Former President Trump and two of his 2024 Republican presidential rivals are descending upon North Carolina this week for the state GOP’s convention — an event that comes just hours after Trump announced he had been indicted in a federal probe.
Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence are all slated to speak at the event in Greensboro, N.C. — the first time all three candidates have appeared at the same event since becoming declared White House candidates.
DeSantis is scheduled to speak Friday evening, while Pence and Trump are scheduled to speak Saturday. The event comes one day after Trump announced on his Truth Social account that his attorneys were notified he had been indicted regarding a probe looking into his handling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.
The state GOP convention will test how the candidates’ messaging resonates with North Carolina Republican voters ahead of a potentially bruising primary.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of the North Carolina GOP convention.
Do the three candidates attack one another?
Observers will be watching closely to see if DeSantis and Pence use the state GOP convention to separate themselves from the former president, and even to see if they attack him directly.
Trump has not been shy about needling DeSantis, who’s seen as his chief rival in the primary. He’s given the Florida governor belittling nicknames like “DeSanctimonious” and called DeSantis’s rocky Twitter Spaces campaign launch a catastrophe and a disaster.
DeSantis has taken jabs at Trump as well, claiming the former president is “running to the left” and pointing to the fact Trump and his family moved to Florida during the pandemic. At one point, the governor mentioned how Trump “used to say how great Florida was” following the former president’s criticism of how the state fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But observers also will be watching Pence closely, days after he unexpectedly attacked Trump directly during his 2024 kickoff event in Iowa this week.
“The American people must know that leaders in the Republican Party will keep our oath to support and defend the Constitution, even when it is not in our political interests,” Pence said, referring to efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
“One last word that in part brings us here today: I believe that anyone who puts themselves over the Constitution should never be president of the United States, and anyone who asks someone else to put them over the Constitution should never be president of the United States again,” he added.
Does the indictment come up?
Trump’s federal indictment stemming from a probe looking into his handling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago is likely to loom over the convention. As of Thursday evening, it was not immediately clear what Trump has been charged with, though he said on his Truth Social account he’s been summoned to court in Miami on Tuesday afternoon.
Whether any of the candidates, including Trump, bring it up remains to be seen.
If Republicans have learned anything since the indictment Trump received in a separate probe overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), it’s that legal challenges against Trump are likely to embolden him and offer a new development for his base to rally around.
Even Republicans running against Trump largely blasted the Bragg indictment, underscoring the tricky balance contenders have ahead of them as they look to criticize officials going after a Republican while also trying not to boost Trump himself.
Does Jan. 6 come up?
The Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot created a fissure between Trump and Pence, and the former vice president eschewed efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Pence made the contrast between himself and Trump that day a focal point during his speech in Iowa this week.
“The American people deserve to know on that fateful day, President Trump also demanded I choose between him and our Constitution,” Pence said during his kickoff event. “Now, voters will be faced with the same choice. I chose the Constitution, and I always will.”
But it’s unclear whether Pence will wade into Jan. 6 during the state GOP convention. It’s a tricky subject for the former vice president, who’s seeking to cast himself as a more viable alternative to Trump but must also appeal to a cohort of Republican voters who remain loyal to the former president.
Do any of them notch endorsements from the event?
Trump and DeSantis have received endorsements from officials and lawmakers in states like New Hampshire, West Virginia and Oklahoma as the two demonstrate their candidacies have appeal across the country.
Twenty Oklahoma legislators this week announced they were backing DeSantis, in addition to former NASA administrator and former Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R). Meanwhile, more than half of the state legislature in West Virginia said this week that they’re backing Trump, according to Politico.
Although endorsements themselves aren’t always indicative of where the voting electorate is, they can demonstrate where candidates are drawing support from.
Therefore, observers will be watching closely to see whether the state GOP convention hands any of the three candidates endorsements, potentially boosting them as the primary heats up.