“It had to happen — one way or another,” said Scott Kelly, 57, a general contractor from Santa Barbara, Calif.
Across red and blue America, the reaction to Trump’s Tuesday arrest largely — but not completely — mirrored the partisan divisions that have split the country for decades and seemed to widen under his tenure as president.
Democrats appeared most upset that the first criminal case brought against him was also the most tawdry — that he paid, then covered up, hush money to an adult-film star to protect his 2016 presidential candidacy. For Republicans, the satisfaction displayed by partisan rivals only proved their point that Trump will not receive a fair hearing and that the sole goal of the indictment was to head off another Trump administration.
Across the country, the red and the blue, the anger and the resignation collided with the uneasy bipartisan sense that a new round of indictments and their aftermath were not far off. The charges could be filed by Georgia prosecutors over election interference or by a special counsel in Washington over the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and, separately, the seizure of classified documents at Trump’s Florida home. In any case, the country enters a new and uncharted legal and political landscape.
Blue America: No one’s above the law
The south coast of Santa Barbara County is not a fertile place for Trump supporters, and the general response Tuesday to the former president’s appearance in a New York courtroom prompted a deflated “It’s about time” from many of those ignoring the live television coverage to bask in the sun after weeks of rain.
The only disappointment was that the hush money case came first, given the other investigations still pending against Trump.
“You hear this should not be about the porn star, at least not first, but my feeling is that the first case that’s ready should be the first one presented,” said Kelly, 57, a general contractor specializing in energy efficient buildings, as he shopped beneath the arches of the Loreto Plaza shopping center.
Loreto Plaza features a gourmet bakery and an upscale grocery store. Electric bikes are parked along the sidewalks, Volvos and Audis and the occasional Tesla fill the parking lot. The locally famous Harry’s Plaza Café, where you can drink martinis and eat French dip sandwiches all day, is tucked in a corner near a golf shop and a back-health store.
It was busy Tuesday morning as, thousands of miles away, Trump began his slow motorcade journey to the courtroom in New York. Steve Rothstein and his wife, Marian, wanted to see every minute of it after eating an early breakfast and hustling home.
“My feeling is that he has done a lot of terrible stuff, and that this particular case is probably the least terrible,” said Steve Rothstein, a retired biology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “I’m most interested in seeing how the other prosecutors follow this and how the process will be.”
Marian Rothstein, who like her husband has never voted for Trump, described the pair as “junkies” when it comes to news about the former president.
“This shows that facts matter and so do consequences,” said Marian Rothstein, 79, a retired middle school teacher.
“We know his supporters are going to say Trump is being persecuted, regardless of whether it’s fair or not,” said Steve Rothstein, 80.
“But he is such as a danger to democracy that this has to happen,” he said. “And not only to our democracy but to the whole world.”
Driving through Santa Barbara on vacation, Fred Mertz made his first stop at Renaud’s Bakery, which he said “has the best croissants” on the West Coast.
“People get charged with crimes every day and Donald Trump is no different,” said Mertz, 71, a retired photographer from Palo Alto. “I’m not worried about violence. People saw what happened after January 6, how aggressively law enforcement went after those involved. I think anyone who may want to stir up trouble is pretty frightened now.”
But wandering through the Loreto parking lot was a political species seldom seen in these parts: a Trump supporter.
“I don’t think the indictment’s particularly important,” said John Rickard, a 74-year-old lumber broker. “My feeling is that he did not do a bad job as president, but he acted like a jackass.”
Rickard’s family has lived in Santa Barbara for generations. He voted for Trump twice and will do so again assuming he continues his 2024 run for the presidency.
“The legal stuff is kind of boring, but I hate to say that because my father was a Superior Court judge,” Rickard said. “But the problem with Trump will remain — he doesn’t know when to shut up.”
Red America: Derangement syndrome
Kansas City, Mo., saw the first genuinely warm day of an otherwise cold and rainy spring, with temperatures soaring to the 80s, redbuds popping, daffodils blooming and a kite-worthy wind gusting through town. It didn’t feel like a day for — depending on your point of view — either reexamining old alleged criminal misdeeds or settling scores. Most people were out and about enjoying the sun, not paying attention to the news.
“I think it’s another failed ‘Get Trump’ event,” said Jim Raines, 63, a Republican and mail carrier from Kennesaw, Ga., in town visiting relatives. “It’s all about politics — the Democrats think that the indictment will help them and Trump thinks the indictment is good for him — he’s already embracing it to raise money for his reelection campaign.”
“It’s just another example of Trump Derangement Syndrome,” Raines continued. “The Democrats will do anything to keep power. I honestly don’t know what the outcome will be, but I don’t think it’s good to keep going after him. The Democrats can’t win an election honestly so they make up stuff about Trump and run on that.”
Inside the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center hotel, one of the TVs was tuned to the local ABC station, airing an “ABC News Special Report” about the arraignment in New York. “Former President Trump at New York Criminal Court being processed,” the chyron on the screen blared.
Mandy Hato, 43, a conference planner and a Democrat from Belton, Mo., was at the hotel for a work meeting. She said it was a nice change of pace from the previous evening, when she watched cable news coverage nonstop as Trump went via motorcade from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida to the local airport, then from a New York airport to Trump Tower.
“It reminded me of O.J. Simpson, how they followed him, getting off the plane, going to Trump Tower,” she said. “It’s interesting but it’s so overblown. So much hype. It’s just giving him what he wants — more attention.”
“I am not a Donald Trump fan at all. I think he’s a horrible human and if you do something wrong you should be prosecuted. Everybody should have the same laws,” Hato continued. Still, she said, “It’s a dicey situation. It’s going to inflame things more and more and make him even more popular. Make him an idol.”
Her colleague Heather Coleman, 57, a Kingsville, Mo., resident who describes herself as “conservative,” said she was waiting to read the details of the indictment.
“I’m interested in seeing the charges,” Coleman said. “The charges that we know of seem pretty weak. Other pending litigation seems stronger — the [Georgia] election …”
“The documents!” Hato chimed in. “Yeah, why wouldn’t you do the strongest one?”
Hato concluded, “They better have all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed or it’s going to be a disaster.”
Blue America: Return of the guardrails
It was a piercing spring day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, a campus nestled in a valley known for its liberal politics even in this reliably blue state. In chairs under still-bare trees, students sipped iced coffees and tapped on laptops.
Along the pathways crisscrossing campus, it was common knowledge that the former president had been indicted. Far fewer were aware that he was appearing in a Manhattan courtroom, but those who did expressed a sense of satisfaction.
Kaitlyn Lyons, 21, had just finished an ecology exam. When Trump entered his not-guilty plea, she was sitting in a class on the climate politics of Massachusetts. Some of her classmates try to avoid the news “to maintain their sanity,” she said. Not Lyons: “I’m too curious.”
Trump has “committed other crimes that should take priority over this one,” Lyons said. But she was glad that something was finally being done. She was also curious how the Republican Party would spin the indictment and how Trump’s supporters would react.
The university is home to 23,000 undergraduates, the largest number in a region flush with colleges. In the 2020 election, 72 percent of the surrounding county voted for President Biden.
Lyn Broyles, an academic adviser, was on her way to lunch in a purple jacket and sunglasses. Broyles moved to Massachusetts from Oklahoma last year, a week before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the historic precedent that established a constitutional right to abortion.
“I love it here,” said Broyles, 29. “I love having all my rights.”
When Trump was indicted last week, Broyles’s mother called to tell her the news. The two women rejoiced over the phone. “It just felt for so long that there were no guardrails, no consequences, and that made me very nervous,” Broyles said. Maybe “finally having some consequences might reestablish a sense of normalcy.”
Angel Rios, 24, was sitting under a tree working on homework for a psychology class. He didn’t know about the indictment, but he was mistrustful of the timing ahead of the 2024 election. He wondered if the case against Trump was a way to ensure he “doesn’t get elected again.”
Nearby, Marc Dinkin, 51, was touring the campus with his sons Max and Ben, both in high school. On the ride up from Scarsdale, N.Y., Max and Ben wanted to listen to the Beatles. Their dad insisted on the news. Ben likened the case against Trump to the pursuit of notorious gangster Al Capone for tax evasion. Max said he worried about the possible reaction from the former president’s supporters.
Marc, their father, said he was “much more” eager to see Trump face legal consequences for his attempts to pressure election officials and to inspire the Jan. 6 riot. “Obviously, this is not his most egregious crime, if it is even a crime,” he said.
But a crucial principle was at stake, he said. In this country, “even leaders — and former leaders — are not above the law.”
Red America: The whole show
Ten TVs line the walls at El Arepazo, a Venezuelan restaurant in Doral in suburban Miami-Dade County.
But on Tuesday, as the drama of Trump’s arrest was unfolding, all were set to international soccer games and sports talk shows. And the patrons who crowded in for arepas, fried green plantains and slabs of grilled meat certainly were not scrolling on their phones to keep abreast of the news.
El Arepazo has been a hub of Miami’s Venezuelan community for decades, a gathering spot not only for a quick meal but also to play cards and converse over political developments abroad. A large photograph on the wall displayed a newspaper headline marking the overthrow of former Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez in 1958.
“18 hours of frenetic jubilation in Caracas for the fall of the dictator,” the headline reads in Spanish.
The restaurant now serves a diverse clientele including first- and second-generation Miami residents with ties to Latin American or Caribbean nations with authoritarian governments. In recent elections, both Trump and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have made considerable inroads with Miami’s Spanish-speaking population.
But on Tuesday, politics seemed like the last thing El Arepazo patrons wanted to discuss. As he finished up his lunch, Jasiel Piloto said Trump’s arrest amounted to little more than “sensationalism” and appeared “politically motivated.”
“There are far more important things going on in the world, and in this country, than whether this guy is rightfully or wrongfully using funds to pay for something that is in the past,” said Piloto, 38, who is a second-generation Cuban American. “People are not really looking at things like this. They are worried about getting to work, paying their taxes, putting gas in their car, and not whether this guy paid a little bit of money to a stripper to shut up, or whatever.”
Piloto, who works as a human resources officer at a salmon processing plant, said he voted for Trump in both of his presidential campaigns. He said he heard negative things “about California” and Vice President Harris during the 2020 election. Many of his family members and friends also had concerns that former president Barack Obama, a Democrat, moved too swiftly to resume relations with Cuba’s authoritarian government.
Piloto said he believes the indictment of Trump only “helps him get his name out there” ahead of the 2024 election. Still, despite his past support for Trump, Piloto said he will support DeSantis should the two face off for the GOP nomination next year.
“I think people may vote for someone who is not as polarizing,” he said. “People are just tired of the whole show of it.”
Wilson reported from Santa Barbara, Gowen from Kansas City, Slater from Amherst and Craig from Doral.