GOP Candidates Cornered on Jan. 6 Debate Question While Trump Discussed Future Political Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, Aug. 23, the eight qualifying Republican presidential candidates gathered on the debate stage in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

While voting rights and the legitimacy of the 2020 election were topics the candidates were able to avoid altogether, the moderators managed to get the slate of Republicans to answer whether they would pardon former President Donald Trump should he be convicted on any of his 91 criminal charges. 

Six raised their hands in the affirmative, while only former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) declined to do so. In defending his position, Hutchinson said he was “not going to support somebody who has been convicted of a serious felony or who has been disqualified under our constitution.” On the contrary, Vivek Ramaswamy claimed that Trump’s behavior was, in fact, not criminal and that the indictments were politicized. 

The candidates were also asked whether they felt former Vice President Mike Pence made the right decision by accepting the electoral votes presented to him on Jan. 6, 2021, and while none said Pence was wrong in his action, few were willing to go further than that. After initially waffling on his answer by saying the 2024 election is not about Jan. 6, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said, “Mike did his duty.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) had a similar response, arguing that the bigger question was “about the weaponization of the Department of Justice.”  

Christie was more aggressive, pointing to the fact  that “Donald Trump said it is okay to suspend the constitution,” while Pence, instead, “stood for the constitution.” 

Meanwhile, Trump and recently fired Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson spoke in a pre-taped interview aired on the social media site formerly known as Twitter. And though the eight candidates in Milwaukee were forced to reckon with the violent insurrection on Jan 6., Trump and Carlson contemplated the possibility of future conflict. 

Carlson suggested twice that Democrats may resort to killing Trump as the “indictment is not working,” referring to the phenomena of Trump’s poll numbers ticking up each time he is indicted. Toward the end of the interview, Carlson explicitly asked, “If you chart it out, there’s an escalation. So what’s next after trying to put you in prison for the rest of your life? That’s not working. So, like, don’t they have to kill you now?” Trump wasn’t too concerned but did not deny it wasn’t a possibility. 

The line of questioning continued. In the final two questions of the 46-minute interview, Carlson posed to Trump, “Do you think we are moving towards civil war?” In response, Trump asserted that he did in fact ask his people to “go peacefully and patriotically” from the rally to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In reference to the crowd, Trump continued with: “I have never seen such spirit, such passion, and such love. And I’ve also never seen simultaneously from the same people, such hatred of what they’ve done to our country.”

For a man facing election subversion charges by the dozen and more than two years of allegations that his words fomented violence on Jan. 6, Trump has clearly not learned to strongly dissuade his supporters against political violence. And the eight candidates running against him did little to inspire confidence in their scattered and half-hearted denunciations.

Watch the Trump and Carlson interview here. 

Read our Twitter thread on the debate here. 

Learn more about the voting rights records of all the candidates here.