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Former President Trump’s Thursday evening announcement that he was indicted on federal charges quickly scrambled the 2024 GOP presidential race, putting his various challengers on the spot to respond to the news.
Trump is due in court in Miami on Tuesday after a Justice Department special counsel indicted him in an investigation into his handling of classified documents.
Those seeking to overtake Trump in the polls and win the nomination next year face a difficult balancing act of arguing that it may be time to move on from the former president while also not openly attacking him and alienating is loyal base of supporters.
Here’s how other 2024 Republican candidates have responded so far.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the final of three presidential campaign stops in South Carolina on Friday, June 2, 2023, in Greenville, S.C. DeSantis has been visiting early voting states since kicking off his bid for the GOP 2024 nomination. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, widely seen as Trump’s chief rival in the 2024 race, weighed in on the indictment by slamming the Justice Department while carefully avoiding completely defending the former president.
“The weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society. We have for years witnessed an uneven application of the law depending upon political affiliation,” DeSantis tweeted.
“Why so zealous in pursuing Trump yet so passive about Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will bring accountability to the DOJ, excise political bias and end weaponization once and for all,” he added.
DeSantis’s remarks were released just hours as Trump said he had been indicted by the Justice Department — notably a much quicker response in comparison to earlier this year when the Florida Republican waited several days before publicly weighing in on a then-potential separate indictment Trump received in relation to a probe overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).
His response also illustrates the delicate balance other 2024 Republican contenders will have to grapple with amid Trump’s swirling legal controversies: criticizing legal probes targeting a Republican while trying to avoid elevating Trump himself in the process.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson formally announced his Republican campaign for president on Wednesday, April 26, 2023, in Bentonville, Ark. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has been one of the few Republicans running for the party’s presidential nomination who has been willing to say Trump’s legal issues should be disqualifying, a position he reiterated on Thursday night.
“With the news that Donald Trump has been indicted for the second time, our country finds itself in a position that weakens our democracy,” Hutchinson said in a statement, adding that “Donald Trump’s actions—from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law—should not define our nation or the Republican Party.”
“This is a sad day for our country. While Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence, the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a major distraction,” he continued “This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to respect the office and end his campaign.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., takes photos with attendees after speaking during a town hall for his presidential campaign on Sunday, May 28, 2023, in Goose Creek, S.C. Scott, the Senate’s sole Black Republican, officially launched his 2024 bid last week. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who officially launched his bid for the White House several weeks ago, denounced the federal indictment against Trump during an interview with Fox News on Thursday.
“What we’ve seen over the last several years is the weaponization of the Department [of] Justice against a former president,” Scott said. “You don’t have to be a Republican to see injustice and want to fix it. You don’t have to be a Democrat to see injustice and want to fix it. You just have to be an American and stand up for the right thing.”
“Today, what we see is a justice system where the scales are weighted. That seems to be the outcome of where we are today,” the South Carolina Republican added, noting that if he were elected president, he “would purge all of the injustices and impurities” in the judicial system.
Republican presidential candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride, Saturday, June 3, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur who is running for the GOP nomination, went perhaps farther than any other Trump rival was willing to on Thursday night, saying he would pardon Trump if elected in 2024.
“It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics,” Ramaswamy wrote on Twitter shortly after news of Trump’s indictment broke. “I commit to pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025 and to restore the rule of law in our country.”
Ramaswamy echoed other Republicans in claiming the charges against Trump amounted to a “Banana Republic” situation.
“This is an affront to every citizen: we cannot devolve into a banana republic where the party in power uses police force to arrest its political opponents,” Ramaswamy wrote. “It’s hypocritical for the DOJ to selectively prosecute Trump but not Biden.”
A Justice Department special counsel is still investigating Biden’s handling of classified documents after sensitive materials were found at his Delaware home and an old Washington, D.C., office from his time as vice president. But unlike Trump, Biden’s team promptly notified DOJ of the discovery and has cooperated with the investigation.
FILE – Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering during a town hall style meeting at New England College, Thursday, April 20, 2023, in Henniker, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
The former New Jersey governor has made clear he will confront Trump directly in the primary battle, but on Thursday his response to the indictment was fairly subdued.
“We don’t get our news from Trump’s Truth Social account. Let’s see what the facts are when any possible indictment is released,” Christie said in a Twitter post. “As I have said before, no one is above the law, no matter how much they wish they were. We will have more to say when the facts are revealed.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley had yet to weigh in as of Thursday night.
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