GOP Lawmakers Are All-In on Trump—a Conviction Be Damned

Illustratioin by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustratioin by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

Former President Donald Trump has been indicted four times for 91 felonies, and he is scheduled to begin his first criminal trial on Monday—a trial in which he’s likely to be convicted.

But for GOP lawmakers in Congress, the fact that their soon-to-be presidential nominee may soon be a convicted felon is no cause for concern. If anything, these Republicans told The Daily Beast, their only concern is that a Trump conviction would be a signal of a corrupt justice system.

“You get an alleged conviction on BS charges in front of a judge that is not impartial and that’s supposed to sway my mind?” Trump acolyte Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) told The Daily Beast. “Man, I’m bigger than that. I don’t worry about that kind of stupid stuff.”

Another Trump superfan, Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC), also shrugged off any potential conviction.

“I don’t think that it matters to the American people, because they don’t believe it to be a fair trial,” Budd said. “They believe that all these trials are completely unfair against him to drain him of his resources and it’s completely done the opposite thing, it’s rallied the American people behind him.”

Trump’s Manhattan Trial Is About a Lot More Than Hush Money

Yet another Trump disciple, Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), completely blamed the judicial system for Trump’s problems, no matter that the former president hardly debates that his company dramatically inflated real estate valuations. (Trump’s standard defense is that there was “no victim” for these alleged crimes.)

“I’m very uncomfortable with the weaponized justice system,” Vance said. “I couldn’t care less what a weaponized justice system says. Ultimately, it’s not going to change my vote. I don’t think it’ll change most Americans’ votes.”

Time and again last week, over the course of interviews with more than 20 Republican lawmakers, GOP lawmakers across the ideological spectrum were clear they were supporting Trump even if he is a convicted felon—while also refusing to wrestle with the substance of the charges against Trump.

“I’m going to be standing by Donald Trump,” vulnerable freshman Rep. John Duarte (R-CA) told The Daily Beast, adding that the charges “look pretty frivolous to me.”

Another GOP moderate, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who ascended to the top of the powerful Appropriations Committee last week, told The Daily Beast that he will continue to support Trump even if he’s convicted.

“First of all, I don't think that’s going to happen,” Cole said. “But second, I think some of these prosecutions are simply ridiculous on their face, and some of them are clearly harassment.”

There were clear trends as GOP members shrugged off concerns that their party’s standard-bearer was likely to be a convicted felon by the time he receives the Republican nomination in July. They said they’d rather vote for a 77-year-old convicted Trump than an 81-year-old Joe Biden. They accused prosecutors of having explicitly partisan motives. They even said Biden should be the one on trial despite the fact he has not been indicted for any crimes.

Only one Republican actually expressed concern that the Republican Party’s presidential nominee was likely to be a convicted felon, and it was a familiar Trump foe: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).

Mitt Romney: I’d Rather Vote Democrat Than for Trump or Vivek

Romney—who refuses to endorse Trump, but has been critical of the Manhattan indictment—described the implications of having a convicted president bluntly. “Not good,” he said.

But Romney warned that he doesn’t expect convictions will “make any difference at all” to Trump voters.

“He will once again say, ‘This is all political,’” Romney predicted. “And they will dutifully follow.”

The trial that begins on Monday is just one of the former president’s legal challenges. While Trump’s lawyers may be able to delay the other trials past Election Day—they’ve repeatedly tried to stall the prosecutions, with a fair amount of success—the other cases are just as challenging for him and his legal team.

The cases involve the Justice Department’s two indictments for mishandling classified documents and his effort to remain in power on Jan. 6, as well as the Georgia indictment concerning Trump interfering with the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s lawyers are contesting the federal cases at the Supreme Court, where they are arguing that Trump had presidential “immunity” while in office.

Republican attitudes fell along a spectrum of enthusiasm for a convicted Trump. Many GOP lawmakers were eager to express their unwavering support for the former president—a conviction be damned.

“I feel comfortable with anybody that can vote Biden out of office,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)—at 90-years old, the oldest lawmaker in Congress—told The Daily Beast.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL)—best known these days on Capitol Hill for holding up hundreds of military promotions for months out of pure stubbornness—suggested that, if Trump is convicted, other presidents should be incarcerated as well.

“That doesn’t concern me,” Tuberville said of a Trump conviction. “I’d be shocked if they’re able to do any kind of conviction on a former president, but you know, they should line a bunch of the presidents up right behind him and start putting them in jail if they try to convict him.”

Influential Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC)—who was a Gov. Nikki Haley supporter until about a month ago—is now resolute in his support for Trump. He called Trump “the most mistreated candidate in the history known to man.”

“I don’t know how he’s holding up, but he’s gonna win this fight,” Norman told The Daily Beast. “Am I concerned? No. He’s our nominee. He’s gonna win the presidency and we’re excited about it.”

Former President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) hold a press conference at Mar-a-Lago

Former President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) hold a press conference at Mar-a-Lago.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trump’s foot soldiers have been laying the groundwork to discredit any potential Trump conviction for months, planting seeds of doubt even before New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg Jr. first indicted Trump last March. They’ve written off the four cases as “politically motivated,” proof the U.S. has become a “banana republic.” They’ve attacked the lead prosecutors relentlessly, pouncing on opportunities to discredit and malign them.

Although public displays of Trump devotion have long been the entry fee to do business in the GOP, it seems that the Republican loyalty to the former president will persist even if he’s put behind bars.

In fact, several Republicans emphasized that they see Trump’s trials as an animating issue that will invigorate MAGA Republicans to turn out for Trump come November. The GOP has embraced Trump’s mugshot, and it now appears regularly on T-shirts and stickers with the phrase “Never Surrender!” (Even though Trump was literally surrendering when the mugshot was taken.)

Nevertheless, the indictments supercharged Trump’s fundraising, which surged to $53 million during the first half of 2023.

A March poll from Politico and Ipsos found that only two in five Americans say a Trump conviction would sway their support for the former president. One in three Republicans reported that a conviction in the New York case would make them more likely to support Trump, while a third of independents said they would be less likely to support him.

Other GOP lawmakers clearly conveyed their backing of Trump and outrage at the justice system, but took a more measured tone when pressed about how a conviction could impact their thinking.

Confronted with the idea of his party’s nominee being a potentially convicted felon, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)—the No. 3 Senate Republican and one of the most loyal Trump allies in the chamber—might as well have been introducing the former president at a rally.

“I support President Trump. I’ve endorsed President Trump,” he said. “I think he’s much better than the person in the White House right now who’s clearly not up to the job, and I’m going to continue to work for the election of Donald Trump for president.”

Republicans Shrug Off the ‘Massive Problem’ Awaiting Trump

Asked if his position would change if Trump is convicted on any count, Barrasso just repeated himself.

“I’ve endorsed President Trump. I support President Trump,” he reiterated. “I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure that he is elected and that Joe Biden is defeated.”

Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN)—the retiring older brother for former Vice President Mike Pence—called any questions about a Trump conviction “hypothetical.” The younger Pence has gone scorched Earth with Trump, refusing to endorse him and recently slamming his abortion platform. The former vice president has condemned Trump for recklessly endangering his family.

His brother, not so much.

“Will I support the Republican nominee? The answer is absolutely, yes,” Greg Pence told The Daily Beast, ignoring the fact that that nominee has celebrated Jan. 6 rioters who called to “hang Mike Pence” for certifying the election results as “patriots.”

In the case of a Trump conviction, however, Greg Pence left some wiggle room. “I don’t know. That’s a really good question. But, you know, I had a different horse in the race,” he said, referring to his brother.

A few Republicans tried to flip the script, arguing that The Daily Beast was asking all the wrong questions. Really, Democrats, they said, should be answering for Biden’s wrongdoings.

Biden—who has never been criminally indicted—was compliant with a now closed Justice Department probe into his handling of classified documents. The House Oversight Committee is leading an impeachment inquiry into Biden’s connection to his son Hunter’s business dealings, but the investigation has come up short, becoming the laughingstock of Capitol Hill for turning up zero impeachable evidence.

And yet, that hasn’t stopped Republicans from pointing fingers.

Rep. Rich McCormick (R-GA) told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that he would never support Biden because “he’s the real criminal here.”

After the brief exchange with McCormick outside the Capitol ended, and both parties walked away, McCormick circled back to this reporter to make another point.

“What if Biden is convicted?” McCormick asked. “Because he's up for conviction too, right? So he and Hunter and their little scheme of peddling, and the things he said on TV publicly, ‘If you don’t fire this guy, I'm not giving you money.’ That's quid pro quo by definition.”

Reminded that Biden has not been criminally indicted, McCormick continued.

“But what if he is? What if he goes to jail?” he asked. “Have you asked the Democrats the same question because we’re trying to bring him up on all kinds of charges as well as Hunter for peddling his father’s influence.”

The Daily Beast pointed out that Hunter Biden is not running for president. McCormick made a final attempt to deflect from Trump’s four criminal indictments: “Would the Democrats support Biden if he’s put in jail?”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.