The group of Republican candidates and potential candidates for president in 2024 joined together to forcefully condemn and renounce former President Donald Trump after he was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation on Tuesday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), assumed to be Trump’s biggest competition when he announces, sidestepped the opportunity when it was served up to him at a Wednesday event.
“I’ve been pretty busy — I know there’s different stuff in the news,” he said.
“I may have something to say about the overall landscape for ’24, but stay tuned on that,” he added.
Former Governor and Ambassador Nikki Haley also took what would normally be a massive cudgel to take to her primary opponent and politely set it on the ground.
“I’m not gonna get into that,” she told Hugh Hewitt, a right-wing radio talk show host. “That’s something for Trump to respond to. You know, I mean the focus has to be not to be distracted. That’s why we’ve got to leave the baggage and the negativity behind.”
Other, more minor candidates took an even more pro-Trump stance.
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy mused that the case was another attempt by the “establishment” to expel Donald Trump.
“Believe me, it would be a lot easier for me if Trump weren’t in this race,” he said in a statement. “But in America we don’t weaponize the law with decades-old allegations to undercut our political opponents.”
Right-wing radio talk show host Larry Elder responded by tweeting the names of women who have accused former President Bill Clinton and President Joe Biden of sexual misconduct.
Standing alone on an island is former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R), who said on MSNBC that it was a “reflection of continued indefensible conduct by former President Donald Trump.”
“Here’s an example of where the jury system worked,” he said, adding: “I believe that I’m the leader that this country needs and that the Republican Party needs to have a different nominee than Donald Trump. It’s as simple as that.”
In a normal election cycle, it would be hard to imagine a candidate’s direct competition for the Republican nomination mostly ducking away from commenting on him being found liable for assaulting and defaming E. Jean Carroll, a former magazine columnist.
But the Republican candidates and would-be candidates, with the exception of Hutchinson, are performing a difficult dance. They’re trying not to alienate Trump’s supporters, who they need to win the nomination, but also to make a case as to why those voters should choose them and not Trump.
So far, that’s mostly translated into awkward conversations following each new Trump scandal, where they try to not say very much at all. DeSantis’ struggle to position himself within these parameters seems to have contributed to his plummeting poll numbers, bolstered by Trump’s gleeful willingness to hammer him day and night.
Trump, however, is having no trouble finding his voice. Since the Tuesday afternoon verdict, he’s posted on Truth Social nearly a dozen times, often in all caps.
Carroll took to social media too, posting in huge letters: “WE WON.”