© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Susan Collins
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks to reporters in the Capitol, J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Even the Most Trump-Skeptical Republicans Got On Board With Trump After the Verdict

Trump’s most hardened critics in Congress didn’t dare cross him this time.

After a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty on 34 felony counts, the overwhelming majority of Republicans towed the party line and criticized the outcome as “disgusting and un-American,” “a political witch hunt” and “a sham trial.”

That Republicans would support Trump and denounce the trial wasn’t surprising. What was surprising, however, was the consensus from the GOP — even from the Republican lawmakers who have previously voted to impeach Trump — that the verdict was unjust.

Trump is, by no means, a universally beloved figure, even among Republicans. But even among the GOP lawmakers who have previously spoken out against Trump, hardly anyone wants to criticize the former president now.

For Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — the most moderate Republican in the Senate, according to the Lugar Center Bipartisan Index — it wasn’t Trump who needed to learn his lesson; it was the judicial system.

“It is fundamental to our American system of justice that the government prosecutes cases because of alleged criminal conduct regardless of who the defendant happens to be. In this case the opposite has happened,” Collins said in a text to The Hill.

“The district attorney, who campaigned on a promise to prosecute Donald Trump, brought these charges precisely because of who the defendant was rather than because of any specified criminal conduct,” Collins claimed incorrectly. (Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg Jr. may have mentioned his legal experiences with the Trump family, but he hardly campaigned on prosecuting the former president, and Bragg actually resisted early attempts to indict Trump.)

For Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, the jury just got it wrong.

“Given the way the defense was conducted, the trial was managed, the jury was instructed, and the DA’s desire to fulfill a campaign promise, the guilty verdict was not surprising,” he said in a statement. “The jury was led to believe that two misdemeanors make a felony and that a state court could enforce federal law. None of this seems right. The rule of law should apply equally to both parties. I disagree with the verdict.”

Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who stopped short of criticizing the verdict, still found a way to talk about how the spectacle had “given the Biden campaign a free pass as the focus has shifted from Biden’s indefensible record and the damage his policies have done to Alaska and our nation’s economy, to Trump’s legal drama.”

But Murkowski perhaps came the closest of any Republican in Congress toward criticizing Trump. “A Republican nominee without this baggage would have a clear path to victory,” she said.

There were seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump after his impeachment — and three of them are now gone. The only other senator still in office who voted to convict is Mitt Romney, and he opted to keep quiet.

It’s a similar story in the House, where there were 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. Only two of those members — Dan Newhouse of Washington and David Valadao of California — are still in the House. Neither of them issued a statement at all in the day following the verdict.

But there are, of course, other Trump-skeptical Republicans. And they weren’t speaking out against the president, who’s now a convicted felon, either.

Moderates like Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska tweeted that it was a “sad day for our country.”

“This is an unprecedented prosecution for a crime very seldom charged, led by a prosecutor who campaigned on going after Trump,” he said.

Other vulnerable Republicans, like Jen Kiggans of Virginia and Juan Ciscomani of Arizona, also hewed closely to the GOP talking points. Kiggans said “the verdict wasn’t about justice but revenge,” and Ciscomani said “his constituents were losing trust in the judicial system.”

New York has become a key battleground for control of the House in the next Congress, and the vulnerable Republicans there all stuck to the familiar GOP narrative that this was a sham trial.

Rep. Marc Molinaro called the verdict “disgraceful, unprecedented, and bad for democracy.” Rep. Anthony D’Esposito called it a “shameful witch hunt.” Rep. Mike Lawler said that Democrats’ actions “should frighten every New Yorker.” Rep. Andrew Garbarino said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg Jr. “used every tool at his disposal to prosecute a political opponent in the middle of the presidential election.” And Rep. Nick LaLota called for Gov. Kathy Hochul to immediately pardon Trump to prevent America from becoming “a banana republic.”


Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.


No GOP member dared to say Trump deserved this conviction, that this was the rule of law working or that Trump should step aside from the Republican nomination now that he’s a convicted felon facing jail time.

Some Republicans outside of Congress did have stern words.

Cara Mund, a Republican candidate for Congress in North Dakota, tweeted that she was proud to be the only GOP candidate in the state “not worshiping a convicted felon during this election.” And former National Security Advisor John Bolton told CNN that even though he was “skeptical of the case,” a jury of 12 citizens found the evidence compelling beyond a reasonable doubt.

“We’ve never nominated a convicted felon for president. And we shouldn’t start now,” he said.

But it was perhaps Maryland Senate candidate — and former GOP governor — Larry Hogan who seemed to set off Trumpworld the most. Before the guilty verdict came down, Hogan said, “Regardless of the result, I urge all Americans to respect the verdict and the legal process.”

“At this dangerously divided moment in our history, all leaders — regardless of party — must not pour fuel on the fire with more toxic partisanship,” he said. “We must reaffirm what has made this nation great: the rule of law.”

For those general platitudes, Trump campaign senior adviser Chris LaCivita tweeted at Hogan that “You just ended your campaign.”

If that was a warning shot, most Republicans seemed to get the message.

One of the only Republicans who dared to speak out — former GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger — said watching his party turn against the jury, against the judge and against the judicial system was a disheartening experience. “This party has lost all ability to think for itself,” he said on CNN.

“You can sure tell the GOP is the party of independent thinkers as they parrot each others talking points in desperation to not be seen as insufficiently loyal,” he later tweeted.

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.