Nearly all of the Republicans on the debate stage Wednesday night said they’d support Trump if he was the GOP Presidential nominee in 2024, even if he’s convicted of a felony.
“Former President Trump has been indicted in four different states on 91 counts,” Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum and debate co-moderator said in Milwaukee. “He will be processed tomorrow in Georgia at the Fulton County Jail for charges relating to the 2020 election loss.”
Fox News anchor and co-moderator Bret Baier then picked up the thread, saying, “You all signed a pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee. If former President Trump is convicted in a court of law, would you still support him as your party’s choice? Please raise your hand if you would.”
Business entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy raised his hand almost instantaneously. Slowly, and with Gov. Ron DeSantis peering back and forth to see what other debaters were doing, five more joined in: South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Vice President Pence, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and DeSantis. The crowd cheered their actions.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson kept his hand down. Former Gov. Chris Christie at first looked like he might be raising his, but he instead pumped his fist in defiance.
“Just to be clear,” said Baier, “Governor Christie, you’re kind of late to the game there—”
“No, I’m doing this,” Christie explained, pumping his fist again. He then asserted, “Someone has to stop normalizing this conduct,” referring to Trump. Some in the audience cheered that response, but most booed.
“Booing is allowed, but it does not change the truth,” Christie told them.
Calling Trump the “best president of the 21st century,” Ramaswamy confronted Christie. “Your claim that Donald Trump is motivated by vengeance and grievance would be a lot more credible if your entire campaign were not based in vengeance and grievance against one man,” he stated—to more cheers from the crowd.
Hutchinson pointed to the possibility of Trump being disqualified to serve in office under the 14th Amendment, a theory that prominent legal scholars—both liberal and conservative—have linked to Trump’s actions surrounding the January 6, 2021 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, though it has not yet been tested in the courts.
“I’m not going to support somebody who’s been convicted of a serious felony, or who has been disqualified under our Constitution,” Hutchinson said.
The debate took place the night before Trump was set to surrender to authorities at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia related to the investigation into the attempt to overturn President Biden’s 2020 election victory in that state.
Trump is among 19 co-defendants who were indicted by a grand jury last week on racketeering charges related to attempts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election. Trump is also facing among 13 criminal counts solicitation of violation of oath by public officer, conspiracy to commit impersonating a public officer, conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree, conspiracy to commit false statements and writings, conspiracy to commit filing false documents, and conspiracy to commit forgery in the first degree.
Altogether amid four separate indictments—two federal indictments, a New York State indictment and the Georgia indictment—Trump is facing a total of 91 criminal charges.
The former President, who’s ahead some 40 points or more in recent polls, did not participate in Wednesday night’s first Republican debate, and has, in fact, suggested he might not take part in any of them during the primary season.
Instead, Trump pre-recorded an interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, which streamed on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, simultaneous to the RNC-hosted debate.
Along with speculating about whether convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein killed himself while in prison (Trump said he didn’t know), the former President continued to assert his unfounded claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Railing against Christie and his own former Attorney General, who has rejected any claims of 2020 election fraud, Trump claimed that Bill Barr only “pretended” to investigate the election results.
Trump filed 62 lawsuits asserting fraud following the 2020 election, and 61 of them failed immediately. A Pennsylvania judge ruled that voters had three days after the election to provide proper ID and “cure” their ballots.