Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t mention Donald Trump’s name once during an hourlong speech to Georgia Republicans on Thursday. But when reports broke of Trump’s indictment shortly after the Smyrna event ended, DeSantis had much to say.
The presumptive presidential contender, seen as Trump’s top GOP rival, joined a chorus of Republicans who rushed to condemn Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision to bring criminal charges against Trump.
His reaction illustrated a theme among conservatives in Georgia and beyond as Trump’s allies and critics joined forces to assail the case as a politically motivated prosecution even before the charges have been formally revealed.
Former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, an influential Trump defender, called it a “politically motivated case” that is doomed to fail. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene cast Trump as a hero figure battling “modern-day tyrants” to rescue Americans from evil, and she promised to be in New York on Tuesday to protest.
And even Gov. Brian Kemp, the target of vicious attacks from Trump, joined the list of Republican leaders who criticized Bragg’s decision to bring unprecedented criminal charges against a former president.
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC
“It just seems political to me,” he told News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB’s Mark Arum. “It also seems to me in a city like New York, this prosecutor could be focused on violent crime, murders, gangs, drugs and other things — instead of really playing politics here.”
The GOP backlash echoes the message from Trump, who has long derided the four ongoing criminal investigations into his actions — including a Fulton County probe into his attempts to overturn his 2020 defeat in Georgia — as “political persecution.”
It also could serve as a glimpse of the fierce opposition facing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis if she decides to go forward with state charges against Trump and his top allies involving their efforts to reverse his narrow defeat to Joe Biden.
“The Republicans who benefited from Trump’s endorsement — even Kemp — need to be screaming from the highest mountain against this erroneous charge against Trump,” said Bruce LeVell, a former candidate for a suburban Atlanta U.S. House district.
“This is very toxic for our society. This is a political persecution,” LeVell added. “And I’d say the same if this was against a Democrat, like Jon Ossoff or Raphael Warnock. Wrong is wrong.”
‘No one is above the law’
The response from Democrats, by contrast, was far more muted. Many of the party’s leaders were reluctant to issue sweeping statements before the extent of the charges were known, and instead they focused their comments on upholding the rule of law.
“No one is above the law, and everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence,” former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “Hopefully, the former president will peacefully respect the system, which grants him that right.”
The GOP recriminations began amid an unprecedented moment in the nation’s history, with criminal charges that could reshape the 2024 presidential race and test the nation’s legal system.
But rather than become a sharp new dividing line, the former president’s potential Republican adversaries quickly vented their outrage about the prosecution.
Shortly after leaving a book tour event at a Smyrna gun store, DeSantis called the move “un-American” and said he wouldn’t cooperate with efforts to extradite Trump from his Florida estate to New York.
And former Vice President Mike Pence, who faced death threats when Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, told CNN the indictment was an “outrage.”
With their reactions, they seem to acknowledge concerns that the charges could deliver a political benefit to Trump by galvanizing supporters who see him as an aggrieved victim of a political and legal system committed to the status quo.
“I‘m no Trump fan, but if the Manhattan case turns out to be a swing and miss,” said former Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, “the stage is set for MAGA supporters everywhere to discredit potentially more serious investigations by Fulton County DA and DOJ down the road.”
At a rally Saturday in Texas, Trump’s first major campaign event this year, the former president celebrated recent polls that showed his standing rising in a crowded GOP field.
“It’s the craziest thing,” Trump said at the rally in Waco. “I got bad publicity and my poll numbers have gone through the roof. Would you explain this to me?”
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