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Republicans aren’t rushing to Trump’s defense this time

When the former president was indicted in March, the Republican universe rallied around him. Not this time.

Former president Donald Trump aboard his plane as he heads to West Palm Beach, Fla., following a day of campaigning, in Washington, on Jan. 28.DOUG MILLS/NYT

Former president Donald Trump wasted no time turning his indictment by the Department of Justice into a fundraising pitch. Within minutes of announcing on Thursday evening that he had been charged by federal prosecutors in connection with “the Boxes Hoax” — Trump’s euphemism for his alleged mishandling of classified government documents after leaving the White House — his 2024 presidential campaign sent out an e-mail asking supporters to donate money.

“This witch hunt began when the FBI RAIDED my home and then staged it to look like a made-for-TV crime scene,” the letter said, appealing for contributions so that “we will once again surge even higher and prove that our America First movement truly is UNSTOPPABLE.”


Why would Trump regard being charged with serious federal crimes as an ideal moment to make political gains? Because that’s what happened the last time he was indicted.

When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump in March with illegally concealing payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, the GOP rallied around the former president. A fundraising appeal brought in $15 million in new donations and Trump’s popularity surged among Republicans. Within days, his polling lead over his nearest rival in the presidential contest — Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida — had jumped from 8 percentage points to 26. Even Trump’s fiercest critics, such as Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and former national security adviser John Bolton, blasted the New York DA for his political overreach and the weakness of his charges.

But what worked for Trump before isn’t likely to turn out the same way now.

The legal details of the new indictment have been unsealed, and they seem far more serious than anything Bragg came up with. Trump has been charged with violations of the Espionage Act, conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding records, and making false statements. But it isn’t only the legal case against him that has changed. The political vibrations, too, are not what they were back in March and April.


This time, the Republican universe isn’t rushing en masse to Trump’s defense. To be sure, he can count on blind support from his staunch loyalists. “Any Republican who does not stand with Trump, condemn this bull---t, and vow to destroy the corrupt System needs to GTFO,” tweeted Monica Crowley, a former Treasury Department official and longtime media personality. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, reacted to the indictment by lamenting: “Sad day for America. God Bless President Trump.”

And even DeSantis, who hopes to win the GOP presidential nomination by wooing Trump’s MAGA base, quickly lambasted the indictment as “the weaponization of federal law enforcement.”

But other Republicans are making it clear that they are no longer drinking the Kool-Aid. Unlike the Manhattan indictment in March, the federal charges are landing as the field of presidential candidates has widened to include some who now aim directly at Trump for his foul character and scandalous behavior. Former vice president Mike Pence formally entered the race Wednesday with a speech calling his former boss unfit for office, a threat to the Constitution, and someone who “should never be president again.” Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, pugnacious and charismatic as ever, threw his hat in the ring the day before with even blunter words.


“I’m going out there to take out Donald Trump,” he said, blasting his onetime ally as a “self-consumed, self-serving mirror hog.”

From a third presidential hopeful came still more blistering words. “Donald Trump’s actions — from his willful disregard for the Constitution to his disrespect for the rule of law — should not define our nation or the Republican Party,” former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed after news of Trump’s indictment broke Thursday night. With criminal proceedings looming, Hutchinson said, Trump should “respect the office and end his campaign.”

The political winds have shifted since Trump was indicted in March. Leading Republicans are explicitly denouncing him. Pence, Christie, or Hutchinson may or may not gain any traction. But their attacks on Trump will pave the way for other Republicans to follow suit. Until now, Trump’s GOP wall of support has seemed virtually impregnable. But when cracks appear in walls, they make other cracks more likely.

Everyone knows that Trump has weathered countless storms and scandals since he entered politics. But to be charged with multiple federal crimes while trying to run for president? That is something new under the sun. Trump’s latest fundraising letter will doubtless pull in some money, but he won’t find it easy to buy his way out of the trouble he’s in now.

Jeff Jacoby can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, visit