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Democrats are betting Republicans’ defense of Donald Trump’s criminal charges will age like milk on the 2024 campaign trail

Reps. Lauren Boebert and George SantosU.S. Reps. Lauren Boebert and Rep. George Santos on the House floor in January 2023. Both have defended Trump after his indictment and both are seen as vulnerable in 2024.

Evelyn Hockstein/REUTERS

  • Republicans facing tough 2024 races are defending Donald Trump against criminal charges.
  • They are attacking what they say is a political prosecution or restating their support for him.
  • Democrats are betting their defense of Trump will hurt them in competitive 2024 races.

Republicans who are facing tough races in 2024 are defending Donald Trump against his criminal charges, either by assailing what they say is a political prosecution or offering full-throated support for the former president. And Democrats are betting they’ll pay for it.

The day Trump was arraigned in New York on felony charges, two GOP House members from New York — Reps. Mike Lawler and Marc Molinaro – attacked Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, with Molinaro accusing him of pursuing a “political vendetta.” 

Rep. Mike Garcia, of California, appeared to invoke a comparison to Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in Russia. Embattled Rep. George Santos, embroiled in his own series of scandals, showed up at a pro-Trump rally in Manhattan and tweeted “that’s what real supporters do” using the hashtag “#Trump2024NowMorethanEver.”

Trump’s indictment in New York on charges of 34 felony counts of falsification of business records leaves vulnerable down-ballot Republicans in a predicament: Avoid the topic and risk losing pro-Trump voters in a potential GOP primary, or defend him now and risk losing swing voters later in a general election.

The GOP once again boxed in by Trump

While some vulnerable Republicans have remained quiet, others have weighed in with comments that Democrats expect will age poorly.

“It’s the latest iteration of the Republican Party being owned by this guy and paying the electoral price for it,” said Shripal Shah, a partner at Left Hook and a former spokesperson for both the House and Senate Democrats’ campaign arms. “I think it helps Democrats across the board, in both House and Senate races. Just like in 2022 — when you have to embrace everything about Trumpism in order to survive a primary you’re doing so at your own peril.”

Republicans are still reluctant to criticize Trump, even after he lashed out against federal law enforcement. Only three of the 18 Republicans who represent districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020 — Molinaro, Rep. Young Kim of California and Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer of Oregon — would go on the record with Punchbowl News to distance themselves from Trump’s call to defund the FBI and Department of Justice.

The 2024 elections are still a long way off and it’s unclear which issues will motivate voters the most. But Democrats are betting that MAGA-charged politics will be a loser.

“Voters overwhelmingly rejected Trump and MAGA extremism in 2020 and 2022, but having learned nothing, House Republicans are eagerly showing voters that they are still at the mercy of one disgraced ex-president, even as he calls to defund federal law enforcement,” Tommy Garcia, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told Insider. “It’s dangerous and will likely cost them.”

Spokespeople for the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Prosecuting Trump polls well

Most Americans — 60%— approve of Trump’s indictment, according to a CNN poll, though about three-quarters said politics played some role in it. About 4 in 10 said they thought he acted illegally in making alleged hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election, while 33%said he acted unethically but not illegally.

MAGA booster Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado called that poll “as fake as Biden’s White House play set.” Boebert, who only narrowly won her 2022 election in a Trump 2020 district, called on her Twitter followers to be vocal about “this assault on our nation.” 

—Rep. Lauren Boebert (@RepBoebert) April 4, 2023

Boebert is on House Democrats’ list of 31 vulnerable Republicans and two competitive open seats that they are targeting to take back control of the House in 2024.

Senate Democrats face a tough election cycle with 20 Democrat-controlled seats and three independent seats up for election, but they’re expecting to see Trump playing a role in messy primaries on the Republican side.

In Pennsylvania, former gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a potential Senate candidate, called out the “weaponizing of our Justice system against the leading Republican candidate for president is unprecedented, disconcerting and dangerous.” He also retweeted a supporter who criticized a potential opponent, David McCormick, for being “completely silent” on Trump’s indictment and arrest and called him a “coward.”

“Donald Trump’s indictment is intensifying Senate Republicans’ nasty primary dynamics across the map — exacerbating their intra-party fighting and pushing GOP Senate candidates further away from the voters who will decide the general election,” Nora Keefe, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson, told Insider.

Biden hasn’t commented on Trump’s charges, and Democrats in Congress are treading carefully

Democrats shouldn’t get ahead of the judicial process, said Rodell Mollineau, a cofounder and partner at Rokk Solutions in Washington, DC. They should say Trump deserves his day in court and “be the party of the rule of law,” he said.

If it comes out that this was political overreach or a stretch, he said, “this is where I think it becomes more problematic for our side.”

Read the original article on Business Insider
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