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Politics chat: Trump's indictment may not affect his popularity with supporters

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Former President Trump made his first public appearances yesterday after being indicted on 37 federal charges. In front of a crowd at the Georgia Republican Party convention, he made light of his legal challenges...

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DONALD TRUMP: Every time I fly over a blue state, I get a subpoena.

RASCOE: ...And then went on the attack.

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TRUMP: The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration's weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country.

RASCOE: As for President Biden, he was catching a helicopter Friday on his way to North Carolina to tout a program to support military spouses. And here's what he had to say about the indictment.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I have no comment on that.

RASCOE: A little difficult to hear there, but he said I have no comment on that. Joining us now for some analysis - and do we ever need that - is NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So former President Trump speaking before two Republican state party conventions yesterday, Georgia and North Carolina - what did we learn from him?

KHALID: Well, it was indeed his first public comments. And, you know, I think what we heard there from the former president was a sense of defiance. You know, it's clear that Trump sees his campaign as part of his legal defense. It gives him this megaphone. He claimed that Joe Biden was trying to jail a leading political opponent, and he took aim at the Justice Department. He actually took aim specifically at the man, Jack Smith, who is the special counsel behind the indictment. Trump described him as, quote, "deranged," said he was openly a Trump hater. And Ayesha, you know, his base of supporters are loyal to him. And I don't think we have seen any evidence thus far over the years that Trump has been in political circles that they have ever questioned their devotion to him. They mistrust institutions. And I think that this indictment feeds into that narrative. You know, one last thing I will say here is that Trump gave an interview to Politico yesterday, and he vowed to stay in this campaign. He vowed to stay in this race even if he is convicted.

RASCOE: So what about his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination? What are they saying?

KHALID: I would say I think in many ways they are politically trapped. You know, most of them are trying to win over Trump's base voters, but they are not Donald Trump. And the difficulty that they've always had is trying to explain to Trump loyalists in a GOP primary, you know, why they should vote for the copy when they can have the original right there in Mr. Donald Trump. Most of them, I will say, have not been willing to very openly denounce Trump, even when I will say in this case, you know, some of the allegations involve national security. We've really only seen two candidates who are willing to step out and criticize him, and that is the former governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, and the former governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. But it is not a popular opinion. You know, I think one of the things that we can look at is just the fact of how Ron DeSantis, who is the Florida governor, has been responding to all of this. He said that - or he suggested, I should say, that Trump should not have been indicted since Hillary Clinton never faced charges for using a private email server when she was secretary of state.

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RON DESANTIS: Is there a different standard for a Democrat secretary of state versus a former Republican president? I think there needs to be one standard of justice in this country.

KHALID: And I should note there that the Florida governor did not mention Trump by name at all there in his speech.

RASCOE: So what about President Biden? Like, how much of a challenge is this? He's running for reelection while many Republicans are saying that his administration is weaponizing the DOJ against Trump.

KHALID: Yeah, you know, Biden has tried to distance himself from the Justice Department's investigation. I will say he, his White House, has long said that it believes in the independence of the judiciary, and they have been trying to restore trust in some of these institutions that I think people had developed mistrust in over the years. And, you know, the White House says that it was not given advance notice of this indictment. Really, I think we'll have to see what the American public thinks. And that comes down to how people cast their votes. And I think ultimately, a lot of this also depends on what transpires on Tuesday, when Trump is expected in court in Miami and then ultimately whether or not Trump is convicted.

RASCOE: NPR's Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you so much.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
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