PELLA, Iowa (AP) — Kathleen Evenhouse took a break from work in the corner of a small-town Iowa coffee shop to speak out against Donald Trump’s federal criminal indictment as blatantly political, the work of a US Department of Justice she says is awash in hypocrisy.
“I think we’re playing a game as a country,” the 72-year-old author from Pella, Iowa, said in an interview, expressing a widely shared sentiment among conservatives since the former president was indicted. “I think it undermines any sense of justice or any sense of – should I even bother to vote? Why should I listen to the news? Or why should I care?”
Evenhouse plans to vote in the first Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa next year. And yet, despite his anger at Trump, he will not win his support.
As Trump mounts a full-throated political defense against the legal challenges he faces, many early-state voters who will play an outsized role in deciding his electoral fate agree he is being treated unfairly. And while there is widespread distrust of the Justice Department and its prosecution of Trump for illegally storing classified documents and attempting to hide them from federal officials, some voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina say Trump has become too damaged to be nominated by his party for a third time.
“If you dig a hole and then have to get out, it’s going to be harder to do,” Evenhouse said. “And that’s where I think he is.”
To maintain that Trump was unfairly targeted while others found to have classified documents in their possession were treated differently requires dismissing key differences. Most notably, President Joe Biden, former Vice President Mike Pence and others cooperated with federal officials once documents were discovered in their possession. Trump, according to the 37-count indictment filed in federal court in Miami, ignored a federal subpoena and tried to mislead the Justice Department about what he had.
Still, resentment over his treatment has been fueled not only by Trump, but also by some conservative commentators, Republican members of Congress and GOP presidential candidates. Republicans who acknowledge the different circumstances have kept a lower profile.
While the double standard theory may have taken hold among GOP voters in early states, it’s not clear that such outrage will translate to ballots for Trump when voting for the president begins l ‘next year. It’s not so much that they’ve lost affection for Trump, some say, but that the turmoil has become too much of a burden for them to feel he can win.
“Right now I’m a Trump supporter,” said Karen Szelest, 76, of Indian Land, South Carolina. “However, I think they’re doing everything they can to make sure he doesn’t run for president of the United States. And I think maybe, for the good of the country, I could vote for somebody. another because he keeps chasing Trump, chasing Trump, chasing Trump.
Last week marked a shocking point in the early 2024 Republican presidential campaign when the Justice Department moved forward with the indictment, a first for a former president, let alone one charged with mismanagement of top secret information.
The unsealed indictment last week charged Trump with 37 counts – many under the Espionage Act – that accuse him of unlawfully storing classified documents at his Mar compound. -a-Lago in Florida and attempting to hide them from the Justice Department when demanded by investigators. back.
After pleading not guilty on Tuesday, Trump immediately resumed portraying himself as a victim of a politically motivated Justice Department aimed at preventing him from returning to the presidency he falsely claims was stolen from him in 2020.
However, some of the roughly 20 early-state voters polled this week spent most of the time speaking out against what they see as the Justice Department’s political agenda.
“It sickens me that there seem to be completely different criteria for a conservative, and in particular Donald Trump,” said Sue VanEe, a 68-year-old retired farmer who was waiting for a friend at the same cafe in the Iowa where Evenhouse wrote. “Completely different. Like the opposite.”
Biden said he did not communicate with either the Justice Department or the special prosecutor about any aspect of the investigation until the indictment was unsealed in Miami last Friday.
Skepticism was pervasive among Republicans interviewed by The Associated Press after Trump appeared in federal court in Miami and, through his attorneys, pleaded not guilty to all charges.
This reflects a lingering split between parties in how the case is viewed. An ABC News/Ipsos poll taken over the weekend found that Americans were more likely to say Trump should be indicted in the documents case than those who say he shouldn’t, 48% to 35%. Meanwhile, 47% of adults believe the accusations are politically motivated, compared to 37% who say they are not.
Most Republicans, however, said he should not be charged, and 80% believe the charges are politically motivated, according to the ABC poll.
As for the election, polls over the past few months have consistently found Trump as the top front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Trump’s challenge will be to maintain that advantage as the lawsuits against him continue. His hope that they will work in his favor is bolstered by Republican-leaning voters such as Indian Land’s Kelly White.
“It kind of makes me want to support him more,” she said.
Among the most common counter-arguments are those that both downplay the allegations Trump faces while underscoring what they see as a double standard — one that has excused, for example, the former Secretary of State. status of email server Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, kept in the basement of her private residence in New York City.
Accusations that she mishandled classified documents were not pursued by the Justice Department, in part because relevant Espionage Act cases brought over the past century involved alleged efforts to obstruct justice and willful mishandling of classified information. These factors were not at play in his case, investigators concluded.
At a farmer’s market in Bedford, New Hampshire, Tom Zapora was chatting with friends and munching on a ‘tornado potato’, a spiral-fried potato on a skewer, shortly after Trump appeared in court in Miami .
“There’s a lot going on there, and in my humble opinion, the current president, past presidents, have done as much if not more harm than him and they’ve kind of slipped under the radar,” Zapora said, a Republican who owns a moving company.
In the town of Pella, Iowa, a Dutch-themed community of about 10,000 people in densely Republican Marion County where Trump won two-thirds of the vote in 2020, the survey was hardly the the most pressing question on the minds of Republican voters attending a campaign event for Republican presidential candidate Tim Scott on Wednesday. During a question-and-answer session with the South Carolina senator, it took 40 minutes for the subject of the indictment to come up.
When he did, the interrogator ignored the charges against Trump, asking instead about the Justice Department’s fairness.
Standing in the audience of about 200 people, 58-year-old engineer Gina Singer, who has been a staunch Trump supporter, said the indictment had become a distraction from the serious business of choosing a presidential candidate who can beat Biden next year.
Although she is embarrassed by what she sees as a double standard, she is unsure whether Trump – in her rather unfair opinion – will be met with so much suspicion that she thinks a candidate from the next generation might be best for the party.
“I love everything he stands for and want his policies embraced,” Singer said. “But they will keep chasing him. So, I’m looking for someone else. Both things can be true.”
Writer Holly Ramer contributed from Bedford, New Hampshire; Erik Verduzco reported from Indian Land, South Carolina.