Donald Trump has more than $100 million in his political war chest. But he has something even more valuable – an active FBI investigation against him.
Anyone can raise money. Few can dominate the nation’s political consciousness, split the country into two passionately opposed sides, and give rise to perfidious theories and counter-theories based on being the target of a law enforcement action. It’s the quality that Trump has brought to the table for years, and it still boosts him.
Democrats across the country have not-so-subtly promoted MAGA candidates in the GOP primaries, hoping they’ll be easy to beat. If the FBI did the same on behalf of Joe Biden, it would not have handled its search of Mar-a-Lago any differently.
Some have theorized that the Biden Justice Department is seeking to disqualify Trump from running for office by convicting him of mishandling classified material under Section 2071, which provides that the perpetrator “shall lose his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.” However, this does not make sense, since the Constitution’s qualifications for president cannot be replaced by a statue.
And regardless of the legality, the fact is that the FBI search has certainly helped Trump politically. It has put him front-and-center again. This has made it easy for him to portray himself as a victim in crisis. That has led nearly everyone in the GOP to embrace him and, for some, to call for his swift and decisive nomination as the party’s presidential nominee again.
Of course, none of this was intended by FBI Director Christopher Wray, although it was entirely predictable.
No one is above the law, but if the FBI search was really about a document dispute, it’s hard to see how the law enforcement efforts were large enough to justify taking a step sure to inflame about half the country .
Trump is enjoying every minute in the fire. Monday was his best day in the hunt for a third Republican presidential nomination since leaving the White House.
The episode and its fallout show how Trump — off Twitter and out of office — can still blot out the sun. The scale of controversy and attention he generates is beyond what anyone else, even the brightest stars in the party, can hope to match.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended a vigilante county attorney who vowed not to enforce laws he opposed. For a few days it felt like a big deal. DeSantis was denounced as a strongman by his enemies and celebrated as a courageous champion of law and order by his allies. Still, compared to the action at Mar-a-Lago, the firing was a picayune dispute over county government — local theater compared to Broadway; Hollywood, Florida compared to Hollywood, California.
The FBI search played into Trump’s hands in another way. Populism thrives on the sense that large, out-of-control forces exercise supreme power, that things are not as they seem, and that institutions are fundamentally corrupt.
Trump built his political career on this sentiment. He portrays himself as the brave fighter against such evil forces and their victim.
Normally, politicians want to avoid appearing as victims – that communicates weakness. Trump, on the other hand, welcomes it. If you think about it, it’s pathetic that he claims he was cheated out of a landslide presidential victory in the worst fraud in American history and couldn’t do a damn thing about it.
For him, the claim that he is being treated unfairly is a constant throughout his adult life, both a bargaining position (“how dare you charge such an exorbitant amount to build the clubhouse on my new golf course”) and a worldview. In the political realm, the more he is cheated, the worse and more malicious his enemies – and the more his followers need to rally to his side.
Trump has been able to make this dynamic work for him with most, if not all, of the party regarding his election lies in 2020. When it comes to the FBI’s latest move, he is gaining near-universal approval — and for good reason.
It is impossible to overstate the effect of the Russia investigation on the Republican psyche. To have a few years of “the walls are closing in” media coverage, speculation that Trump might be a Russian agent, and an intense special counsel investigation all coming to nothing building on the Steele dossier that was ridiculously fake from the start. not soon be forgotten. No one who started the frenzy expressed any regret afterwards. It was just on to the next thing.
After that experience, no assurance that “there’s no way the FBI would do that,” or “Well, they had a warrant, so it must be OK,” will ever gain any traction with Republicans.
That’s why there was such a rush to embrace the former president after the raid, including by Republicans hoping to unseat him. And because any political smear surrounding federal law enforcement naturally evokes apocalyptic fear—and don’t kid yourselves progressives, you’d feel the same way if the shoe were on the other front—there’s no room for modulation or nuance.
Trump fires up rhetorical grenades and wild accusations (e.g., the FBI may have planted evidence against him), and it’s awkward for any Republican to disagree with him. To the extent that Trump becomes the central figure in a Manichean battle between good and evil, it makes every other concern — electability, a deliberate and achievable agenda, an orderly operation — seem petty by comparison.
Perhaps what we learn about the classified material the FBI sought will prove so shocking that the search looks different in the cold light of today.
Perhaps the FBI intrusion after the initial rally around Trump will be part of the endless back-and-forth battles that Republican voters had shown signs of tiring of.
Maybe. For now, the chances of another Republican beating Trump look more remote. Thank you, Christopher Wray.