GOP Senate prospects in 2024 battlegrounds rush to defend Trump

The indictment of former President Donald Trump was only hours old and details of the charges were not fully known. Nevertheless, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice unfurled his unwavering defense.

“I am so sorrowed,” Justice wrote beneath a letterhead bearing his name and an image of the sun peeking out from behind his state’s iconic mountains, “at the witch hunt on President Trump and his entire family. I am so sorrowed at the lack of respect toward us — OUR America.”

A conservative Democrat-turned-Republican whom the former president affectionately calls “Big Jim,” Justice closed with a shout-out to Trump’s sons, his “huntin’ buddies, Don Jr. and Eric,” and a parting word of encouragement for their father: “Pour it on CHAMP!”

By morning, Justice’s reverential sorrow and outrage would be blasted out alongside other statements of support curated by Trump’s super PAC — a show of strength by allies of the first former U.S. president to face criminal charges.

The performative gesture from Justice, who is weighing a bid for a Senate seat Republicans dream of flipping in 2024, also underscores the influence Trump continues to hold over the party. A year after Trump inserted himself heavily into competitive Senate primaries — in several cases elevating problematic nominees who went on to lose in winnable states — potential candidates remain sensitive about alienating the former president and the voters who look to him for guidance on down-ballot races.

“Candidates and elected officials quickly jumping to defend President Trump against the politically motivated prosecution proves that President Trump is still the most powerful voice and endorsement in the country,” Emily Moreno Miller, executive chair of the Cuyahoga County Republican Party in Ohio and a former Trump campaign aide, told NBC News.

In Ohio, where Republican Senate hopefuls in 2022 engaged in constant one-upmanship to impress Trump, those sizing up a run against Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2024 quickly went on record with words of support.

Businessman and likely candidate Bernie Moreno — Miller’s father — tweeted that Trump’s indictment was “un-American & corrupt to the core.” Another possible GOP contender, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, advanced the inaccurate claim of “record-setting crime” in Manhattan while scolding District Attorney Alvin Bragg for pursuing the Trump case. 

“This is what happens when liberal activists take over the mechanisms we use to deliver justice,” tweeted LaRose, who once aligned himself with No Labels, a bipartisan organization known for embracing centrist politics and eschewing incendiary rhetoric. “America is fed up.”

Even Matt Dolan, the one GOP Senate hopeful in Ohio who has avoided cozying up to Trump, offered sympathetic words in a statement circulated by his campaign.

“There is little doubt that the actions taken today in New York are politically motivated,” said Dolan, a state senator. “Let there be no mistake, Democrats and the media want to make 2024 about nothing more than endless investigations and show trials. We need a Republican nominee that will defeat Sherrod Brown, not someone who willfully plays into his hands.”

In other Senate battlegrounds, Republicans presented varying levels of fealty and rage. 

Kari Lake — a possible Senate candidate in Arizona who refuses to acknowledge she lost her bid for governor last year — blasted out a statement accusing “the radical left” of launching “an attempt to destroy the 45th and likely 47th President … Donald J. Trump.” 

In Pennsylvania, Doug Mastriano, another Trump loyalist who lost a race for governor last year and has signaled interest in a 2024 Senate bid, tweeted that the “weaponizing of our Justice system against the leading Republican candidate for president is unprecedented, disconcerting and dangerous.” Mastriano later retweeted a supporter who criticized Dave McCormick, who lost the state’s GOP Senate primary last year but might run again, for staying silent on the issue.

Meanwhile, back in Justice’s West Virginia, the governor’s would-be chief competitor for the GOP Senate nomination, Rep. Alex Mooney, fired off his own statement of contempt, accusing Bragg of committing a “disgusting abuse of power.” 

“This is an attempt to appease a radical liberal base who personally hates President Donald Trump and his followers,” said Mooney, who unlike Justice has formally launched a Senate bid. “Only in a banana republic, does one political party arrest a candidate of the opposing party.”

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