As supporters awaited former President Trump at Mar-a-Lago after his Tuesday arraignment, Kari Lake walked into a ballroom of people cheering and chanting her name.
The defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate’s appearance at Trump’s Florida estate came as no surprise. Lake has emerged as one of the biggest political stars of Trump’s Republican Party and one of the loudest voices of the election denialism movement, which was sparked by the former president’s failed 2020 bid.
But since Trump’s indictment by a New York grand jury on charges related to the alleged cover-up of a 2016 hush money payment, far-right figures like Lake appear to be treating the moment as a clarion call to action for GOP politicians with ambitions for higher office.
As the former president’s legal troubles grow, Lake and other well-known Trump allies have rushed to his defense, seizing the moment to burnish their reputations as true believers while further raising their stature among the base, seemingly with the hope of being named Trump’s vice presidential pick in 2024.
Speaking to reporters ahead of Trump’s remarks Tuesday night, Lake made clear her loyalty was unflinching.
“If these people who are coming after him think they are going to turn the people against Trump, they have done just the opposite,” Lake told reporters. “MAGA is going to grow so big, their heads are going to spin.”
Lake is not the only far right figure eager to show her commitment to Trump.
In one of the more visible shows of allegiance, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on Tuesday led a demonstration outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump was arraigned. Later that day, she flew to Florida to stand with Trump as he returned to Mar-a-Lago to address supporters.
Greene likened Trump’s arrest to those of Jesus Christ and former South African President Nelson Mandela.
“Trump is joining some of the most incredible people in history being arrested today,” she told the conservative outlet Right Side Broadcasting.
The charges Trump faces have drawn near universal criticism from members of the GOP, including one of the former president’s sharpest detractors, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who twice voted to convict Trump during impeachment trials. But Trump’s likely 2024 opponents — including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence — have largely tried to sidestep discussing the New York indictment beyond calling the prosecution political.
Meanwhile, for those on the right flank of the Republican Party, Trump’s predicament has offered an opportunity to shore up their political bona fides with the GOP base and increase their visibility ahead of the 2024 presidential election.
Republican politicians fall into two camps, said GOP strategist Mike DuHaime — those who are afraid of upsetting Trump and his followers, and those who are seeking to build their profiles.
“There’s this incredible ecosystem now of this kind of Trumpy wing of the party that you become a celebrity in and then you’re hanging out with the My Pillow guy [Mike Lindell],” said DuHaime, who previously worked with former President George W. Bush and late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “It’s not going to get you elected in a general election. Many of them have proven that.”
Lake has become one of the most vocal Trump supporters in the country, perpetuating disinformation long used by the former president to undermine public confidence in the process. Last month, Lake suffered another legal blow when the Arizona Supreme Court declined to consider the bulk of her appeal in her efforts to challenge the outcome of the Arizona gubernatorial race.
After the indictment was announced last week, Lake said in a statement that she stood “unequivocally” behind the former president and called on others to do the same. As Trump headed to New York to be arraigned she tweeted words of encouragement.
As conjecture over her political future grows, Lake told the New York Times in February that she is considering running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, even as she is focused on the legal case surrounding her gubernatorial campaign. She has also traveled to Iowa — usually considered a sign that someone has presidential ambitions — where she’ll hold three rallies this week.
When asked whether she would accept an invitation to be Trump’s running mate, Lake deflected the question, insisting that her efforts to overturn the results of the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race will be successful.
“He’s going to be the nominee,” Lake told reporters. “And I believe I’m going to be the governor of Arizona. I won that race.”
Before Trump picked Pence to be his vice presidential nominee, he appeared to audition a number of candidates, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, before making a decision in July 2016.
If Trump becomes the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, this time around he may choose someone who would be unwavering in their loyalty to him, even if they fail to appeal to the moderates and independents he’d need to win in the general election.
“He’ll want somebody he can trust,” said Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist. “He learned a lesson from Mike Pence, that the problem with some of these establishment guys is that they follow the Constitution.”
At the same time, while Lake and Greene may appear to be auditioning to be Trump’s running mate, they are also solidifying their brands in real time, Longwell said.
“A lot of these politicians whose identities have been forged in the Trump era oftentimes seem to understand the base of the Republican Party slightly better than Republicans from the before times,” said Longwell, who is also the executive director of the Republican Accountability Project, which opposes election deniers running for office.
Recent election cycles have also shown Trump’s ability to boost, or tank, a candidate in a crowded Republican primary. He regularly held rallies for his endorsed candidates and has hinted he would give Greene the same treatment if she decided to run for the Senate in her home state.
“These Washington Republicans like [Sen.] Mitch McConnell, who’s the absolute worst, they’ve got to get tougher. They got to get like Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Trump said at a March 25 rally in Waco, Texas. “Would you like to run for the Senate? I will fight like hell for you, I tell you.”
Republican politicians have almost universally condemned Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s investigation into Trump as politically motivated, reflecting the sentiment of GOP voters.
Polling in the last few weeks suggests that voters believe politics played a role in the decision to indict Trump in New York, even if people approve of the indictment overall. A CNN poll released April 3 found that 76% of those surveyed — including 93% of Republicans and 76% of independents — said politics played some role in the decision to indict. At the same time, 60% of those surveyed — including 21% of Republicans and 60% of independents — approve of the decision to indict Trump.
The question is whether GOP support will hold if other investigations lead to criminal or federal charges. The former president isn’t expected back in court for the hush money inquiry until December.
In the meantime, Trump is facing two federal investigations led by special counsel Jack Smith over the former president’s handling of classified documents after he left office and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s actions are also the focus of a Georgia inquiry into whether he interfered with the 2020 presidential election in that state.
“We don’t know what the future holds, but it’s certainly possible that far more consequential legal issues befall him between now and the time the primaries begin,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist and political commentator. “Is the Republican Party going to want to nominate someone who is in extreme legal jeopardy and extreme danger of losing his own freedom?”
At Mar-a-Lago, Greene urged Republicans to rally behind the former president.
“They got into office on his back,” Greene told reporters after Trump’s remarks. “It’s time for them to come and stand with President Trump, defend him, support him and stop this Democrat witch hunt and weaponization of government.”
Greene declined to say whether other GOP candidates should drop out of the presidential race, saying that Trump “has been and always will be the front-runner.”
As for who should be his vice president, Green said, “that hasn’t been discussed.”
“I don’t think he’s to that point yet,” she said. “There’s still some time to go.”
Logan reported from Palm Beach and John from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.