The Republican presidential field is growing week by week with candidates keen to push the party ahead of Donald Trump. Still, few of the former president’s rivals have sought to capitalize on the latest indictment against him on Thursday.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and several lower-level candidates have criticized the Justice Department, lambasting federal law enforcement for years of investigations involving the twice-impeached Trump and now twice indicted, who still faces separate investigations into other matters.
Others, like Nikki Haley, the former American ambassador to the United Nations; former Vice President Mike Pence; and former Governor of New Jersey. chris christiremained silent or said they were waiting for more information.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the only leading Republican in the race to take a tougher line against Trump, reiterating an earlier call for him to drop out of the race.
A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Trump on seven criminal charges related to his mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He is the first former president to face federal criminal charges. Earlier this year, Manhattan prosecutors indicted him for his role in paying silent money to women, while a jury later found him responsible for sexually abusing and defaming writer E Jean Carroll in a civil lawsuit.
“The corrupt Biden administration has notified my attorneys that I have been charged, apparently for the box hoax,” Trump said on his Truth Social platform when announcing news of the indictment on Thursday, adding that he had been asked to appear in US District Court in Miami. Tuesday.
Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed the indictment, saying the counts included false statements and conspiracy to obstruct. The New York Times was first to report on the nature of the charges.
DeSantis – its closest competitor, according to the polls – posted a tweet on Thursday evening who sympathized with Trump.
“The militarization of federal law enforcement poses a deadly threat to a free society,” DeSantis said. “We have seen for years unequal application of the law based on political affiliation. Why so zealous about prosecuting Trump and yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will hold the DOJ accountable, eliminate political bias, and end militarization once and for all.
Speaking to Fox News shortly after the indictment was announced, Scott, who announced his candidacy late last month, denounced the “militarization” of federal law enforcement against Trump. .
“We review each case based on evidence in America,” Scott said. “Everyone is presumed innocent, not guilty, and what we have seen over the past few years is the militarization of the Department of Justice against the former president.”
Trump’s staunchest defenders expect, if not demand, such deference, even from those who want to defeat him in the GOP nomination contest. Charlie Kirk, the right-wing activist in tune with the Trump wing of the party, claimed on Twitter that the other candidates “should suspend their campaign and go to Miami in a show of support”.
“If you don’t, you’re part of the problem,” Kirk added.
A Republican close to Trump’s world, who was not authorized to speak officially, wondered how “any other Republican candidate [can] effectively attack Trump right now, when Joe Biden’s DOJ is literally trying to put him in a jail cell? »
“How,” this source added, “do you make a single shot without looking like you’re linking arms to Biden and [special counsel] Jack Smith and applaud what they’re doing? »
Trump’s rivals are getting used to having to respond to his legal peril. After being indicted in Manhattan in March, Trump also garnered more sympathy than contempt from his rivals, many of whom have called the investigation politically motivated. Last month, after a New York jury found Trump responsible for sexually abusing Carroll, many GOP presidential candidates downplayed or dodged questions about the verdict. An exception was Christie, who at the time told Fox News that the affair was part of “unacceptable” behavior.
The contours of the GOP race have changed somewhat since then. DeSantis – who offered a scathing rebuke about ‘porn stars’ in the days before Trump’s first indictment, only to swing the other way once the indictment came – kicked off his campaign with a not-so-subtle pitch that Republican voters should move on from the drama of the Trump years. Christie, once a close ally, made his candidacy official this week and signaled his intention to address Trump’s flaws. Pence also entered the race this week and landed some of his toughest condemnations of Trump yet.
But with the exception of Hutchinson, whose campaign has largely been aimed at Trump-weary voters, no one jumped at the chance to pillory him. Pence, who was silent on Thursday, declined to answer Wednesday when asked by NBC News in Ankeny, Iowa, whether Trump should end his campaign if he faces federal indictments.
Hutchinson did not hold back on the issue, castigating Trump’s “deliberate disregard for the Constitution” and “disrespect for the rule of law.”
“Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Hutchinson said in a statement. But “the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction. This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect office and end his campaign.
Others promoted calls for Trump’s pardon, either by Biden or themselves if they won the presidency.
“It would be a lot easier for me to win this election if Trump was not in the running, but I stand for principles rather than politics,” said businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, a longtime candidate, in a press release. “I pledge to pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025 and restore the rule of law to our country.”
“Forgive Trump now!” tweeted Perry Johnson, a Michigan businessman who was disqualified from last year’s GOP primary for governor because he failed to collect enough valid signatures and is now leading a presidential bid long drawn out.
But Christie, who lambasted Trump during his early days on the campaign trail, said he wanted to wait until the indictment was released before offering his opinion on the matter.
“As I said before, no one is above the law” he tweeted“It doesn’t matter how badly they want it.”
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com