Former President Donald J. Trump’s political operation is trying to use the news of his expected indictment by a Manhattan grand jury to turn the strident base of the Republican Party against his expected rival for the 2024 presidential nomination, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Immediately after the former president predicted on Saturday that his arrest was imminent, Mr. Trump’s operatives and friendly media outlets began publicly pressuring Mr. DeSantis to condemn the law enforcement officials in New York, portraying his silence on the matter as bordering on treason.
Jason Miller, the former president’s senior adviser, said on Twitter that the Trump team was taking note of Mr. DeSantis’s “radio silence” about the likely indictment.
And the Trump campaign’s “War Room” account posted on Sunday: “It has been over 24 hours and some people are still quiet. History will judge their silence.”
Mr. Trump’s most influential online allies disseminated the message fast and deep into right-wing online networks. Jack Posobiec, a far-right political activist with a large social-media following, was especially vocal in the pressure campaign.
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“I’m taking receipts on everyone,” Mr. Posobiec said in a brief interview. “For DeSantis to make that post yesterday, talking about the Hurricane Ian response and nothing from the personal account whatsoever about the arrest — it was a message that was received.”
An aide to Mr. DeSantis did not respond to a request for comment.
The effort previews how an indictment would jolt the still-nascent race for the Republican presidential nomination — and perhaps already has. Mr. Trump has used the possibility of charges, which would stem from an investigation into hush money Mr. Trump’s lawyer paid to a porn actress before he was elected in 2016, to cast himself as a victim of political persecution.
Although his rivals largely want to keep a distance, Mr. Trump’s team is bent on pushing them to choose sides, risking the wrath of Republicans loyal to the former president.
The former president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., amplified Mr. Posobiec’s message, writing: “Pay attention to which Republicans spoke out against this corrupt BS immediately and who sat on their hands and waited to see which way the wind was blowing.”
And the Gateway Pundit, a conspiratorial website with a large far-right following that often pushes narratives helpful to Mr. Trump, declared “The Silence is Deafening” in its headline about Mr. DeSantis’s avoidance of the matter.
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But even as many leading Republicans, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have rallied to Mr. Trump’s aid, the comments from the field of declared and potential G.O.P. presidential candidates has been muted.
Some — including Vivek Ramaswamy, and former Vice President Mike Pence — have decried the prospect of an indictment that relies on what would be a novel legal theory.
“I called on my fellow GOP candidates @RonDeSantisFL and @NikkiHaley to join me in condemning the potential Trump indictment because those of us *running against Trump* can most credibly call on the Manhattan DA to abandon this disastrously politicized prosecution,” Mr. Ramaswamy wrote in a message on Twitter.
Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor who entered the presidential race last month, and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina have not said a word.
But Mr. DeSantis’s silence is more freighted.
He is the governor of the state where Mr. Trump resides, which, should Mr. Trump be charged and refuse to surrender, could lead Mr. DeSantis to play a role in efforts by New York to extradite the former president.
As a purely political matter, Mr. DeSantis is Mr. Trump’s closest rival in every public opinion poll of Republicans about the 2024 presidential primary. He is expected to announce his intentions in May or June. But his hopes depend on appealing to a coalition of voters that includes both supporters and critics of Mr. Trump.
And Mr. Trump’s allies believe that a refusal by Mr. DeSantis to condemn an expected indictment — one that even some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest critics have questioned — could make Mr. DeSantis’s efforts to peel away Trump supporters more difficult.
Republicans who have seized on news of the anticipated indictment to demonstrate their allegiance to Mr. Trump include House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Few seized the opportunity faster than Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the third-ranking House Republican, who is widely seen as angling to be chosen as Mr. Trump’s running mate.
By midday on Saturday, Ms. Stefanik had issued a statement calling the expected indictment “unAmerican” and an example of the “Radical Left” reaching “a dangerous new low of Third World countries.”