House Republicans are divided over whether to throw support behind top contenders former President Donald Trump or Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), with the former president testing party support as a possible indictment looms over him.
While most Republicans have condemned Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation focusing on hush money payments Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to Stormy Daniels in 2016, an indictment may drive Republicans to decide to support Trump’s reelection bid or to support a less scandal-ridden candidate in 2024.
Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), who endorsed DeSantis for president, took aim at Trump on Monday in an interview with commentator Glenn Beck for his latest legal battle.
“Look, at the end of the day, you cannot walk away from the fact that the former president clearly paid a porn star off to hush up right before an election. That occurred,” Roy said, also adding that the Bragg investigation was “banana republic stuff.”
DeSantis himself has opted to stay relatively neutral over Trump’s indictment, saying on Monday that he has “no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus” and would “spend my time on issues that actually matter to people.”
Some Republicans who have endorsed Trump for 2024 are sticking by his side and are trying to use DeSantis’s lackluster comments against him. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), chairwoman of the House GOP Conference, criticized DeSantis for his comments regarding Trump’s connection to a porn star. DeSantis said he did not “know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star to secure silence over some type of alleged affair.”
“I think he’s gonna see slippage and support,” Stefanik said to the Hill when asked about DeSantis’s remarks. “He’s already seen slippage in the past couple of weeks. And I think you’re going to see President Trump continue to solidify this position in the Republican nomination.”
Other Republicans are not necessarily supporting Trump but are going after Bragg and his investigation as a politically charged vendetta. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL) endorsed Trump on Monday, focusing her blasts on the looming indictment.
Luna said in a statement to the New York Times that Bragg was “trying to cook up charges outside of the statute of limitation against Trump” and that the investigation “is unheard-of, and Americans should see it for what it is: an abuse of power and fascist overreach of the justice system.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), and other top Republicans have already begun voicing their intentions to hold Bragg accountable for the investigation. McCarthy vowed to open an investigation into Bragg and his office, calling his case an “outrageous abuse of power.”
Jordan and other lawmakers wrote a letter to Bragg requesting his testimony, documents, and communications relating to the investigation, to which Bragg replied that he won’t be “intimidated” by GOP lawmakers into backing down.
Still, Stefanik said Bragg’s investigation should be a “unifying message” for all Republicans and that support for Trump will only grow.
“I have yet to see a flag for any other candidate in the Republican primary other than Donald Trump in my district,” the chairwoman said. “You drive around, there [are] still Trump flags everywhere, and I can guarantee even though I’m here at this retreat, there are more flags, more signs going up in the past 48 hours than ever before.”
“This is just gonna do nothing but make him even more popular,” Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) said, echoing Stefanik. “I mean, it’s insane. I don’t know if they’re doing it because they want him to be the nominee. But that’s what’s going to happen.”
McCarthy offered some coverage for Republicans who were publicly supporting other candidates, stating that the investigation was about more than Trump.
“It’s not here that we’re coming to defend President Trump,” McCarthy said on Tuesday. “What we’re coming to defend is equal justice in America.”
McCarthy said he had not talked to Trump about the indictment nor talked to DeSantis about his comments on Trump’s potential criminal charges.
Some Republicans are avoiding choosing sides at all, instead focusing on the rising strength of the Republican Party, particularly in Florida.
“I’m thinking [it] makes it really cool that Florida could produce, you know, two great candidates,” Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) said to the Hill, adding that the state “seems to be the shining star of the GOP right now, and our governor is doing a great job here.”
A recent Morning Consult poll showed Trump leading DeSantis 54% to 26%, a 28-percentage point advantage. Polls have gone back and forth showing DeSantis leading over Trump or vice versa, but the news of an indictment of the former president boosted support for Trump. Up against President Joe Biden, both candidates are projected to lose, with DeSantis possessing a narrower margin than Trump.