Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch
As former President Donald Trump faces his fourth indictment in Georgia, his previous running mate former Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday disputed Trump’s claims that the Georgia election was “stolen” while still criticizing the federal justice system.
Pence is one of many candidates competing against Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination who are working to balance a campaign message that shows voters why they should be the party pick to take on President Joe Biden while not alienating those who believe the federal justice system is being used unfairly against the former president.
Since his appearance at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, Trump and 18 others have been indicted in Fulton County, Georgia on 41 charges in relation to alleged interference in the 2020 election. On TruthSocial, the social media platform Trump co-founded, the former president criticized Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for bringing charges on election interference against him.
“No, Fani, the only Election Interference was done by those that Rigged and Stole the Election,” Trump wrote Tuesday. “Those are the ones you should be going after, not the innocent people that are fighting for Election Integrity!”
Some of the Republican presidential hopefuls have dismissed the alleged crimes. Others that have criticized Trump’s alleged actions in the 2020 election cycle — candidates like Pence and former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd — have been heckled and booed for their comments on Trump while speaking in Iowa.
Here’s how Republican candidates are approaching the issue of Trump’s legal battles on the campaign trail:
Former Vice President Mike Pence
Pence said Wednesday that the “Georgia election was not stolen” while speaking at the National Conference of State Legislatures’ summit in Indianapolis, the Indiana Capital Chronicle reported.
Pence disagreed with Trump and his allies’ statements on the Georgia election, in addition to criticizing Trump’s pressure for him to not confirm the 2020 presidential election results on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Despite what the former president and his allies have said … the Georgia election was not stolen, and I had no right to overturn the election,” Pence said.
Pence has defended his decision to certify the 2020 election results, citing it as a reason why he decided to launch his bid for president. When an audience member accused him Thursday at the Iowa State Fair of committing treason for his actions, Pence said he did not have the right under the Constitution to reject states’ election results.
“It doesn’t say ‘may,’ it doesn’t say you could send them back to the states, it doesn’t say you can reject votes, even though my former running mate and many of his outside lawyers told me that that authority was there, I knew there never was,” Pence said.
Though he criticized Trump, Pence said in Indianapolis that the federal justice system is “politicized,” and that there is not enough scrutiny placed on Democrats like Hillary Clinton and the president’s son Hunter Biden.
“I’ve said many times (that) I’d hoped the judgment about those days would be left to the American people. Such is not the case,” Pence said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Though Trump has gone after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on the campaign trail, DeSantis has criticized the charges against Trump. He said Tuesday in New Hampshire that the latest charges are an example of the “criminalization of politics.” He criticized the Georgia judicial officials for bringing racketeering charges against the former president.
“They’re now doing an inordinate amount of resources to try to shoehorn this contest over the 2020 election into a RICO statute, which was really designed to be able to go after organized crime, not necessarily to go after political activity,” DeSantis said. “… I don’t think that this is something that is good for the country.”
Though the Florida governor has often avoided talking about Trump directly in campaign events, he has said he has a plan to overhaul the “weaponized” Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation if elected president.
In an interview with NBC News at the Iowa State Fair Saturday, DeSantis said Trump lost the 2020 election, despite false claims by the former president that the election was rigged.
“No, of course he lost,” DeSantis said. “Joe Biden’s the president.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott
Speaking with reporters in Iowa, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott criticized the legal actions against Trump.
“We’ve seen the legal system being weaponized against political opponents,” Scott said. “That is un-American and unacceptable. At the end of the day, we need a better system than that.”
Scott, a South Carolina Republican, has repeatedly called for the end of “weaponization” of the Department of Justice in response to questions on indictments against the former president during his time campaigning in Iowa. At an Ankeny event in July, Scott said the country — and federal government — needs to be “very careful on how we use this power against political opponents.” He said he would eliminate political appointees from the DOJ, in addition to making leadership changes at the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.
At the fair, Scott was also asked specifically about the recorded phone conversation between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which Trump asked the election official to “find” votes to help him win the state. Scott said he had “just drawn different conclusions” from the reporter about the conversation.
One of entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s promises on the campaign trail is to pardon Trump if elected. In response to the Georgia charges, Ramaswamy wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Trump should “immediately file a motion to dismiss for a constitutional due process violation for publicly issuing an indictment before the grand jury had actually signed one.”
“As someone who’s running for President against Trump, I’d volunteer to write the amicus brief to the court myself: prosecutors should not be deciding U.S. presidential elections, and if they’re so overzealous that they commit constitutional violations, then the cases should be thrown out & they should be held accountable,” he wrote.
Reuters reported Monday that a document outlining charges against Trump appeared briefly on the Fulton County court’s website before the grand jury issued the indictments, according to Georgia Recorder. A Fulton County courts spokesperson issued a statement Monday in response to a “fictitious document that has been circulated online and reported by various media outlets.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
The latest Trump indictment did not come up in the conversation between former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds Tuesday at her “fair-side chat” interview, but the candidate made a statement Monday that saying the most recent indictment was “another day of challenge for our democracy.”
“Over a year ago, I said that Donald Trump’s actions disqualified him from ever serving as President again,” Hutchinson said. “Those words are more true today than ever before. I will have additional comments after I review the details of the indictment.”
Hutchinson is one of the better-known critics of Trump from within the Republican Party. The former U.S. attorney, who served as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration under former President George W. Bush, said he would not sign the Republican National Committee pledge to support the eventual GOP in the 2024 general election if Trump is convicted.
“I’m not going to vote for him if he’s a convicted felon,” Hutchinson told Politico in June. “If he’s convicted of espionage, I’m not going to vote for him.”
Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd
Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said in a statement that the Republican Party needs to move on from Trump in light of his legal battles, saying the former president would lose against Biden again in 2024 if he becomes the Republican nominee.
“This is further evidence that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election and was ready to do anything it took to cling to power,” Hurd said in a statement. “It’s time we move beyond dealing with the former president’s baggage. The Republican Party needs a leader who isn’t afraid of bullies like Trump.”
Hurd was booed off the stage at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner in July for bringing up Trump’s indictments.
“Donald Trump is not running to make America great again,” Hurd said. “Donald Trump is not running to represent the people that voted for him in 2016 and 2020. He’s running to stay out of prison.”
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