Trump Indictment Leaves GOP Candidates Craven And Confused (VIDEO)
After news of the devastating federal indictment of Donald Trump sank in over the weekend, several Republican presidential candidates concluded it was finally time to take a hatchet to the GOP front-runner.
"If this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security," former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told Fox News Monday.
Until now, Haley has mostly been a Trump apologist, daring to part ways with him only on her support for continuing to arm Ukraine. Haley's initial response to the 37-count indictment dropping was to decry it as "prosecutorial overreach."
Haley's willingness to finally take direct aim at Trump, even name-checking him, signals the indictment is so damning that she decided to switch gears, even if she still managed to heap praise on her time with Trump and followed up with jabs at the Justice Department and FBI.
\u201cNikki Haley's comments today about the Trump's indictment is getting flagged as a possible pivot toward holding Trump accountable. It's a bit. But it's quite a needle she's trying to thread. Here's the video to make up your own mind.\u201d— Josh Marshall (@Josh Marshall) 1686602832
"Now, this is the second indictment, we're looking at possibly a third indictment coming in with Georgia," Haley continued, before pivoting to an electability argument about Trump. "We've got to have someone that can win a general election," she said, ginning up fears that Biden could be reelected.
In a separate interview Tuesday, Haley also signaled that she might be willing to pardon Trump—a clear effort at appeasing Trump's cultists for the misdeed of admitting their leader may have betrayed the country.
But the reality is, several of these campaigns likely spot-polled the issue over the weekend and found legitimate trepidation among at least some Republican voters who aren't necessarily MAGA cultists.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who last week blasted the "weaponization" of the Justice Department, also dipped his pinky toe in the water of criticizing Trump.
“This case is a serious case with serious allegations, but in America you are still innocent until proven guilty,” Scott told the crowd at a campaign event in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Scott prefaced the statement with the lie that Republicans face a "double standard" in the justice system, but his tepid evolution on Trump's indictment is still a notable departure in a field has typically shied away from so much as thinking bad thoughts about the Republican standard-bearer.
Haley and Scott now join Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson in daring to potentially part ways with Trump, or at least have a semi-honest conversation about him.
Hutchinson immediately issued a statement last week calling on Trump to drop out of the race.
“This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign," Hutchinson said.
As the center of gravity of the Republican field begins to lean in to the opportunity to take aim at the GOP front-runner, MAGA diehards such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could find themselves increasingly isolated—and even criticized—for trivializing Trump's negligence.
Christie, for instance, used a CNN town hall appearance Monday to rail against Trump's self-centeredness, indifference to the welfare of the country, and other Republican candidates for failing to call out Trump.
"They're playing political games with you," Christie said of candidates such as DeSantis, who aren't leveling with voters about the gravity of the charges against Trump.
"How about we do this," Christie posited, "How about you decide who is the most honest forthright leader, who has common sense and will put you first. And let's put that person behind the desk of the Oval Office."
DeSantis, who also initially played the law enforcement "weaponization" card, has attempted only back-handed knocks against Trump.
At a North Carolina GOP event Friday, DeSantis invoked the fact that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was never charged for having classified material on her private server.
“As a naval officer, if I would have taken classified [documents] to my apartment, I would have been court-martialed in a New York minute,” he observed, in a remark that was actually far more reminiscent of Trump's case (never mind the fact that Clinton never hid materials, obstructed justice, or shared state secrets with unauthorized personnel).
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, the first Republican candidate to float pardoning Trump, ratcheted up DeSantis' feeble attempt to impugn his Republican rival.
Standing outside the Miami courthouse Tuesday where Trump was arraigned, Ramaswamy challenged other candidates to take his Trump pardon pledge.
"This is my commitment: On January 20, 2025, if I'm elected the next U.S. president, to pardon Donald J. Trump for these offenses in this federal case," Ramaswamy said, brandishing his printed pledge for the cameras.
As conservative commentator David Frum tweeted, "I wonder how Trump feels about GOP candidates working so hard to remind voters that Trump is not only already indicted, but also very likely to be convicted, of multiple extremely serious federal crimes?"
\u201cI wonder how Trump feels about GOP candidates working so hard to remind voters that Trump is not only already indicted, but also very likely to be convicted, of multiple extremely serious federal crimes?\u201d— David Frum (@David Frum) 1686667847
As the arraignment dust settles, DeSantis, who remains the Republican candidate best positioned to overtake Trump, will have to reassess his craven response to Trump's indefensible handling of national security secrets. Perhaps his continued coziness with Trump is exactly where DeSantis would like to be, but he clearly got outflanked to his left and his right by his Republican rivals.
And to the extent that DeSantis got left behind by his peers, the trend is likely to grow in the coming weeks and months. There's safety in numbers, and Republicans are just beginning to grow more vocal about Trump's fecklessness. Republican senators such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have denounced Trump, as have his former Attorney General Bill Barr and former national security adviser John Bolton.
Talking about the indictment, Barr told Fox News Sunday that "if even half of it is true, then he's toast."
Bolton told NPR'sMorning Edition Monday, "I think this is a potentially catastrophic turn of events for him."
That's what the bulk of Trump's Republican rivals are concluding too, and they are insulating themselves against eventually having to defend Trump's sins against the country.
DeSantis will have to grapple with that same predicament moving forward. But so far, he's showing the political instincts of a slug.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.