The unprecedented indictment of former President Donald Trump triggered a predictable flood of polarized political reactions on Thursday evening, with Republicans condemning and Democrats celebrating the decision by the Manhattan grand jury.
One by one in the hours that followed, all of the Republican hopefuls for the White House in 2024 defended the former president. Though not surprising, the unity among Trump’s political opponents is a twist in the years-long drama that offers a glimpse into the state of the 2024 presidential primary and the next act in Trump-era American politics.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the current front-runner in the field of Republicans looking to oust Trump in the primary, called the move by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg un-American. Former Vice President Mike Pence, speaking on CNN the same evening, called it “a bad decision by a political prosecutor.” Nikki Haley, who unlike Pence and DeSantis has made her presidential bid official, said “this is more about revenge than it is about justice.”
In the hard-knocks arena of a political primary, an indictment against the front-runner would usually create an opening for the rest of the pack to pounce. But the unusual unity among the opponents suggests this is no usual indictment.
Haley, Pence, and DeSantis all say the indictment is a political attack. So did Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur who launched his 2024 bid in an interview with Tucker Carlson in February. In saying so, all four imply that Bragg is conducting an improperly motivated prosecution. This would add the pending Manhattan trial to the long line of investigations and legal action against Trump which both Republican voters and GOP politicians view as an improper use of the justice system against political opponents.
Trump has made the weaponization of the justice system and the government at large a central theme of his 2024 presidential campaign. Before opening his speech at the first official 2024 rally in Waco, Texas, the president stood hand-over-heart, in silence, as the loudspeakers played “Justice for All,” a song performed by the January 6 Prison Choir. He has vowed to pardon all of the Jan. 6 defendants and prisoners, who he describes as victims of political persecution.