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GOP presidential hopefuls defend Donald Trump following federal indictment

Republicans hoping to beat Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination for president are coming to his defense.

By Emily Singer - June 09, 2023
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Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time as he smiles while speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022.
Former President Donald Trump announces he is running for president for the third time as he smiles while speaking at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

In a typical primary race, candidates would pounce on the opportunity to attack their opponents for being indicted on federal espionage charges.

But the exact opposite is occurring in the 2024 GOP primary: Republican hopefuls are rushing to defend former President Donald Trump after he was indicted on Thursday on seven counts ranging from violating the Espionage Act to obstructing justice, according to multiple reports.

“I think everybody’s still looking at their jersey to find out what team they’re on, and in this case Republicans are staying loyal,” Stu Rothenberg, a political analyst at Roll Call, said in an interview with the American Independent Foundation. “It’s not a change of strategy or approach. It’s just confirming where they’ve been and what they’ve done for a long time.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is a distant second in national GOP primary polling behind Trump, said Trump’s indictment amounts to “weaponization of federal law enforcement.”

“Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter?” DeSantis tweeted, questioning why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, haven’t been indicted. “The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ [Department of Justice], excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who announced on Tuesday he is taking on his former running mate, said he is “deeply troubled to see this indictment move forward.”

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) said on Fox News that Trump is a victim of a justice system where “the scales are weighted.”

And former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been more critical of Trump, has so far declined to comment on the indictment.

“Let’s see what the facts are when any possible indictment is released. As I have said before, no one is above the law, no matter how much they wish they were. We will have more to say when the facts are revealed,” Christie tweeted.

So far, only Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued a forceful criticism of Trump.

“Donald Trump’s actions — from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law — should not define our nation or the Republican Party,” Hutchinson said in a statement.

He added, “This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”

Republican strategists told CBS News correspondent Robert Costa that the GOP presidential hopefuls don’t think criticizing Trump would be helpful to their campaigns, and that primary voters will instead stand behind Trump.

Indeed, Trump’s poll numbers rose among Republican primary voters after a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for alleged hush money payments he made to a porn star during the 2016 campaign.

Ultimately, while polling shows indictments could be a problem among a general electorate, Rothenberg says it will be hard for Republican primary contenders to break through to change the narrative and win the nomination.

“Republicans believe that Democrats have such ill will and are so willing to lie and cheat and steal to stop Donald Trump and the Republicans that they think anything that Democrats do is politically motivated and immoral and unconstitutional and vile,” Rothenberg said. “So I don’t think things have changed, except Trump’s going to be able to use this to define what the terms of the national debate are.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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