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ANALYSIS | James Pindell

To pardon or not to pardon, that is the question (for the 2024 Republican presidential field)

Former president Donald Trump.Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

From the earliest days of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, voters were given a clear dividing line among a growing field of candidates.

Candidates were asked two questions: Did they support the concepts of Medicare for All and the Green New Deal?

These questions served as a helpful shorthand: Were they a progressive candidate, or a moderate one? (There was also Pete Buttigieg’s cutely labeled plan of “Medicare for All who want it” – which was not Medicare for All, but had the same words in the title.)

So far, the 2024 Republican presidential field hasn’t faced such a clear dividing line question. The most persistent queries have been variations of: How do you defeat Donald Trump in the primary, or how do you feel about some specific Trump action. But answers to these could be massaged any which way, and didn’t provide a clean yes or no answer.

That is, until now.


Following the reports that the former president and current 2024 Republican candidate is facing a federal indictment on seven charges related to mishandling of classified material, the Republican presidential primary field will now be split between those who say they’ll pardon Trump (should he be convicted), and those who won’t.

Shortly after Trump announced on his social media site that he was being indicted, one Republican candidate, Ohio businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, pledged to pardon Trump if he’s convicted.

“It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump weren’t in the race, but I stand for principles over politics,” Ramaswamy wrote in a statement. “I commit to pardon Trump promptly on January 20, 2025 and to restore the rule of law in our country.”

Around the same time, a sympathetic Trump law professor said on Fox News that “Trump could run on pardoning himself” during the 2024 campaign. “They may have given him a rather unique campaign slogan.”


Not everyone jumped directly to Trump’s defense, however. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a frequent Trump critic who threw his hat in the ring this week, urged against a rush to judgment, but also said “no one is above the law.”

Just Wednesday, Mike Pence uncomfortably evaded the question of whether he’d pardon Trump. He may not be able to next time.

Pence was supposed to appear on Fox News for an interview with Sean Hannity Thursday night. That was before the Trump indictment news. He ended up not coming on the show.

The pardon question will now be shorthand for how candidates stand on an extremely pressing issue for many Republican voters. It provides a simple and clean yes or no answer that will reveal whether a candidate supports Trump’s policies and approach, or wants to distance the Republican Party from him.

Trump, should he agree to be on a debate stage, could easily needle his fellow candidates into a position on this question should they try to talk their way around an answer. So might Christie, the chief Trump critic of the bunch, who would also want the field on the record.

But while this shorthand question can offer a useful answer for the primaries, it might not help the eventual Republican nominee win over undecided voters in the general election. It’s not exactly a topic that directly affects a voter’s life like, say, Medicare for All.


James Pindell can be reached at Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.