early and often

Ramaswamy Puts Rivals on Spot With Trump Pardon Pledge

Vivek Ramaswamy brandishes letter to rival campaigns demanding that their candidates agree to pardon Trump if elected.
Photo: Getty Images/Getty Images

Most of Donald Trump’s rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination have been reacting cagily to the 45th president’s federal criminal indictment over mishandling of classified documents and related offenses. They’ve blasted the Justice Department and the Biden administration for investigating and indicting Trump and/or for failing to investigate and indict Hunter or Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton. But to varying degrees, they’ve also couched their attacks on the indictments with “to be sure” provisos that the evidence about Trump’s conduct being revealed by federal prosecutors might not reflect favorably on the man’s character or future job performance. Nikki Haley was most explicit about having it both ways, as The Hill reported:

“This is what I’ll tell you, two things can be true at the same time: One, the DOJ and FBI have lost all credibility with the American people, and getting rid of just senior management isn’t going to be enough to fix this. This is going to take a complete overhaul, and we have to do that,” Haley said during an interview on Fox News on Monday. 

“Two, the second thing can also be true. If this indictment is true, if what it says is actually the case, President Trump was incredibly reckless with our national security,” she added. 

The exceptions to the pattern of equivocation have been Asa Hutchinson, who called on Trump to “end his campaign,” and Vivek Ramaswamy, who greeted news of the indictment with an immediate promise to pardon Trump of federal charges if he’s elected president.

Now Ramaswamy, who clearly knows how not only to grab but to maintain media attention, is upping the ante, sending a letter to his rivals (and even to Democratic candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Marianne Williamson) challenging them to join him in pledging to pardon Trump, according to The Hill:

“Each of our paths to electoral success would be easier if President Trump were eliminated from competition, but that is the wrong result for our country. The fact that we are running against Trump gives us credibility to denounce this politicized prosecution,” Ramaswamy wrote.

“I condemn these charges by the U.S. Department of Justice. Below, I have signed a commitment to pardon President Trump promptly on January 20, 2025, for the federal charges … I respectfully request that you join me in this commitment or else publicly explain why you will not,” he added in his letter.

In case anyone missed their letter in the mail, Ramaswamy stood in front of the federal courthouse in Miami where Trump will be arraigned and waved a copy of his challenge while wearing a ball cap emblazoned with the word “Truth.”

The pardon pledge makes it possible for Ramaswamy to have it both ways as well, insofar as presidential pardons can succor the admittedly guilty as well as the allegedly innocent. While he’s only addressing the federal charges for which Trump has already been indicted, his argument would presumably extend to such future federal charges as those likely to stem from the former president’s conduct in connection with the January 6 insurrection.

So without getting down in the weeds of assessing the legality or morality of the former president’s actions and intentions, Ramaswamy has endeared himself to Trump’s supporters with an assurance that their hero will not wind up in prison (or at least federal prison; presidents can’t pardon those convicted of state criminal offenses). And by discomfiting Trump’s other (and, let’s face it, more formidable) rivals, the 37-year-old anti-woke crusader has very likely won the enduring favor of the document-hoarder of Mar-a-Lago himself. While the appearances-obsessed Trump might demur from considering a 2024 ticket with the unwieldy moniker of Trump-Ramaswamy, there will probably be a nice appointment waiting for the budding politician if there is a second Trump administration.

Meanwhile, this gambit confronts the political world with an entirely new scenario. It’s generally believed that in 1976, Gerald Ford would have been reelected (making Jimmy Carter a footnote in political history rather than America’s most beloved ex-president) if he had not pardoned Richard Nixon. Could we see a presidential election in which a future pardon — or perhaps even self-pardon — is a dominant issue? It’s becoming entirely possible.

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Ramaswamy Puts Rivals on Spot With Trump Pardon Pledge