WASHINGTON — Jason Osborne, the New Hampshire House majority leader, says he was disgusted by what he heard regarding the sexual abuse and defamation trial against former President Donald Trump in Manhattan.
"It's pretty appalling to me that something like that can happen to a human being in the free world," he said in a telephone interview with NBC News.
Osborne, who has endorsed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 Republican presidential primary, wasn't taking a political shot at Trump, the front-runner for the party's nod. Nor was he showing sympathy for E. Jean Carroll, the writer whom a civil-court jury awarded $5 million Tuesday after finding that Trump was liable for sexually abusing her and damaging her reputation.
Instead, Osborne expressed frustration with the "injustice" that "someone can bring a 30-year-old case to court and win with no evidence, no nothing."
Jury finds Trump liable in E. Jean Carroll sex abuse caseMay 10, 202302:15
It may be that the verdict ends up harming Trump as he seeks a third consecutive Republican nomination, either because voters want to distance themselves from his behavior or simply because they think he is making it harder for their party to win in November 2024. And of course, the news could be far more devastating in a general election with more independents and moderates who aren't as devoted to Trump.
But for the primary, many of his allies and adversaries in the party say the smart money is on Trump escaping unharmed within the GOP or even getting a boost.
"If you're a betting man, I would look at history as an indicator," said Sean Spicer, who served as Trump's first White House press secretary in 2017. "I haven’t seen anything in the last eight years, any issue or accusation, have a significant impact on President Trump’s standing."
Trump's status as the party front-runner for 2024 was cemented after he was indicted in a separate criminal case in Manhattan earlier this year. His arrest and arraignment acted as a rally-around-the-flag moment for most Republicans, and his chief rival, DeSantis, appeared to suffer for side-swiping Trump over allegations that he paid hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and tried to cover it up to protect his chances in the 2016 election.
That's not to say there weren't Republicans criticizing Trump after the jury made its decision Tuesday. Several GOP senators said they saw him as less electable as a result.
John Bolton, who served as Trump's national security adviser and has been mentioned as a potential candidate, called for Trump to drop out of the race.
"Donald Trump is unfit to be President for many reasons," Bolton said Tuesday in a message to NBC News. "Today’s verdict adds one more. For the good of the country, Republicans must demand that Trump end his presidential campaign immediately and permanently."
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, one of the handful of hopefuls who have already launched their bids, chastised Trump for "indefensible behavior" and said the jury's conclusion should be "treated with seriousness."
But the political question for Trump and his rivals is more about whether the verdict alienates his supporters, has no effect or draws more Republicans to stand with him. Most voters, fans and foes alike, have long since passed judgment on his personal conduct.
One aide to a 2024 Republican hopeful minced no words in predicting the effect on Trump's chances in the primary.
"100% helpful," the aide said.
Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, who is considering a bid himself, spoke glancingly about the verdict in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday on the sidelines of an event for the Center for Christian Virtue in Cincinnati.
"I just think all the stories swirling around [Trump] are not what people talk to me about," Pence said when asked about the political implications of the case.
"They're talking to me about jobs, what in the world's going on at the border, what's happening in Eastern Europe, what's going on in crime in our major cities," he said. "I don't think the whole range of stories swirling around [Trump] is a particular focus of Republican voters or, to some extent, the American people."
Pence also offered that Trump had never committed sexual misconduct in his presence.
"I would tell you, in my 4 ½ years serving alongside the president, I never heard or witnessed behavior of that nature," Pence said in a subtle defense of Trump.
Osborne, the New Hampshire GOP leader who backs DeSantis, said he expects some divide among Republican voters over the matter.
"It's going to have two different kinds of effects on different people," he said. "On some people, it'll make them less likely to support [Trump], and some people it might make them more."
The reaction to "bad news," he said, is to "make haters hate more and lovers love more."
Right now, Trump has far more adherents in the GOP primary than any other candidate.