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Trump spent the weekend fighting document charges in the court of public opinion

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Former President Trump appears in federal court in Miami tomorrow.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

He spent the weekend in the court of public opinion. He used presidential campaign events to reject a 37-count indictment related to his handling of classified documents. The indictment detailed nuclear and defense secrets that Trump took to his home and didn't return when asked. It included photos of documents stacked in a bathroom and on a ballroom stage. But in appealing to Republican voters, Trump called the indictment baseless.

INSKEEP: Other presidential candidates are appealing to those same Republican voters. So how do they talk of the indictment? NPR's Domenico Montanaro has been listening.

Hey there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what do you say when your presidential rival is indicted?

MONTANARO: Well, you'd think it'd be very different, actually, because for the most part, they're going after the Justice Department. Now, we've seen some criticism from Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, and former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson. Christie called the facts in the indictment devastating. Hutchinson says that Trump should drop out. But they're really in the minority in their party and at this point have pretty limited support instead. Here was Trump's chief rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, during a speech in North Carolina.

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RON DESANTIS: Our founding fathers would have absolutely predicted the weaponization that we've seen with these agencies, particularly Justice and FBI, because when you don't have constitutional accountability, human nature is such that they will abuse their power.

MONTANARO: And there he is essentially defending Trump, DeSantis arguing also that the DOJ's prosecutions aren't just about people at the top, but regular people, too, even though there's really no evidence of that. It's really just a fear tactic that hews closely to Trump's messaging.

INSKEEP: Presumably this plays on the feelings of Republican base voters.

MONTANARO: Definitely. You have a lot of anger in the base, and that's really been drummed up by Trump. You know, they believe him. Some supporters are even using violent rhetoric to defend him. And that's what the candidates are needing to navigate. The big question really is, though, if his rivals aren't willing to take on Trump directly on his mounting legal woes, how do they differentiate themselves? I mean, they're allowing Trump to continue to be the big fish in this GOP sea and drive the narrative with no repercussions politically.

INSKEEP: OK. So when Trump tries to drive the narrative, at least as seen on right-wing media and before crowds that come to see him, how does he defend himself?

MONTANARO: Well, he received extended applause, for example, and was greeted like a conquering hero during a speech that he made this weekend before the Georgia Republican Party. He blasted the Justice Department and made some pretty dubious claims along the way. Let's take a listen.

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DONALD TRUMP: The ridiculous and baseless indictment of me by the Biden administration's weaponized Department of Injustice will go down as among the most horrific abuses of power in the history of our country. Many people have said that. Democrats have even said it.

MONTANARO: I mean, no Democrats have said that. But that seems to matter very little. I mean, the speech was Trump as the candidate of I'm rubber your glue, say something about me, and I'll say it right back at you. You know, for example, he and many of his boosters are the ones who have spread mis- and disinformation. He lost the election and popular vote by millions of votes. And he didn't cooperate with the Justice Department to give classified documents back. And yet he accused Democrats of being the party of disinformation, claimed to have won the election by millions of votes and said it was actually President Biden who didn't cooperate with the DOJ, all of which is patently false. But this is what Trump has been able to do, convince his supporters he's actually been aggrieved even when he's done things that would have sunk nearly any other candidate.

INSKEEP: That's NPR senior political editor and correspondent, Domenico Montanaro.

Domenico, thanks. It's always a pleasure to hear your insights.

MONTANARO: Oh, you're so welcome. Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.