BEDMINSTER, N.J. — Former president Donald Trump faced down the most serious threat to his personal liberty and political future like just another day on the campaign trail — waving to fans, giving a thumbs up, swinging by a storied eatery, soliciting donations and planning a spirited speech to supporters at one of his properties.

The almost celebratory display on Tuesday, clashing with the more typical sobriety of court proceedings, displayed Trump’s instinct to face down federal charges with the same bluster he marshaled against previous threats to his business and candidacy, and to project strength for his supporters, constructing an alternate reality where he is not in deepening legal jeopardy.

“He’s scared s—less,” said John Kelly, his former chief of staff. “This is the way he compensates for that. He gives people the appearance he doesn’t care by doing this. For the first time in his life, it looks like he’s being held accountable. Up until this point in his life, it’s like, I’m not going to pay you, take me to court. He’s never been held accountable before.”

Trump, who pleaded not guilty in Miami on Tuesday to charges that he broke the law by keeping and hiding top secret documents in his Florida home, is just beginning the fight of his life, after a decades of close brushes with the justice system. Yet in contrast to his self-evident gloom on the day of his last arraignment — in New York, on state charges arising from a hush-money scheme before the 2016 election — on Tuesday, Trump and his campaign were determined to project a more upbeat shade of defiance.

Trump has wanted to show, according to his advisers, that he is ready to fight — instead of looking downtrodden and glum — as he appeared in court Tuesday. The advisers, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private interactions, have said in the past that few things bother him as much as news accounts of his surly mercurial moods and occasional volcanic temper.

“It’s fine,” Trump said when asked about his mood in a right-wing radio interview on the eve of his arraignment.

“You sound like you’re in great spirits,” the host, Howie Carr, concluded.

“I am,” Trump said. “I’m just fighting for the country.”

Trump was flying to his golf club here Tuesday night for a prime-time speech in front of Republican donors, party officials, past and present advisers and politicians. Staff spent the sunny afternoon setting up a stage festooned with flags in front of a portico with a faint resemblance to the White House as soundspeakers blasted Trump’s signature rally playlist.

To fill the neat rows of white folding chairs, the audience was expected to include Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), longtime New York GOP chairman Ed Cox, former White House aides Kash Patel and Sebastian Gorka, election conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell, televangelist Robert Jeffress, former Senate candidate Bernie Moreno of Ohio, former Senate candidate Leora Levy of Connecticut, and potential Senate candidate Jeffrey Gunter of Nevada.

“It’s part public relations and part babysitting,” said Stephanie Grisham, one of Trump’s former White House press secretaries. “He wants people to see the cheering crowds so they don’t think anything is going wrong. It’s also because the staff around him want to keep him busy and wants to have people cheering for him and giving him the ego stroke that he’ll need so they don’t have to deal with him being completely pissed.”

Trump is the clear polling leader in the GOP presidential primary, and his effort to project strength and his continued influence in the party appeared to be succeeding in rallying Republicans to his defense. Even some of his rivals in the primary have expressed support.

Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who running against Trump, said in a Tuesday radio interview she would “be inclined in favor of a pardon,” for the good of the country, but would not presume his guilt. She reiterated her view that Trump was “incredibly reckless with our national security,” if the indictment is true.

Her comments came on the same day as a call from long-shot hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy for the entire field to join his promise to pardon Trump. Trump’s leading rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, hasn’t addressed a pardon specifically but started outline a plan to overhaul the FBI and Justice Department in response to Trump’s prosecution.

And congressional Republicans such as House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (Ky.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) are raring to intensify probes into President Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings. Freshman Sen. J.D. Vance (Ohio), who has endorsed Trump, went further Tuesday by saying he would block Justice Department nominations in response to Trump’s indictment.

Vance said he spoke to Trump on Tuesday morning but did not give the former president a heads-up about his plan. He said Trump did not ask him to make that move as a response to the indictment.

Trump, for his part, pledged if reelected to have a special prosecutor investigate Biden and his family. “They’ve opened up the Pandora’s box,” Trump said in his Monday interview with Carr. “So I’m allowed to do that. People will say, ‘Now we get it.’”

Much of Trump’s team is focused on the political battle ahead — not the legal one. Advisers have put their attention on endorsements, polls and crowd sizes more than indictment and charges, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Many in his circle believe more indictments are likely to come — special counsel Jack Smith is also investigating the Trump campaign’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, as is an Atlanta-area district attorney — and their only political recourse is to paint them as political and convince other Republicans to support him. Instead of advancing arguments about his actions being virtuous or legal, his team has often focused on polling numbers or accusing the prosecutors of bias.

“If you notice, no one on his campaign is saying it was smart to keep the boxes, and what a brilliant thing he did,” one longtime Trump ally said. “They are slashing and burning.”

On Trump’s way to court earlier Tuesday, aides tweeted a clip of a Will Smith music video set in Miami and a live shot of Trump’s motorcade, complete with audible cheers from fans lined up along the road. They posted approvingly about profane signs supporting Trump and insulting Biden. As the motorcade passed, people chanted Trump’s name.

Trump arrived wearing his signature navy suit and red tie at the federal courthouse where a few hundred people, mostly his supporters, were waving flags and chanting. His processing by the U.S. Marshals, which included digital fingerprinting, took less than 15 minutes.

After the arraignment, Trump made an unannounced stop at Versailles, a famous Cuban restaurant in Miami, that had been swarmed with supporters. Miami, like Florida at large, has shifted right in recent years, and DeSantis was the first GOP gubernatorial nominee in two decades to win the most populous county, Miami-Dade.

“President Trump is defiant in the face of political persecution, and if any community understands the dangers of tyranny and a weaponized judicial system, it’s our friends with family ties to Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil,” campaign strategist Chris LaCivita said.

Some in the crowd appeared to lay hands on Trump and pray for him, and he posed for pictures, flashing his thumbs up with others. “Food for everyone!” he could be heard bellowing at one point, as Walt Nauta, his co-defendant, milled around in the background. The crowd broke into a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for the former president, who turns 77 on Wednesday.

“Thank you Miami,” Trump posted on Truth Social as his plane took off for New Jersey. “Such a warm welcome on such a SAD DAY for our Country!”

Dawsey reported from Washington. Maeve Reston in Washington contributed to this report.

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