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Trump’s GOP opponents test out different responses to his indictment as they jockey for position behind him

Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 Republican primary opponents have taken a variety of approaches in responding to Trump’s indictment this week. 

Tuesday saw a first in American history when Trump turned himself in to law enforcement in Miami to face 37 federal counts alleging he mishandled sensitive documents.

Some of Trump’s fellow Republican candidates have been more willing to criticize the former president than others. Here is how the various candidates are responding as they jockey for position behind the frontrunner.

Pence

Trump’s former number two, former Vice President Mike Pence, initially called on Attorney General Merrick Garland last week to explain the indictment to the American public.

After the indictment came out, Pence told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that he couldn’t defend Trump. 

‘Having read the indictment, these are very serious allegations,’ Pence said. ‘And I can’t defend what is alleged. But the president is entitled to his day in court, he’s entitled to bring a defense, and I want to reserve judgment until he has the opportunity to respond.’

Pence also torched the Justice Department (DOJ) for its role in the ‘two and a half years of a Russia hoax’ that he says makes it hard for him to believe ‘that politics didn’t play some role in this decision.’

The former vice president faced criticism from some on the right after he refused to say on Wednesday whether he’d pardon Trump if elected president on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, calling it a ‘premature conversation.’

Ramaswamy

GOP presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy made headlines this week when he vowed that he would pardon Trump if elected to the presidency and challenged other candidates in the race to do the same.

‘The use of police force by a sitting U.S. President against his chief political rival in the midst of a presidential election sets a dangerous precedent in our country,’ Ramaswamy said in a press release.

‘No one is above the law: the U.S. President shouldn’t be able to use the federal police to arrest his opponents,’ he continued.

‘No one should be below the law either, yet there are now two standards of justice depending on your political viewpoints,’ Ramaswamy added. ‘That’s the single greatest threat to our constitutional republic today.’

Ramaswamy’s pledge has put pressure on other candidates to consider pardoning Trump in the event they ascend to the White House, but responses have been mixed so far with his opponents putting him on blast.

Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s campaign told Fox News Digital that they ‘have no comment on any Initiative which comes from Republican primary candidates.’

Haley

GOP presidential contender and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley also appeared to take a different path in the Trump indictment.

On Monday, Haley said that if the charges in the indictment against Trump are true, he was ‘reckless’ with the nation’s national security.

‘If this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security,’ she said Monday on ‘The Story.’

‘More than that, I’m a military spouse: My husband’s about to deploy this weekend,’ she continued. ‘This puts all of our military men and women in danger.’

Come Tuesday, Haley threw her hat behind pardoning the former president, saying on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show that she is ‘inclined’ to pardon Trump if the former president is convicted.

‘When you look at a pardon, the issue is less about guilt and more about what’s good for the country,’ Haley said. ‘And I think it would be terrible for the country to have a former president in prison for years because of a documents case.

‘So I would be inclined in favor of a pardon,’ she continued, adding that it is ‘really premature’ to discuss a pardon prior to a conviction.

DeSantis

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is currently trending in second among the GOP presidential primary candidates, is on a tightrope as he looks to take Trump’s top spot without alienating his voter base.

DeSantis denounced the indictment last week, calling it the ‘weaponization of federal law enforcement’ and noting the differences between Trump’s treatment and that of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Since then, though, DeSantis has been quiet on the indictment and whether he’d pardon Trump if elected president.

In May, DeSantis was asked on the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show if he would pardon Trump or January 6 defendants, DeSantis didn’t name names but said his administration ‘will be aggressive [in] issuing pardons.’

Trump’s supporters are vehemently against the indictment, and DeSantis needs their support to take the nomination.

A backseat stance on the Trump indictment might not prove helpful for the governor if he is trying to win over the former president’s supporters — including in his own state.

Elder

GOP contender Larry Elder made it clear that he would pardon Trump if elected president, but would not be signing on to Ramaswamy’s pledge.

Elder told Fox News Digital he is ‘not running for President to play silly games and respond to every candidate’s demands.’

‘As President, I would instruct my Attorney General to drop the politically motivated charges against Trump,’ Elder said.

‘I can tell you that it is deeply disturbing that Hillary Clinton was not charged for her blatant violation of the Espionage Act when she destroyed her private email server,’ the California Republican continued. ‘And why is the special counsel investigation into [President] Biden’s mishandling of classified documents taking so much longer than the investigation of Trump?’

‘The politicization of the criminal justice system in this country is appalling, and the partisan prosecution of Donald Trump is just one example,’ Elder continued.

Elder said a ‘huge problem is the Soros-funded prosecutors throughout the country who are refusing to do their job and enforce the law.’

Scott

GOP presidential candidate and Senator Tim Scott, R-S.C., took a moderate stance on the indictment, saying at a Monday campaign stop that this is a ‘serious case with serious allegations’ and accusing the Biden administration of ‘hunting Republicans.’

‘As Americans, we have to have a justice system where the lady of justice wears a blindfold,’ Scott told reporters after his appearance in Spartanburg.

‘What we see today across this administration of President Joe Biden is a double standard,’ he said. ‘That double standard is both un-American and unacceptable. You can’t protect Democrats while targeting and hunting Republicans.’

When asked if he would pardon Trump, Scott said he did not want to speculate on a hypothetical question but that he grow Americans’ faith in the DOJ ‘so that every single American could have confidence that they will be treated the same, no matter your color and no matter your partisan affiliation.’

Christie

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who jumped into the 2024 GOP primary last week, hopped on the airwaves with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, where he discussed Trump’s arraignment and whether he would pardon the former president.

Christie said Trump ‘disregarded’ the ‘system’ that was in place that denoted what he could and could not take from the White House.

‘And if you’re like an aide to the president, United States, and he says, hey, I’ve gone through that, those are mine. I want to keep them, put them on the helicopter,’ Christie said. ‘What are you going to do? Say, sir, I’d like to have the opportunity to review that, to see if you, the President [of] the United States [is] complying with the law.’

‘Here’s the problem, Brian: Donald Trump has turned everything on its head,’ Christie continued. ‘And what we have here is something he did as alleged in the indictment that was clearly not right. And he’s not looking to blame everybody else. It’s his fault he made these judgments.’

As for a pardon, Christie said ‘it’s impossible to answer that right now’ and noted the ‘pardon power is the power to say if . . . somebody thinks someone’s been treated unfairly, if you think there’s not been a fair trial, you have to consider all those things.’

‘I can’t imagine if he gets a fair trial that I would pardon him. I can’t imagine that I would remember. The other problem, to accept a pardon, you have to admit your guilt. To accept a pardon, you have to say, yes, I was wrong and I. And I accept the pardon. I can’t imagine Donald Trump would ever do that.’

Johnson

Perry Johnson, another Republican candidate for president, said early on in the Trump criminal charges saga that he would pardon the former president if elected, even putting out a campaign ad about it.

When asked about Ramaswamy’s challenge to pardon the former president, Johnson blasted his opponent as trying ‘to get to the front of the bandwagon.’

‘When I called for candidates to join me in supporting a pardon for Donald Trump just a few months ago, Vivek Ramaswamy refused,’ Johnson said. ‘Now, he’s trampling TV cameras to get to the front of the bandwagon.’

Even with Trump’s indictment and arraignment, Republicans’ support of behind the former president remains strong.

Suarez

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez entered the presidential race the same week Trump was arraigned in his city, and the former president’s angered supporters decried him as a ‘swamp monster.’

Suarez, a noted Trump critic who didn’t vote for the then-Republican nominee in 2020, said in an MSNBC interview this week that Trump is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and entitled to a trial by a jury of his peers.

The Miami mayor said ‘that process has to play out before any type of a discussion on pardons can happen’ but stopped short of saying he would pardon the former president.

‘But certainly, if I became president, one of the things I would look at as president is using the pardon power to heal the country,’ Suarez said. ‘That, by the way, doesn’t go for one party. That goes for both parties.’

A Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday showed Trump’s favorability rating at 37% among registered voters, largely unchanged from the group’s previous polls. The poll was conducted June 8 through 12, while Trump’s charges and scheduled court hearing dominated the news. The indictment against Trump was unsealed on June 9.

Trump pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges that he illegally retained national security records at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, following the end of his term in office, and that he obstructed federal efforts to recover the documents. In total, Trump faces 37 felony charges.

Fox News Digitals’ Charles Creitz and Kyle Morris contributed reporting.

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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