So, You Wanna Beat Trump While Also Defending Him Against 34 Criminal Counts?


Mary Altaffer/AP

Normally when your political opponent gets indicted, you embrace it with open arms. While you might reserve judgment and say he needs his day in court, you would mention the charges a lot and say they are very concerning indeed. Hell, your opponent might even drop out of the race. After all, being under indictment is generally frowned upon by voters.

But we do not exist in normal times. Instead, we are in an era where Republican politicians – including the people set to challenge him in 2024 – are so terrified of Donald Trump, they are offering full-throated denunciations of the indictment of him handed down on Thursday.

The former president was indicted on 34 counts by a Manhattan grand jury and is expected to be arraigned on Tuesday.

It’s unclear what the charges are, but the indication is at least some of them pertain to falsifying business records. Not surprisingly, Republicans reflexively defended Trump before knowing exactly what he’s being accused of.

Shortly after the news dropped, Nikki Haley, who is running against Trump, tweeted a clip of her slamming Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“This is more about revenge than it is about justice,” she wailed on Fox News.

For his part, Vivek Ramaswamy, whose campaign is equally doomed, lashed out at the indictment, calling it “a national disaster” and “a dark day.”

Meanwhile, over at CNN, Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been floated as a presidential candidate, denounced the indictment as “a disservice to the country” and a “political prosecution.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, another potential candidate who has drawn the ire of Trump more than any other Republican of late, deemed the indictment a “weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda.”

And former Secretary of Statement Mike Pompeo accused Bragg of “undermining America’s confidence in our legal system.”

So, here we have Trump’s opponents and potential opponents falling all over themselves to defend a guy they are supposedly trying to defeat in a primary while he’s under indictment.

The pre-indictment dynamic was already going to be awkward for Trump’s 2024 opponents. His rivals will somehow need to simultaneously embrace Trumpism, which has completely overtaken the party, but while making the case Trump should not return to the White House.

That’s a tough needle to thread, but the indictment complicates it even more.

For the candidates willing to defend Trump against potential criminal wrongdoing, which will likely be almost all of them, they will continue to maintain he is being victimized by a partisan prosecutor. Indeed, many Republicans are already framing the indictment as a way to try to ensure he doesn’t become president again. And by extension, this is portrayed as an attack on Republicans everywhere.

If conservative voters internalize this idea, it becomes much harder to convince them to cast their vote for someone who isn’t the avatar of Republicans’ persecution complex.

As Trump said at CPAC, “I am your retribution.”

There is a decent chance the Manhattan case will be ongoing when the serious campaigning and the primary debates begin later this year, not to mention whatever comes out of the Georgia investigation into Trump’s attempt to solicit election fraud in the state. And there are also the federal probes into his incitement of insurrection, as well as his mishandling of classified documents.

While Trump’s opponents would prefer not to talk about these legal woes, they will almost certainly loom large during the campaign. Truth be told, attacking him on this front might be the only way to distinguish oneself from a field consisting of Trump and his toadies.

Gut instinct and the latest polling tell me no Republican is going to take down Trump in the primary, indictment or not. But to have any shot at all, it might be worth unapologetically hitting Trump on whatever crimes he’s been accused of while his other opponents tell voters Trump was a great president and is completely innocent, but please don’t vote for him again.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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Mike is a Mediaite senior editor who covers the news in primetime.