Before a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict former President Trump in connection with an alleged hush-money payment to adult film actor Stormy Daniels, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters how he thought the American people viewed the case.
“I think in your heart of hearts you know, too, that you think this is just political,” McCarthy said during a March 21 news conference. “And I think that’s what the rest of the country thinks, and we’re kind of tired of that.”
But back home in McCarthy’s Bakersfield congressional district, the reaction is more nuanced. Some think it’s about time, while others wonder if the time has passed.
For Republicans here — many of whom have long supported McCarthy and think the 15 rounds of voting he endured for the speakership made him stronger — last week’s indictment is as Trump has described it: a politically motivated witch hunt meant to keep him out of office.
“The left has a batting average of zero against Donald Trump,” said Greg Perrone, president of the Greater Bakersfield Republican Assembly, a conservative group involved in local politics. “Whatever is possible to do to make sure he cannot run for president, they’re going to do that.”
Perrone said he would view Trump’s actions negatively if he is ultimately found guilty. But like other conservatives, he pointed to a Thursday tweet from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who wrote that “everyone has the right to a trial to prove innocence,” as a sign that Trump may not get fair treatment.
“The law says innocent until proven guilty. But here’s the former speaker of the House saying he has to prove that he’s innocent,” he said. “I think that definitely typifies the sentiment of the left: He’s clearly guilty. Now he’s got to prove it that he’s not.”
A Quinnipiac poll conducted March 23-27 found that 62% of Americans surveyed — including 93% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 29% of Democrats — believed Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg’s investigation was “mainly motivated by politics.” The same poll, however, found that 57% of those surveyed thought criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running for president again.
That range of views was on display Saturday morning at the F Street Farmers Market near downtown Bakersfield, where vendors and shoppers on opposite ends of the political spectrum bought and sold vegetables, eggs, honey and baked goods.
“I think they’re just out to get [Trump], because I think they don’t want him in office,” said April Verhoef, who manages the market and runs From the Farmhouse, a local farm.
Another vendor, 59-year-old baker Brenda Fallot, said that based on the information she had so far, she thought the investigation into the alleged hush-money payment was “stupid.”
“I don’t really care that he had an affair with anybody. It’s none of our business,” said Fallot, a two-time Trump voter who said she has backed presidential candidates in both parties over the last few decades, including former presidents Clinton and Obama. “And he’s not the first president to have done it.”
But Margaret Govea, a 60-year-old director of a university student health program who lives in Bakersfield just outside McCarthy’s district, said she thought the Trump indictment was “a long time coming.” She believes the speaker’s longtime support of Trump comes down to ambition.
“He thinks that Trump is a way to get more power, so he’s willing to do things to support Trump, thinking that Trump will support him,” she said. “And we’ve seen that that doesn’t always happen.”
Deborah Saldana, a 48-year-old logistics manager who supports Trump’s indictment and described herself as liberal, said the former president’s backing doesn’t benefit McCarthy. But she acknowledged that the alliance has bolstered McCarthy’s standing among some Bakersfield voters.
“To me, it’s not a selling point, but for some people it is,” she said. “If you’re on that wagon, then you love [Trump]. But for me, I wouldn’t want to be endorsed by Trump.”
Trump, who is expected to be arraigned Tuesday in New York, became the first former U.S. president to face criminal prosecution after he was indicted Thursday. The exact charges are unknown, but the case is focused on a $130,000 payment former Trump attorney Michael D. Cohen made to Daniels in an attempt to cover up an alleged affair between the porn actor and former president.
The hush-money case is one of several concurrent investigations into the former president. Two federal probes run by Special Counsel Jack Smith are looking into Trump’s handling of classified documents after his presidency and his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. In Georgia, Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis is investigating Trump’s efforts to overturn the state’s results from that race.
Enrique Garcia, 34, a DJ who lives in a part of Bakersfield that falls within the district of GOP Rep. David Valadao, said it was “disheartening” to have a House speaker from his area who is so closely allied with Trump.
“Once everything came out that was bad with Trump, Kevin McCarthy should have just dropped him,” he said.
Garcia added that Trump “should’ve been in trouble a lot sooner.”
“I think it’s about time,” he said.
Taryn King, a 32-year-old hairstylist from Bakersfield, said she was “surprised” Trump was charged.
“I didn’t think it was gonna happen, but I’m happy about it for sure,” she said.
Her mother, however, wasn’t convinced it needed to happen.
“I am not a Trump supporter. I don’t like him for a lot of other reasons,” said Charlotte Newman, a 53-year-old program supervisor. “But this is just not necessary. We just need to move forward.”
Newman described herself as nonpartisan and stressed that she doesn’t support Trump running for or becoming president again. At the same time, she said, the alleged hush-money payment at the center of the indictment is “in the past.”
“I feel like, possibly, it’s at the point where, is this just a witch hunt?” she said.
Many Republicans are hoping most Americans will see it that way. Trump’s argument that investigations into his conduct are an attempt to keep him out of power has resonated with his base, forcing even political rivals such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to defend him. Meanwhile, McCarthy’s fate appears inextricably linked with the former president.
As reports of the indictment loomed, McCarthy’s loyalty was put to the test yet again as he tried to balance criticizing Bragg and his investigation with tempering Trump’s incendiary rhetoric.
After Trump claimed that he would be arrested last month and urged supporters on his Truth Social platform to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK,” McCarthy stressed that Trump didn’t mean it in a “harmful way.”
At the same time, the speaker has called on conservative committee chairmen — including close Trump ally Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who heads the Judiciary panel — to investigate whether Bragg used federal funds in his investigation. In recent days, Bragg has forcefully defended himself from the chairmen’s accusation that his probe was politically motivated.
Back in Bakersfield, voters who make up Trump’s base — and McCarthy’s — want to see the speaker continue to back the former president.
Mandie Selman, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom who spent Saturday afternoon at a local park fishing for trout with her niece, said she’s a fan of McCarthy, who she believes has been taking a stand against the policies of the Biden administration.
“I will say he’s a better House speaker than he was the representative from California,” she said. “He’s really stepped up his game to show the American people that he’s in it for the American people, and not just a paycheck.”
In Selman’s view, McCarthy has supported Trump in the past, and is doing so now. She urged him to keep going.
“McCarthy needs to stand up and stand by Trump like he has before,” she said. “Don’t be pushed over or persuaded.”
Marjorie Waclawski, a 72-year-old retired administrative assistant from Bakersfield who was with her grandsons at the park, said “of course” McCarthy should stand by Trump.
“Loyalty is everything,” she said. “There are a lot of people who are sitting there defending Trump because they see [the indictment] for what it is, that it’s another hoax. It’s bunch of trumped up garbage.”