When news broke Tuesday morning that former President Donald J. Trump was likely to be indicted in a third criminal case, the reaction of his rivals in the 2024 Republican primary was significantly muted.
Mr. Trump still had defenders — including his top pollster contender, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — who saw him as a victim of the Justice Department’s « politicization. » But the tenor was slightly different. Some candidates seemed visibly tired of constantly having to respond to Trump’s legal woes at the expense of talking about something else, and some said nothing at all.
Nikki Haley, who served as UN ambassador under Trump and is now running against him, looked exasperated when asked on Fox News about the investigation into his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in the January 6, 2021. attack on the Capitol. He called it a « distraction » from important issues such as foreign policy, border security and the national debt.
“The rest of this primary election will be about Trump: it will be about lawsuits; he will cover legal fees; he will concern the judges; and it will continue to be more and more distraction,” Ms. Haley said. “And that’s why I’m running, because we need a new generational leader. We cannot continue to face this drama.
In particular, he did not repeat What he said when Mr Trump was indicted last month over his retention of confidential documents: that the allegations were evidence of « prosecution exaggeration, double standards and the politics of revenge. »
A candidate who has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, went so far last month as to urge every 2024 candidate to pledge to pardon him if elected. He continued to defend Mr. Trump on Tuesday, but not in quite as fiery terms as before.
“I would have made very different judgments than President Trump, but bad judgment is not a crime,” Ramaswamy said through a spokeswoman. « It is a mistake to say that he was responsible for January 6. The real cause was the systematic and pervasive censorship in the run-up to those events. »
Mr. DeSantis, for his part, said any indictments would be part of « an attempt to criminalize politics and to try to criminalize differences, » also saying that Mr. Trump should have « come out harder » to prevent his supporters from storming the Capitol on January 6.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who is among the few openly anti-Trump candidates and is not voting well, reiterated his call for Trump to suspend his campaign.
« I’ve said from the beginning that Donald Trump’s actions on January 6 should disqualify him from being president again, » Hutchinson said. said in a statement. He added, « Anyone who truly loves this country and is willing to put the country above himself would immediately suspend his campaign for president of the United States. »
Another candidate with low votes, former Representative Will Hurd of Texas, was scathing: « Losing to Joe Biden was so humiliating for Donald Trump who was willing to have people die for his lies about a stolen election. » he said in a statement. He added, « Trump’s inaction then, and now being a target in the investigation, shows he’s not fit for the job. »
In other corners silence reigned. The campaigns of Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mayor Francis Suarez of Miami and Governor Doug Burgum of North Dakota did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Nor did former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, though he made Trump’s conviction a focus of his campaign and there was little doubt that he would eventually intervene.
A spokesman for former Vice President Mike Pence – who, in certifying the Jan. 6 election results, made an enemy of his former boss – said Mr Pence did not comment on Tuesday morning.
But, in a nod to the political inevitability of Mr. Trump’s legal troubles, the spokesman, Devin O’Malley, added that Mr. Pence would make TV appearances later in the day and likely be asked about them.