Jun 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Most 2024 GOP contenders still wary of blasting Trump

Former President Trump speaks in Iowa last week. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Trump's indictment has given the other 2024 GOP presidential contenders a choice: Defend him — or don't, and risk the wrath of Trump and a conservative Republican base they're trying to win over.

  • For now, most of them aren't taking the risk, and instead are criticizing the Justice Department.

Why it matters: It's another sign of how Trump's constant bashing of U.S. institutions — in this case, the Justice Department — has shaped opinions within the GOP to the point that even most of the Republicans running against him are singing the same tune.

What they're saying: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump's closest challenger in early polls, pledged to go after the Justice Department if he's elected: “The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. .... Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary (Clinton) or Hunter (Biden)?"

  • Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was U.S. ambassador to the UN under Trump, was silent for several hours before knocking the indictment as "prosecutorial overreach." But she also urged the country to move on "beyond the endless drama and distractions.”
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told Fox News: "Every person is presumed innocent, not guilty, and what we’ve seen over the last several years is the weaponization of the Department of Justice against the former president."

So far, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is the sole 2024 GOP candidate to criticize Trump and highlight the seriousness of the charges against him.

  • He condemned Trump's "willful disregard for the Constitution" and his "disrespect for the rule of law," calling the ongoing criminal proceedings "a major distraction."
  • "This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence — who generally had avoided criticizing Trump before entering the race this week — had a mixed response.

  • "I had hoped that the DOJ would see its way clear to resolve this without an indictment," he told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt last night.
  • "But let me be very clear," Pence added. "No one is above the law."

Others haven't weighed in. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who launched his campaign by calling Trump a "self-serving mirror-hog" who should never be president again — said late Wednesday he was waiting for more information.

  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, who like Pence and Christie entered the race this week, has yet to respond.

The most hard-line reaction came from entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who promised that if elected, he'd "pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025, and to restore the rule of law in our country.”

  • It's a refrain echoed by many Trump allies, some of whom are even suggesting that other candidates should suspend their campaigns and go support Trump in Miami, where he's scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Tuesday.

What we're watching: Trump, DeSantis and Pence are all slated to speak at the the North Carolina GOP convention in Greensboro this weekend.

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