Former President Trump keeps digging a deeper hole for himself in just the first few weeks of his latest bid for the White House.
Trump, who last week drew condemnation from several high-profile conservatives for dining with a white nationalist, found himself in hot water again over the weekend when he claimed fresh talk of Twitter’s handling of a controversial story about Hunter Biden meant parts of the Constitution should be disregarded so he could return to the White House.
Some Republicans already viewed Trump skeptically after many of his hand-picked candidates in key Senate and gubernatorial races lost their elections last month. The latest controversies risk accelerating calls for the party to look elsewhere moving forward.
“If you’re one of these other people who’s interested [in] running this year, this is certainly an opportunity to create some contrast,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the second-ranking Senate Republican, said Monday, calling it “grist” for potential challengers.
An Economist-YouGov poll released last week showed Trump at 36 percent and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at 30 percent in a potential GOP primary field, a fairly narrow margin for a former president.
Trump is less than a month into his 2024 bid for the White House, a campaign launched with his grip on the GOP at an ebb because of underwhelming midterm results. His most notable moments since launching the campaign have underscored the risks many Republicans see in nominating him for a third time.
Last week, Trump was in hot water after he hosted the rapper Ye, formerly Kanye West, who has espoused antisemitic views. Ye and Trump were joined at their dinner at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort by Nick Fuentes, a known white nationalist and Holocaust denier.
This week, Trump is again at the center of controversy over his response to internal Twitter communications that showed company officials in 2020 discussing their decision to limit the spread of a New York Post story that contained allegations about President Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Trump has seized on the internal communications, which were shared with select individuals by Twitter owner Elon Musk, to claim the 2020 election was fraudulent and therefore should be redone or that he should be declared the winner.
“A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution,” Trump posted on Truth Social, suggesting there should either be a new election or he should be declared the winner retroactively.
On Monday, amid extensive coverage of Trump’s comments over the weekend, the former president claimed he did not want to “terminate” the Constitution, but he stood by his belief that there should be a do-over of the 2020 election or that he should be returned to the White House.
Many Republicans spoke out to condemn Trump’s meeting with Fuentes and Ye and their antisemitic views, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
But the response to Trump’s weekend comments about the Constitution has been comparatively quiet among Republicans.
Former Vice President Mike Pence said on a South Carolina radio show on Monday morning that “everyone that serves in public office, everyone that aspires to serve or serve again should make it clear that we will support and defend the Constitution of the United States,”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who defeated a Trump-backed challenger in November, said suggesting the Constitution should be terminated “is not only a betrayal of our Oath of Office, it’s an affront to our Republic.”
McCarthy, McConnell and other top Republicans have yet to weigh in, however.
Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) largely sidestepped answering whether he would still support Trump as the 2024 nominee after his suggestion about the Constitution.
“He says a lot of things, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ever going to happen,” Joyce said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
One former Trump White House official argued that the type of media furor over Trump’s rhetoric is only likely to harden the former president’s base supporters, who already believe the media will twist his words.
The official suggested Trump’s campaign ambitions may not suffer significantly given the fairly muted GOP response, and because it’s so early in the race with no other challengers officially declaring yet. Trump will remain the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination until someone can unseat him, the official argued.
The White House, meanwhile, has seized on Trump’s comments. Administration officials have said they do not plan to respond to every one of Trump’s attacks or controversies, but his meeting with a white nationalist and his calls for the “termination” of the Constitution marked instances where they were happy to go on offense.
Deputy press secretary Andrew Bates over the weekend condemned Trump’s rhetoric as “anathema to the soul of our nation” and said it should be “universally condemned.”
The White House on Monday sought to put pressure on congressional Republicans hoping to dodge the controversy.
“Every President and every member of Congress swears to ‘defend’ the Constitution of the United States,” Bates said in a statement. “Asking Members of Congress to reaffirm their oath of office and uphold the Constitution should not be a heavy lift. Congressional Republicans need to do that immediately, instead of repeatedly refusing to answer the most basic question.”