Donald Trump’s leading Republican primary challengers said in recent days that if they are elected, they would pardon the former president should he be convicted of any of the 91 felony charges he’s currently facing.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley argued in separate campaign stops last week that extending clemency to Trump would be in the country’s best interest. Both had previously signaled they were leaning toward issuing a pardon, but their recent statements were the most definitive yet and left little room for doubt just weeks before the first nominating contests in January.
“I would pardon Trump if he is found guilty,” Haley told a crowd in Plymouth, N.H., on Thursday.
DeSantis, who has blamed Trump’s dominance in the polls in part on the string of criminal indictments, said Friday that he would pardon a convicted Trump because “we got to move on as a country.” Speaking with reporters after a campaign stop in Elkader, Iowa, DeSantis echoed Haley’s commitment, invoking the only previous time a U.S. president has received a pardon.
“It’s like Ford did to Nixon,” DeSantis said, referencing Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon. “Because you just, you know, the divisions are just not in the country’s interest.”
DeSantis and Haley, who are leading a winnowed field of GOP candidates opposing Trump, have for months walked a political tightrope, seeking to distinguish themselves from the former president while continuing to court his substantial bloc of supporters, whose votes will be key in deciding the Republican primary.
Aside from Trump, who has remained the clear leader in polling and campaign fundraising, three of the GOP’s top four candidates have now said unequivocally that they would pardon him, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy committing to the move in July.
Ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, meanwhile, has railed against these pledges, calling Trump’s actions a threat to democracy. A pardon for Trump, Christie said on Friday, would signal “two systems of justice: One for all of us and one for the most powerful.”
“If we allow that to happen as a country, we would be no better — no better — than a lot of these tinpot democracies around the world who treat the privileged different than they treat everyday citizens,” Christie said at an event in Seabrook, N.H.
Trump is facing 44 federal charges and 47 state charges across four separate criminal cases. The federal charges with the most severe penalties are those concerning allegations of obstruction of justice, which in typical cases can result in up to 20 years of imprisonment. Defendants, however, rarely receive maximum sentences and it is not clear whether Trump would be imprisoned if convicted.
Trump’s conduct, especially his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, is not only at the heart of criminal cases against him, it is central to officials’ decisions to keep him off presidential primary ballots in two states. In Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) barred Trump from the ballot late last week and has been subjected to violent threats in the days since. Over the weekend, her home was “swatted” — having a fake emergency call that drew heavily armed police to her house — Bellows shared in a social media post.
Despite the charges against him, Trump has retained a wide lead in polls ahead of the 2024 primary, which officially begins in less than a month with a caucus in Iowa and voting in New Hampshire. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average, Trump held a nearly 50-point lead over his two closest rivals, DeSantis and Haley, as of Sunday.
In New Hampshire, Trump’s lead was smaller but still commanding, with 46 percent of potential voters supporting him, 28 points more than the next closest candidate, according to a Washington Post-Monmouth University poll.
DeSantis had previously said it would not be “good for the country to have an almost 80-year-old former president go to prison.” Haley made the same case in New Hampshire last week, responding to a 9-year-old’s question about the former president.
“A leader needs to think about what’s in the best interest of the country,” Haley said. “What’s in the best interest of the country is not to have an 80-year-old man sitting in jail that continues to divide our country. What’s in the best interest of our country would be to pardon him so that we can move on as a country and no longer talk about him.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who is supporting Haley in the primary, defended her remarks in a Sunday interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Look, I understand Nikki’s argument,” Sununu said. “Everybody wants to move on from the drama and the chaos of Donald Trump. We are all so tired of it. We’re all so worn out of it as Americans.”
Hannah Knowles, Derek Hawkins and Nick Mourtoupalas contributed to this report.