(Bloomberg) — Former President Donald Trump is broadly holding on to his Republican base as he heads to court to face federal charges that are raising concern about the risk of violence incited by some of his most fervent supporters.
With Trump facing a 37-count indictment for mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House, about three quarters of likely Republican primary voters in a CBS News/YouGov poll said they view the accusations as politically motivated.
Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, dismissed the indictment during two speeches at GOP state conventions over the weekend and in a stream of social-media posts, while using it to raise funds for his presidential run. He told delegates in North Carolina that he was “indicted over nothing.”
The former president is scheduled to appear in US District Court in Miami on Tuesday in the case, which significantly expands his legal jeopardy and will test the loyalty of his die-hard base. “SEE YOU IN MIAMI ON TUESDAY!!!” he posted on his TruthSocial platform.
While Trump portrays the indictment as a plot by his political foes to knock him out of the 2024 race, some of his congressional supporters are using combative imagery in his defense.
“Buckle up,” Representative Clay Higgins, a Republican from Louisiana who’s a US Army veteran and member of the House Freedom Caucus, said on Twitter, calling the charges “a perimeter probe from the oppressors.” Faced with criticism of his comments, he followed up on Saturday: “We use the Constitution as our only weapon. Peace. Hold.”
Kari Lake, a prominent proxy for Trump in last year’s midterm election who lost a bid to be governor of Arizona, evoked US gun owners in a speech to a Georgia state GOP convention on Saturday that Trump attended.
“If you want to get to President Trump, you’re going to have to go through me and you’re going to have to go through 75 million Americans just like me. And I’m going to tell you: Most of us are card-carrying members of the NRA,” she said, drawing cheers and whoops from the audience.
Two senior Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, hinted at fears of violence on Friday, urging “Trump’s supporters and critics alike to let this case proceed peacefully in court.”
Trump’s legal entanglements haven’t deterred his base in the past. His fundraising and standing among primary voters surged in April when he was indicted in a Manhattan court for alleged hush money payments to adult-film actor Stormy Daniels.
Asked in the CBS poll whether the latest Trump indictment influenced their view of the former president, 61% of likely GOP primary voters said it wouldn’t, while 76% expressed concern that the charges are politically motivated.
While 48% of respondents in an ABC News/Ipsos poll said the Justice Department was right to charge Trump, 35% said he shouldn’t have been.
But the ABC poll found that more respondents view the US charges over the documents Trump took to his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida as serious. While 21% of Republicans in the poll said in April that the New York charges were serious, 38% said that last week’s federal indictment was.
Trump is the first former US president to face federal allegations of criminal conduct. The indictment, unsealed Friday in Miami, outlines seven charges including willful retention of national defense information under the Espionage Act, corruptly concealing documents, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements.
Critics and supporters went on US network shows Sunday, giving a sense of the political battle ahead.
William Barr, who served as US attorney general during the Trump administration, called the indictment “very, very damning” and said “this idea of presenting Trump as a victim here — a victim of a witch hunt — is ridiculous.”
“If even half of it is true, then he’s toast,” Barr said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, took up Trump’s argument that he’s being “prosecuted” by President Joe Biden. While “not justifying his behavior,” Graham told ABC’s “This Week” the indictment is “not going to change my support for Donald Trump.”
Representative Nancy Mace, a Republican who has sought out moderate stands on some issues, said the charges against Trump are “weaponizing the executive branch to take out your political enemies.”
Biden said last week he hadn’t discussed the case with Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“I have not spoken to him at all,” he told reporters on Friday. “I’m not going to speak to him. And I have no comment on what happened.”
“I think there’s no evidence that the federal Department of Justice has been weaponized,” Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware and Biden ally, said Sunday on “This Week.”
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