Former President Donald Trump turned his arraignment on federal criminal charges into a campaign swing, leaving his Republican challengers content to let him have the spotlight. Or, as in Vivek Ramaswamy’s case, pledge loyalty to Trump.
TV viewers hoping to follow events at the federal courthouse in Miami might have been surprised when they tuned in Tuesday afternoon and saw more of Ramaswamy than the Republican being formally charged on 37 counts inside.
The entrepreneur and self-declared anti-woke warrior flew to Miami to make a statement outside the courthouse, pledging to pardon Trump “for the offenses in this federal case.”
“And I have challenged, I have demanded that every other candidate in this race either sign this commitment to pardon or explain why they’re not.”
Traditionally, when a candidate for public office is charged with a felony, his opponents use the arrest as a way to attack him, not as a reason to hold a rally on his behalf. Or blast the prosecutors for bringing the case.
“I condemn these charges by the U.S. Department of Justice,” Ramaswamy said, adding he believes the indictment “will permanently damage public trust in our electoral process and our justice system. Whoever among us is elected, our job of reuniting the nation will become daunting—if not impossible.”
Ramaswamy has the benefit of consistency, having spent the entire campaign praising Trump and pledging loyalty to his political views. Other 2024 GOP candidates have been more willing to criticize — or at least raise an eyebrow — at Trump’s decision to hide classified documents in his bathroom at Mar-a-Lago.
On Monday, Trump’s former U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, said Trump was “incredibly reckless with our national security.” And she cited her husband, who will soon be deployed to Africa as a reservist.
“This puts all of our military men and women in danger if you’re going to talk about what our military is capable of or how we would go about invading or doing something with one of our enemies,” Haley said.
But on Tuesday, she also appeared to be ready to pardon the former president.
“When you look at a pardon, the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country,” Haley said during a radio interview. “And I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in prison for years because of a documents case.
“So, I would be inclined in favor of a pardon,” Haley said.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu decided not to seek the presidency in 2024, instead pledging himself to help the GOP nominate a candidate who he believes can win in November. On CNN Tuesday, Sununu was shown a series of clips featuring Republicans defending Trump’s behavior. They included Florida Rep. Byron Donalds.
“You just can’t walk through Mar-a-Lago of your own accord because Secret Service is all over the place. There are 33 bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago. So don’t act like it’s just in some random bathroom that the guests can go into,” Donalds said.
Sununu responded with mockery.
“Well, as a governor, I’m moving all my secret files into the bathroom immediately because, apparently, that’s just fine as long as your house is big enough,” Sununu joked. “Look, it’s nonsense. It’s absolute nonsense. They are scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some type of defense so that he won’t come after them, so the other conservative media outlets don’t come after them. It’s really being all done in fear.”
Sununu is one of the most popular governors in the country, but polls show he is out of step with his party on the Trump issue. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll found 81 percent of self-identified Republicans said politics was driving the case.
If Republicans were looking for some moderation from Trump, they were sorely disappointed. In a speech from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., Trump denounced the indictments as “the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country.”
“I’m not the one who thinks I’m above the law—I’m the one that followed the law. The only one,” Trump added. “It’s Joe Biden and his corrupt Department of Injustice who think they are above the law.”
Longtime Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski said he believes Trump’s message will be effective.
“He’s pointed out more inconsistencies in the application of the law than any attorney. The FBI leadership should be embarrassed. Instead, they get jobs at CNN and Twitter,” Lewandowski said.
But New England-based GOP strategist Pat Griffin says Trump’s speech was all CYA:
“Trump’s speech had nothing to do with running to save the country and everything to do with saving his own hide. The speech was rambling demagoguery, at an over-the-top decibel level, even for Trump,” Griffin said. “He’s not a very effective victim. He’s like a tired boxer looking weak and broken, still in the ring, throwing misdirected jabs at imagined enemies and institutions.
“At 77 years old, it’s getting harder to keep this grift going. The cracks are beginning to show.”