Following the E. Jean Carroll verdict, the Republican response has been notably subdued, with minimal acknowledgment or discussion within the party.
The story of former President Donald Trump being ordered to pay $83.3 million in damages in a defamation case against him did not dominate headlines on conservative outlets like Fox News, The Daily Caller, or Newsmax. Instead, they focused on topics such as the immigration crisis, Hunter Biden, and unrelated news like a bathroom bill in Utah.
Jason Roe, the former executive director of the state Republican Party in Michigan, noted the party’s collective attempt to downplay or ignore the verdict, stating, “Everyone is just trying to pretend it didn’t happen.”
This departure from the usual Republican strategy of framing court developments as political persecution indicates a level of discomfort and uncertainty about the potential political implications of the ruling.
The lack of widespread discussion within the Republican Party about the substantial damages awarded in the Carroll case hints at a deeper concern that the verdict could be off-putting to independent or conservative-leaning women in suburban areas.
Republican strategist Alice Stewart expressed this concern, stating, “It will hurt with independent voters in November.”
While some outspoken Trump supporters, like Senate candidate Kari Lake and Rep. Elise Stefanik, vehemently criticized the verdict, prominent figures such as Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel and Nikki Haley chose to focus on other issues, like border security and party priorities.
Even Trump’s last remaining serious challenger, Haley, criticized Trump not for the verdict itself but for being distracted from important matters.
Former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, a Trump critic, highlighted that this case differs from others that triggered strong Republican reactions because it revolves around Trump’s personal behavior, specifically his response to a rape accusation.
Walsh noted that Republicans tend to be less concerned when the case does not fit into their narrative of Democrats using the justice system against Trump’s political aspirations.
The potential fallout from the Carroll case remains uncertain, as it is challenging to predict voters’ reactions. Trump has weathered various controversies, from the “Access Hollywood” tape to hush money allegations, and emerged as the likely GOP presidential nominee.
The success of Trump with female Republicans, a significant storyline in the primary, has not been significantly impacted by previous controversies.
Republican strategist Bob Heckman described the Republican response to the Carroll verdict as a “big yawn,” attributing it to factors like the timing of the verdict on a Friday and the ongoing focus on border talks in Washington.
Additionally, with only Trump and Haley remaining, the narrowed presidential primary field reduces the pressure on Trump’s former competitors to express immediate outrage.
Some Republican insiders, however, caution against remaining silent on the issue, emphasizing potential costs for those inclined to criticize Trump.
A Republican lawyer and strategist suggested that showing restraint might be wise to avoid legal consequences, stating, “Who else wants to pick up a defamation charge?”
Jennifer Horn, a former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party, expressed disappointment in the silence of Republican public officials, calling it an acquiescence to nominating someone identified as a sexual abuser. She criticized the Republican Party for dismissing and demeaning issues important to women throughout its history.