Meet Eugene Debs, The Socialist Presidential Candidate Who Ran his Campaign From Prison 

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As the left cheers the impossibly corrupt courtroom antics that led to a “guilty” verdict in the Donald Trump “hush money” trial, many Americans are wondering what would happen to his reelection campaign if he were tossed in jail by the overly eager Judge Juan Marchan. 

While Trump may be the first former president to be “convicted” of a felony, he isn’t the first to campaign after a “conviction.”  As recently as 2016, former Texas Governor Rick Perry faced off against Trump despite a conviction two years earlier for coercion of a public official and abuse of his official capacity. 

Even more startling, several candidates took a run at the White House while serving time behind bars. One, Keith Judd, received 41% of the vote during the 2012 Virginia Democratic primary, nearly upending then-candidate Barack Obama. It wasn’t that Virginia wanted to see Judd clinch the nomination – they just hated Obama more. 

Lyndon LaRouche made a career out of running for president no less than nine times. In 1992, he campaigned from prison, and while he garnered less than 0.1% of total votes, he is proof that it can be done.  

But before LaRouche and Judd, there was socialist candidate Eugene Debs. 

Eugene V. Debs was a key labor organizer and a Socialist Party of America candidate on five occasions.  

Debs left home at 14 to work in the railroad industry, where he became heavily involved in union activities and helped organize the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. In 1893, he became president of the American Railway Union, the first industrial union in the United States. He successfully led a strike against the Great Northern Railway in April 1894, arguing for higher wages. 

While serving a prison term in Woodstock, Illinois, for leading the Chicago Pullman Palace Car Company strike, Debs was influenced by reading Karl Marx. This experience deepened his criticism of capitalism and strengthened his belief in class struggle within the labor movement.  

In 1920, the now-socialist Debs ran for president from jail after being convicted for encouraging people to avoid the draft. Despite his imprisonment, he received 3.4% of the vote. 

While Democrats are celebrating the massive injustice they orchestrated in New York, they are forgetting one significant detail – their machinations have meant nothing to Trump’s campaign efforts. This conviction will not change Trump’s support nor legally prevent him from continuing his campaign. 

Per the Constitution, there are only three requirements for presidential candidates. They must be natural-born citizens of the United States, meaning they were either born on U.S. soil or born to U.S. citizen parents abroad; they must be at least 35 years old when assuming office, and; they must have been residents of the United States for at least 14 years. 

Regarding felony convictions, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly disqualify individuals with such records from running but doesn’t directly address the issue. Therefore, a felony conviction doesn’t automatically disqualify someone, though Biden will undoubtedly use the term “felon” in the upcoming months to try to drain support from Trump. 

The petty Marchan could start by sentencing him to house arrest, meaning he cannot leave his primary residence. He could also be assigned probation, which would require supervision by a probation officer who would most certainly restrict Trump’s ability to travel outside the state. 

However, if Trump loses his appeal, his presidency will be problematic. Several countries expressly forbid visits from felons, meaning Trump’s ability to travel for diplomatic reasons will be restricted. China, Cuba, India, Iran, and Israel, all countries with stiff regulations about allowing felons to enter their country, will present the most significant challenges to a reelected Trump.  

Democrats may have overplayed their hand with their lawfare strategies, however. Within moments of Trump’s “conviction,” his donor website crashed under the number of visitors seeking to donate to his campaign. Even liberal media outlets were stunned at the conviction, with many of them agreeing it was a weak, politically motivated case. Biden may lose the support of some of his biggest cheerleaders over the stunt. 

And, through it all, most Trump supporters will not be swayed by the “conviction.” His trial has attracted support among independent voters and libertarians who see the case as nothing more than a thinly disguised attempt to silence political opposition. 

There’s little doubt that Merchan will play it to the limit and sentence Trump to jail, completing the course Democrats started as soon as Trump made his first appearance on the escalator in 2015. But what that means for Biden is, at this point, anybody’s guess.