If Donald Trump runs for president a third time, Republicans on Capitol Hill will have to face all sorts of things they had hoped were gone forever — constantly having to answer for his tweets, worrying about being the target of his tweets and a return to the chaos parade that characterized his administration.
But there’s another possible twist that, so far at least, most Republicans in the Senate don’t even want to think about: Trump running and then getting indicted for his Jan. 6 conduct. That would give the nation a modern political first — a major party candidate with a realistic chance of winning the nomination while facing a felony criminal charge.
Republican senators say that so far, they have not given the idea much thought — at least not that they’re willing to admit — and declined to say if an indictment for breaking the law would be disqualifying for a person vying to be constitutionally charged with carrying out the nation’s laws.
“You’re talking about supposition. Wait till things happen and then we’ll talk, OK?” Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama told HuffPost this week.
“Wow, I don’t know. I don’t know what the rules are,” said Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio. “I just haven’t thought about it.”
The possibility is not as far-fetched as it might sound. Trump has seemingly all but announced plans to run again, hinting broadly his supporters will be happy with his decision.
At the same time, signs have emerged that the Department of Justice is further along than had been thought with its investigation of the Jan. 6 attempted insurrection and what role Trump played in it. On July 26, Washington Post reported that Trump was being investigated for possible crimes related to Jan. 6, and CNN reported recently that Trump’s lawyers were in contact with the Justice Department about the probe and had warned Trump he could be charged.
“You’re talking about supposition. Wait till things happen and then we’ll talk, OK?”
– Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
“Trump’s legal defense team has warned him that indictments are possible,” CNN said, citing unspecified sources.
As for Portman’s question whether catching an indictment would be against the rules, there is nothing in the Republican Party’s official rules that mentions indictments or charges, nor in the last party platform adopted in 2016.
That’s different from even the House Republicans’ rules, which explicitly say members of the party have to resign from their committee seats if indicted. In other words, an indictment could force a rank-and-file House Republican to resign from the third-tier House Budget Committee but have no formal impact on who can run for the party’s presidential nomination.
Of GOP senators who had an opinion on what should happen if Trump runs as an indicted candidate, the feelings ranged the full spectrum.
Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Campaign charged with winning back the chamber for the GOP, said the call whether to run was Trump’s.
“This is a choice that President Trump gets to make and that the voters get to decide,” he told HuffPost.
Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a 2016 candidate for president, said an indictment would just be akin to criminalizing political differences.
“I think prosecuting someone for their political beliefs or stances is not appropriate in a democracy,” he said. “Whether or not you think the governor should approve the electors or the Secretary of State or the state legislature sounds like a political point of view.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican in a battle for reelection against a Trump-endorsed opponent, said talk of an indicted Trump running was “talking about scenarios way far down the road.”
But asked if she thought an indictment would be disqualifying, Murkowski said, “Sure.”
– Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), on whether she thought an indictment would disqualify Trump from running for president again
Florida’s Marco Rubio, another GOP presidential candidate Trump defeated in 2016, declined to comment, saying “I’m not doing any of that speculative stuff.”
GOP leaders were also quiet on the question. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) office declined to comment, though McConnell has hinted in the past Trump may be a nonissue for the GOP because it will have a “crowded field” of potential 2024 nominees.
A request for comment with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office was not returned.
One former Democratic presidential candidate did have an opinion, though. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), one of the last of the 2020 Democratic candidates to fall before President Joe Biden won the party’s nomination, said it shouldn’t take a formal charge to bar Trump.
“Trump should be disqualified by the American voters who, by this point, should be appalled by all that has come out,” she said.
“If the Republicans want to embrace a person under indictment for treasonous acts against the United States of America, then no one can stop them,” Warren added.
“The Republicans have gone so far out that the American people — and that includes Democrats, Republicans and independents — have said, ‘No, we’re not going there with you.’”