Led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republicans reacted angrily to reports that a New York City grand jury has voted to indict former President Donspanld Trump, a historic spanction that could dramatically shake up an expected presidential primary matchup with DeSantis.
Trump’s indictment has been a source of speculation for weeks, but now appears imminent. Major media outlets reported Thursday that the grand jury issued an indictment that has yet to be unsealed in a case involving alleged hush money payments to an adult film star.
“This is Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history,” Trump said Thursday in response to the grand jury vote.
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The reaction was swift from Florida GOP leaders, who followed Trump’s lead in calling the indictment politically motivated.
“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” DeSantis tweeted Thursday. “It is un-American.”
DeSantis said the prosecutor in the Trump case is “stretching the law to target a political opponent.”
In a sign of how explosive the politics are around Trump’s indictment, DeSantis also reversed himself on a previous statement that indicated he would not get involved in the case to try and block Trump’s extradition from Florida.
“Florida will not assist in an extradition request given the questionable circumstances at issue with this Soros-backed Manhattan prosecutor and his political agenda,” DeSantis said, referring to liberal political activist George Soros.
DeSantis made his first comments about a possible Trump indictment last week, slamming the prosecutor but also indicating he wouldn’t help Trump fight extradition.
“We are not involved in this, won’t be involved in this,” DeSantis said.
The governor also made a point last week of highlighting the sordid hush money allegations against Trump, which was viewed as a jab at the former president.
The governor’s comments drew a strong reaction from Trump.
“Ron DeSanctimonious will probably find out about FALSE ACCUSATIONS & FAKE STORIES sometime in the future, as he gets older, wiser, and better known, when he’s unfairly and illegally attacked by a woman, even classmates that are ‘underage’ (or possibly a man!),” Trump wrote on his social media site. “I’m sure he will want to fight these misfits just like I do!”
Many in Trump’s orbit also attacked DeSantis over his previous comments on the indictment.
DeSantis’ unequivocal support for Trump Thursday seem to indicate he is conscious that the politics within the GOP surrounding the indictment favor Trump, and could earn him sympathy with base voters.
Many other Florida Republicans rallied to Trump’s side Thursday.
“Upon learning of the NY DA indictment, I am heartbroken by the damage this targeted prosecution will do to the integrity of our justice system,” tweeted Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. “It is a sad day in the story of the United States.”
Former Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters, a Sarasota state senator, echoed Trump in calling the indictment a “Witch-Hunt” and “election interference.”
“Radical left Democrats and the New York District Attorney’s office are politicizing our justice system to influence the 2024 Presidential race and is leading a blatant and unconstitutional attempt to interfere with a Federal election by attempting to prosecute President Trump,” Gruters said.
Anthony Sabatini, the chair of the Lake County GOP and a former state representative said: “We are a Third World Country now.”
The most immediate political impact from any indictment could be in the burgeoning GOP presidential primary, where Trump has been gaining ground in an expected matchup with DeSantis.
Many Republicans have come to Trump’s defense amid speculation about an indictment, improving his polling numbers. An actual indictment is likely to further increase sympathy for Trump among Republicans, said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.
“I think it probably helps Trump and Trump’s numbers in a lot of polls with Republicans will probably improve after this and it’s probably not great news for DeSantis,” Jewett said.
In Palm Beach County, where Trump lives, the reaction was particularly strong Thursday.
“This will surely only make us more united and stronger, and take back our country for the evil that persist,” said Annie Marie Delgado, a former Palm Beach Gardens councilwoman who serves as president of Conservative Watch USA.
Palm Beach County GOP Chair Michael Barnett predicted Trump will be cleared of wrongdoing and “emerge stronger than before.”
“This indictment I think helps President Trump,” said Palm Beach County GOP state committeeman Joe Budd. “I think a lot of people are going to view this indictment as a weaponization of government. We think it’s unfair treatment of him and that’s why it resonates with us.”