June 13, 2023

BBC News

4 min read

Different ways Republicans defend Trump over indictment revealing

Different ways Republicans defend Trump over indictment revealing

Former US president, Donald Trump

Story highlights

    Trump's indictment under the Espionage Act have made those divisions within the party particularly stark
    Former US’ president’s supporters do not want to even engage in the details of the legal case against him

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MOST Republicans have reacted to Donald Trump's latest indictment by defending the former president and denouncing the prosecution. But dig a little deeper, and the language they use to defend him is revealing.

It is sometimes said of America's stark political divisions that the US is two countries sharing the same landmass. The same could be said of the Republican party - it's several parties sharing the same political brand.

Donald Trump's indictment under the Espionage Act have made those divisions within the party particularly stark.

Here's a quick look at how the various factions are talking about the classified documents charges - and what's motivating their responses.

This is the group most under scrutiny, and the group with the most to lose - the Republicans running against Mr Trump for the party's presidential nomination in 2024.

These are the people who want to distinguish themselves from Mr Trump, while not alienating his supporters.

They seem to get round the dilemma by focusing their defence on the suggestion that the law isn't being fairly applied since Joe Biden, when he was vice-president, also took classified documents as he left office. The current president is still being investigated, but a key difference is that he returned the files.

The reaction of Florida Governor, Ron Desantis, Mr Trump's closest current rival, typifies this approach. He appeared to defend Trump when he claimed that there has been an "uneven application of the law." Another presidential hopeful, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, said that the charges in the indictment were an example of "a justice system where the scales are weighted."

Former Vice-President Mike Pence, who is now running against his old boss, told a weekend Republican convention that no one was above the law. Then he talked about years of alleged politicisation at the Department of Justice and the failure to prosecute Hillary Clinton.

The situation is fluid, however, and each of the 2024 hopefuls will be regularly re-calculating their strategies as events unfold.

Take former South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, for example. She initially released a statement that sounded very similar to her fellow presidential candidates. "This is not how justice should be pursued in our country," she tweeted.

By Monday afternoon, during a Fox News appearance, she changed her tune, critiquing the former president far more directly.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wants to force Republicans into a reckoning with Trump. At a CNN town hall, he urged his fellow 2024 rivals to stop blaming the Department of Justice and blame Trump. "Whether you like Donald Trump or you don't... this conduct is inexcusable for someone who wants to be president." Asa Hutchisom, the former Arkansas governor, has called for Trump to drop out of the 2024 race.

And yet it may be the longshot candidate, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, who is more in touch with the party's base: he doubled down on his defence, saying he'd pardon Trump if elected.

That will go down well with the loudest and biggest of the Republican factions, the group who stand by the former president no matter what charges are levelled against him. Indeed, the more charges Trump faces, the more they point to a concerted, coordinated effort to discredit him.

They say the documents charges are an attempt by President Biden to get rid of a political opponent in an election season. Early polling suggests this indictment has not persuaded any of the True Trumpers to drop their support for him.

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"It is unconscionable for a President to indict the leading candidate opposing him," House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. The top Republican in Congress knows it's an independent special counsel who brought the charges against Mr Trump, but he needs to keep this hard right conservative faction, led by Jim Jordan, onside.

These Trump supporters do not want to even engage in the details of the legal case against him.

The rhetoric from some members of Congress has been more inflammatory. After details of the indictment were released on Friday, Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona tweeted: "We have now reached a war phase. Eye for an eye."

Trump lost these Republicans long ago - they do sometimes still side with him in rare moments when they swallow their disapproval because they like his policies: this is not one of those moments.

Bill Barr, Trump's former Attorney General told Fox News this weekend that he was was shocked by the degree of sensitivity of the documents and how many there were. "If even half of it is true, then he's toast," he said. "And this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here, a victim of a witch hunt, is ridiculous."

Republican Senator Mitt Romney said the charges, if proven, were consistent with other times the former president had worked against the national interest. "Mr Trump brought these charges upon himself by not only taking classified documents, but by refusing to simply return them when given numerous opportunities to do so.

But don't expect to hear many of them speak out against the former president, especially not those still holding political office. It's a pretty lonely group. – BBC News

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