NJ, June 15 (AP) Just last week, former Vice President Mike Pence said he hoped federal prosecutors would not bring charges against former President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, a day after Trump was arraigned on dozens of felony counts related to classified documents, Pence called the charges “a very serious matter.”
“I cannot defend the alleged allegations,” Pence, who is now challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, said on CNBC.
Later in the day, the former vice president was pointedly questioned by a conservative radio host after refusing to say whether he would pardon Trump if given the chance.
Pence’s shifting message underscores the high-stakes dilemma facing Trump’s Republican rivals as they struggle to find a clear and coherent strategy against the frontrunner as Trump’s unprecedented legal troubles threaten to end his presidency in 2024. Dominate all other issues in the campaign.
Some Republican leaders showed renewed willingness this week to criticize Trump for the seriousness of his allegations, including mishandling government secrets that he was entrusted with protecting as commander-in-chief.
“If I brought classified (documents) to my apartment, I’d be court-martialed within minutes of New York,” said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a former Navy officer.
But that was only a brief mention during a speech at a Republican rally in North Carolina over the weekend, during which he focused his condemnation on the Justice Department and the Biden administration.
The same goes for other challengers. Even the most aggressive have combined their criticism of Trump with attacks on the Justice Department — which has brought charges against him — making it sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly where they stand on the former president .
That’s exactly the point, given Trump’s continued popularity with Republican voters and his rivals’ desire to erode his lead without alienating his base.
In fact, most of Trump’s rivals are taking a risky bet — for now — that his extraordinary baggage will ultimately crush his re-election bid. They believe it will take time.
Trump’s Republican opponents privately acknowledge that his political power may grow stronger in the short term as Republican voters, key officials and conservative media leaders rally around him.
For example, Pastor Robert Jeffries of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who initially declined to support Trump’s 2024 bid, announced Tuesday night that the Republican presidential primary was coming to an end.
“I thought there was almost a civil war in the Republican Party over the nomination, but that quickly turned into an unconditional capitulation,” said Jeffries, who attended a post-Trump indictment rally in Bedminster, N.J. . “People like this president very much, and I’m sure his supporters will support him.”
For much of the past decade, the Republican establishment has tried, and failed, to reject Trump and his divisive politics. But this time, the GOP faces the very real possibility that a twice-indicted man charged with dozens of felonies could become the party’s standard-bearer in 2024.
Fighting against an outcome that once seemed inevitable, a powerful conservative voice is being raised in the fight for the first time.
Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Network’s political arm, has begun running online ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — the top three states on the Republican presidential primary calendar — that focus on Trump’s Questions about Biden’s electability in next fall’s general election. The new ad makes no mention of his legal troubles.
“Trump has done a lot of good things as president,” one of the ads said. “But this time, he can’t win.”
Emily Seidel, CEO of Americans for Prosperity, said her organization has spoken to thousands of voters in key states to determine the most effective arguments for undermining Trump’s political power.
“According to the data we collected, more than two-thirds of those who said they supported Trump also accepted the argument that he is a weak candidate, that his focus on 2020 is a burden, and that his lack of engagement with independent voters is One question,” Seidel said.
“What this tells us is that many Republicans are ready to move on — they just need to see another candidate step up and prove they can lead and win.”
So far, Trump’s rivals are still struggling to find a foothold as the former president holds a commanding lead in early Republican primaries.
As they test changing messages on the campaign trail and in media appearances, none of the top competitors are running paid ads pointing to Trump’s legal issues.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, the Trump administration’s former ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News on Monday that if the allegations in the indictment are true, Trump is “incredibly reckless with our national security.” On Tuesday, she reiterated her sharp criticism but also said she would lean towards pardoning Trump if he is convicted.
Haley said on Clay Travis and Buck Sexton’s radio show: “I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in jail for years because of a file case. of.”
Pressed on the same conservative radio show on Wednesday, Pence declined to say he would pardon Trump, saying it was too early for such a conversation and that he would “follow the facts.”
He was told it sounded like he had no problem with Trump being jailed and felt “very disrespected”.
“Look, we either trust our judicial process in this country, or we don’t,” Pence said. “We either obey the rule of law or we don’t.”
Others made defending Trump a core message of their early campaigns.
Speaking outside a Miami courthouse on Tuesday, White House hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy said his campaign had written to other 2024 candidates asking them to join him in his pledge to pardon Trump on his first day in office, “or else Explain publicly why you won’t”.
Meanwhile, Trump is trying to capitalize on the media firestorm. After his appearance in Miami federal court, he took news cameras to a stop at the famous Versailles restaurant in Little Havana.
He then returned to his summer home in Bedminster, where aides gathered hundreds of supporters, club members and journalists for a speech following his arraignment.
Trump is greeted like a general returning from a war. He insisted he was cleared of all charges and vowed that, as president, he would appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden and his family.
As for indictments and charges? “This is called Election Interference and is yet another attempt to manipulate and steal the Presidential Election,” Trump said.
His political advisers underscored what they see as political benefits as they weighed the logistical complexities of balancing court appearances with campaign rallies, and the possibility that Trump could face years in prison. They argue that the overwhelming coverage of his legal woes has made it difficult for his rivals to be heard.
“From a campaign standpoint, I mean, what did the other candidates do today? Do we know?” asked Trump campaign spokesman Steven Chang. “The other candidates have no oxygen.”
Those other candidates are eager to highlight the cracks in Trump’s support, though for now, they seem modest.
On Capitol Hill, a small group of Republican lawmakers recently said the new federal charges against Trump were serious but growing.
“I don’t feel comfortable with convicted felons in the White House,” Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo, told CNN. He pointed to Trump’s attacks on Hillary Clinton, who was accused of mishandling classified documents in emails in 2016. “His words have set the standard.”
Veteran Republican strategist Ali Fleischer warned that it will take time to understand the political implications of Trump’s growing legal challenges.
“The short-term backlash around Trump is not really the measure right now,” Fleischer said. “The only test is the long-term test.” (AP)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the body of content may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)