college-educated people living in the suburbs are particularly concerned about Trump’s behavior and approach to governing. “These voters are really hesitant to rejoin the Republican Party under Donald Trump,” she said. “The guilty verdict will only heighten those concerns.”

Scientists at the renowned University of California, Berkeley, see the Trump verdict as “a triumph for the rule of law.” This is how Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law, put it: “Donald Trump was convicted on all counts because the evidence was overwhelming.”

The legal system worked as it should, with a fair trial before a conscientious judge. “The rule of law was upheld,” said the constitutional lawyer.

However, Jake Grumbach, an associate professor at the Goldman School of Public Policy, points to great uncertainty about how Donald Trump’s legal challenges will affect his public support.

“On the one hand, it is difficult to detect a major decline in support for Trump following indictments or prosecutions.” This is consistent with the fact that public opinion in the US has become “calcified” by partisan polarization – voting decisions and opinions are increasingly disconnected from the “fundamentals” of public policy and economic development.

“On the other hand, it could be that Trump’s legal challenges have gradually eroded his support in ways that we cannot easily detect statistically,” Grumbach said. “Overall, we are in uncharted territory when it comes to understanding what drives American voting behavior.”

Eric Schickler, political scientist and co-director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, finally makes it clear how far the current situation is from previous scientific experience. “It is impossible to make reliable predictions about the impact on the presidential election.”

The only thing that seems clear is that in November, the vote will not only be about the president but also about the US constitutional state.