In some ways, it was the turn of events Democratic voters had dreamed of and some of the party’s lawmakers had long demanded: After years of telling lies, shattering norms, inciting a riot at the Capitol and being impeached twice, Donald J. Trump on Thursday became the first former president to face criminal charges.
“We’ve been waiting for the dam to break for six years,” declared Carter Hudgins, 73, a retired professor from Charleston, S.C. “It should have happened a long time ago,” added his wife, Donna Hudgins, 71, a retired librarian.
But as the gravity of the moment sank in, Democratic voters, party officials and activists across the country absorbed the news of Mr. Trump’s extraordinary indictment with a more complex set of reactions. Their feelings ranged from jubilation and vindication to anxieties about the substance of the case, concerns that it could heighten Mr. Trump’s standing in his party and fears that in such a polarized environment, Republicans would struggle to muster basic respect for the rule of law as the facts unfolded.
“They are going to treat him as if he is Jesus Christ himself on a cross being persecuted,” said Representative Jasmine Crockett, a Texas Democrat from Dallas who worked as a criminal defense lawyer before she was elected to Congress last year. She blasted Republican arguments that the charges were politically motivated, saying, “We knew the type of person Trump was when he got elected the first time.”
Mr. Trump, who polls show is the leading Republican contender for the 2024 presidential nomination, was indicted on Thursday by a special grand jury in connection with his role in hush-money payments to a porn star. He was charged with more than two dozen counts, though the specifics are not yet known.
Who’s Running for President in 2024?
The race begins. Four years after a historically large number of candidates ran for president, the field for the 2024 campaign is starting out small and is likely to be headlined by the same two men who ran last time: President Biden and Donald Trump. Here’s who has entered the race so far, and who else might run:
Donald Trump. The former president is running to retake the office he lost in 2020. Though somewhat diminished in influence within the Republican Party — and facing several legal investigations — he retains a large and committed base of supporters, and he could be aided in the primary by multiple challengers splitting a limited anti-Trump vote.
Nikki Haley. The former governor of South Carolina and U.N. ambassador under Trump has presented herself as a member of “a new generation of leadership” and emphasized her life experience as a daughter of Indian immigrants. She was long seen as a rising G.O.P. star but her allure in the party has declined amid her on-again, off-again embrace of Trump.
Vivek Ramaswamy. The multimillionaire entrepreneur and author describes himself as “anti-woke” and is known in right-wing circles for opposing corporate efforts to advance political, social and environmental causes. He has never held elected office and does not have the name recognition of most other G.O.P. contenders.
President Biden. While Biden has not formally declared his candidacy for a second term, and there has been much hand-wringing among Democrats over whether he should seek re-election given his age, he is widely expected to run. If he does, Biden’s strategy is to frame the race as a contest between a seasoned leader and a conspiracy-minded opposition.
Marianne Williamson. The self-help author and former spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey is the first Democrat to formally enter the race. Kicking off her second presidential campaign, Williamson called Biden a “weak choice” and said the party shouldn’t fear a primary. Few in Democratic politics are taking her entry into the race seriously.
Others who are likely to run. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire are seen as weighing Republican bids for the White House.
It is one in a swirl of investigations Mr. Trump faces, on a range of explosive matters including his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office and whether he and his allies criminally interfered with the 2020 presidential election. He could face multiple other indictments.
But the one this week, centered on a tawdry episode that predates Mr. Trump’s time in the White House, struck some Democrats as a sharp contrast in substance with the other possible charges against the former president. Some felt conflicted between their view that no one is above the law, while wondering if this particular case will be worth the chaos for the country, especially when there may be other, bigger targets.
How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
“He isn’t above the law and anyone who suggests otherwise is un-American,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist Democratic organization. “The question is, is it worth it for this crime?”
In Littleton, N.H., Bernd Weber, 65, a dentist, said he was glad the grand jury had voted to indict Mr. Trump, but he worried about the former president’s ability to “spin it to make it look like a witch hunt, and there are people that are buying that.”
“There were any number of things that he could have been indicted for, and this was probably the least of them,” he said.
Other Democrats made clear that while they welcomed this indictment, they believed Mr. Trump should be held accountable for far more.
“No one is above the law,” Representative Barbara Lee, a liberal California lawmaker now running for Senate, wrote on Twitter. “Now do the rest of his crimes.”
Jon Hurdle contributed reporting from Littleton, N.H., and Melissa Delaney from Charleston, S.C.
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