Senior Republicans, beacons of hope for 2024, rally behind Trump after indictment

By Tim Reid

(Reuters) – Senior Republicans in Congress and the party’s 2024 White House hopefuls rallied behind former President Donald Trump after he was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury investigating hush money payments to a porn star, and named the indictment a weaponization of the justice system by Democrats.

Republicans’ fierce reaction to the indictment Thursday reflected the grip Trump still has on the party and many of its constituents as he seeks a return to the White House in the 2024 presidential election.

Three potential rivals of Trump’s for the Republican nomination denounced the charges, demonstrating the fine line they must walk when it comes to Trump, who has a core of die-hard supporters among the party’s main voters.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and US Senator Tim Scott, who have not yet formally declared their bids for the White House but are taking steps to do so, all condemned the prosecution.

DeSantis, Trump’s closest rival for the nomination, makes the lack of personal controversy a cornerstone of his burgeoning campaign.

Still, DeSantis said on Twitter the charges were “un-American” and “arming the legal system to advance a political agenda.”

Pence called it an “outrage,” while Scott denounced it as a “travesty.”

In the US Congress, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the impeachment against Trump had “armed our sacred legal system.”

Elise Stefanik, another member of the Republican House leadership, called the indictment a “political witch hunt and a dark day for America.”

Florida Senator Rick Scott called the indictment a “political vendetta against President Trump,” while Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the indictment a “catastrophic escalation in the arming of the judicial system.”

Trump called the charges “political persecution.”

He primed Republicans to respond by declaring last week that he would be charged over alleged payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. In the past week, he has raised nearly $2 million, according to Trump’s campaign.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, said she received the money in exchange for remaining silent about a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied the allegations.

Trump is the frontrunner in the 2024 Republican field, with 44% support of Republicans in a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed Monday, ahead of DeSantis’ 30% support.

But the charges also pose dangers for Trump as he seeks re-election. Opinion polls suggest many Republican voters are looking for an alternative to Trump.

The Democrats in the House of Representatives also got involved.

Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the Democratic House of Representatives, said: “No one is above the law and everyone has the right to a trial to prove their innocence. Hopefully the former president peacefully respects the system that gives him that right.”

Ted Lieu, another House Democrat, called the indictment a “terrible precedent” but necessary if Trump committed crimes.

Jamaal Bowman, a member of the House of Representatives, said: “It’s about time we made sure Trump was banned from running for public office again.”

(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Ross Colvin, Cynthia Osterman, and Lincoln Feast.)

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