DeSantis faces political minefield with possible Trump indictment
Former President Trump’s claim that he’ll be arrested in New York on Tuesday is putting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a bind as he moves toward a likely 2024 White House bid, forcing him to reckon with his increasingly tense relationship with the former president.
The bombshell prediction — and Trump’s plea for his supporters to protest the rumored indictment — shook up the nascent GOP presidential primary over the weekend, with some declared and prospective candidates coming out in defense of Trump and casting any pending charges as politically motivated.
DeSantis weighed in on the possible indictment on Monday, breaking two days of silence on the matter that put him in the crosshairs of Trump’s allies, who sought to cast the Florida governor’s reluctance to defend his onetime political benefactor as a show of disloyalty to the GOP’s conservative base.
“I’ve seen rumors swirl. I have not seen any facts yet, and so I don’t know what’s going to happen,” DeSantis said when asked about the possible charges during a news conference. “But I do know this: The Manhattan district attorney is a Soros-funded prosecutor and so he, like other Soros-funded prosecutors, they weaponize their office to impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety.”
Yet DeSantis’s remarks underscored the delicate political position he finds himself in as he nears a decision on a 2024 presidential bid.
At no point did he mention Trump by name, taking pains to direct his criticism only at Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office has signaled that it may be closing in on criminal charges against Trump.
But he also went out of his way to rehash the allegations at the center of the Manhattan investigation, drawing a laugh from the crowd when he referenced “hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.” And he said he has no interest in getting involved in what he called a “manufactured circus by some Soros DA,” ignoring pleas from some Trump allies to use his power to block the former president’s extradition.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said that there’s pressure on every GOP candidate to weigh in on Trump’s potential indictment, arguing that long-running efforts to investigate the former president have become something of a unifying theme for the party and its core voters.
“This is something that galvanizes Republican voters because they don’t like to see the law used for political ends,” O’Connell said. “And what has frustrated Republicans across the country, whether they like Trump or not, is this perceived two-tiered system of justice.”
Others, however, said that DeSantis may be better off discussing Trump’s legal troubles as little as possible. Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor, argued that there’s no solid evidence to suggest that Trump will actually be taken into custody on Tuesday, noting that the rumor came from the former president himself.
“The only source for the arrest rumor is Trump himself, so he clearly sees a benefit in promoting the narrative that he’s being persecuted,” Eberhart said. “It may or may not be true, but there’s no upside for DeSantis to jump in early.”
Indeed, Trump made the prediction on Saturday in a post on his social media site, Truth Social, declaring, in all capital letters, that “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK. PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
The post came after the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reportedly offered Trump the chance to testify before a grand jury hearing evidence in the hush-money case. Such offers typically signal that prosecutors are closing in on an indictment.
One Republican consultant who has been in touch with multiple 2024 hopefuls said that the efforts by Trump’s allies to force a response from DeSantis amounted to a new test for the Florida governor as he prepares for a White House bid.
“Hat tip to the Trump team for forcing him out of his safe area,” the consultant said. “They’re not necessarily trying to boost Trump in the eyes of Republicans so much as they are to make the case that Ron DeSantis isn’t ready for prime time.”
“This is going to test Ron DeSantis’s nascent presidential campaign from a communications perspective in a way that it just hasn’t been tested yet.”
A spokesperson for DeSantis’s campaign did not respond to The Hill’s request for comment on Monday.
DeSantis wasn’t the only 2024 prospect to initially stay quiet on the potential charges against Trump. In fact, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who jumped into the presidential contest last month, still hasn’t addressed the matter.
Neither have former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), both of whom are actively considering White House bids.
Others, however, quickly expressed solidarity with Trump. Former Vice President Mike Pence told reporters in Iowa on Saturday that the possible indictment of his former boss appears “politically charged,” arguing that “the idea of indicting a former president of the United States is deeply troubling.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, a wealthy entrepreneur who launched a bid for the GOP presidential nod late last month, took direct aim at DeSantis and Haley on Saturday, calling on both to condemn the actions of law enforcement officials in New York.
But DeSantis’s case is unique, given his status as Trump’s most formidable Republican challenger, at least for the time being. While he hasn’t launched a presidential bid yet, he’s begun laying the groundwork for a campaign and is widely expected to announce his intentions after the Florida state legislature wraps up its annual session in May.
Anticipating a fight for the GOP’s 2024 nod, Trump and his allies have already begun their offensive against DeSantis — one that has played out publicly in the days since Trump predicted his pending arrest.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump, criticized DeSantis’s “radio silence” on the looming indictment in a tweet over the weekend. Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, urged Republicans in his own post to “pay attention to which Republicans spoke out against this corrupt BS immediately and who sat on their hands and waited to see which way the wind was blowing.”
And even after DeSantis weighed in on the New York investigation on Monday, the former president himself attacked the Florida governor in personal terms in a post on Truth Social before later deleting it.
“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are “underage” (or possibly a man!). I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!” Trump wrote.
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