COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The candidates vying against former President Donald Trump for the White House in 2024 have found themselves battling for air time and media attention this week as the GOP front-runner’s indictment and arraignment dominate headlines.
The task of breaking through Trump’s general command of any news cycle was already daunting. But the media coverage surrounding Trump becoming the first former U.S. president charged with a crime made the challenge for Republican presidential hopefuls even greater.
Still, some tried. Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson used the historic moment to announce his own 2024 Republican presidential campaign. Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley made a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to highlight the need for immigration reform. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a trip to Ukraine to underline the importance of support for the U.S. ally.
Even President Joe Biden was largely drowned out by news of Trump’s indictment. As news coverage played on screens in the White House briefing room on Tuesday, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the case “is not something that is a focus for” Biden, who is expected to run for reelection in 2024.
Notably, most of the declared and potential 2024 GOP candidates did not take the opportunity to criticize Trump. In fact, most voiced support for the former president, characterizing the New York case as political persecution and saying the charges were bad for the country.
They also carried on with schedules that had been laid out before news outlets began reporting last Thursday that a Manhattan grand jury had indicted Trump.
Haley, who announced her campaign in February, met with farmers in a Texas border city on Monday, rode along with federal agents and held a news conference aimed at drawing attention to what Republicans have called a border crisis. She complained that the criminal case against Trump was diverting attention from issues like immigration.
“I’m sitting in Del Rio, Texas, where we have 4.8 million illegal immigrants crossing the border, and no one is talking about that,” Haley said on Fox News. “We’re dealing with a lot of political drama that’s unnecessary because you’ve got political vengeful people out there.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has not yet announced a 2024 campaign, kept up a brisk weekend travel schedule, taking his “Florida Blueprint” book tour to Pennsylvania and New York. Before a gathering of conservatives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, on Saturday DeSantis accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of weaponizing the law “for political purposes” in bringing a case against “a former president,” never mentioning Trump by name.
On Tuesday, he signed a bill into law that will allow Floridians to be able to carry concealed guns without a permit. Expanding gun rights has been a top priority for Republicans, who argue that law-abiding citizens have a right to carry guns and protect themselves.
Biotech investor and “anti-woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who launched his 2024 bid in February, launched a new podcast this week that he says will pull back ”the curtain on the entire campaign process.” Across the world, Pompeo made an unannounced trip to Kiev as he considers a presidential challenge to his former boss, Trump, and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Hutchinson, who has been critical of the former president, announced his run for president three days after news of Trump’s indictment broke. He argued that Trump should drop out and focus on his legal troubles, which he called “too much of a sideshow and a distraction.”
“I’m convinced that people want leaders that appeal to the best of America and not simply appeal to our worst instincts,” Hutchinson said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
A day later, Hutchinson said Trump’s indictment “is not a good thing for America” or for the GOP, noting the difficulties it poses for those seeking the nomination.
“As candidates that are running for president, we’ve got to navigate around this,” Hutchinson said Monday on MSNBC, urging a shift back toward issues confronting voters. “We’re going to have to compete with this, and it’s going to be challenging.”
With a hearing scheduled in the New York case for December, and a possible trial date in January — just as GOP primary votes begin to get underway in early states — the competition for campaign trail attention and donor dollars will continue alongside the former president’s legal cases. As of Tuesday night, Trump’s camp also claimed to raise more than $10 million dollars since his indictment.
Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.