Trump allies insist FBI raid, potential Espionage Act investigation only strengthen his standing in a 2024 Republican presidential primary
- Republican strategists argue that a DOJ investigation will help Trump with GOP primary voters.
- Trump has long been able to spin his legal troubles to the Republican base as political persecution.
Former President Donald Trump is being investigated for potential crimes related to his handling of documents that could threaten US national security — a fact that may well strengthen his desire to run for a second term in 2024 and make him "unbeatable" in a Republican primary, according to allies and GOP strategists.
On Friday, a federal judge unsealed a search warrant and receipt of goods that shows the Department of Justice seized top secret documents from Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and that he could be charged with obstructing an investigation and violating the Espionage Act.
That revelation would be a death sentence for many other politicians.
But after years of priming his supporters to believe he's the target of a "deep state" cabal, Trump has been able to exploit the latest investigation into his actions to rake in money. He also now has a chorus of elected Republicans, including potential competitors for the 2024 presidential nomination, quick to join him in dismissing the allegations, without evidence, as a politically motivated sham.
Now, the FBI raid has also become a big new source of revenue for GOP campaign coffers. It has also potentially sped up the timeline for a Trump 2024 campaign announcement, which some Republicans had hoped would not come until after the November elections so as to not step all over their focus on the Biden administration and Democrats' handling of inflation and the economy.
"Trump is now an issue in the midterms whether or not he declares," Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump associate who worked in the last administration on pandemic messaging — and who, just before the 2020 election, claimed left-wing "hit squads" would engage in an insurrection to prevent a second Trump term — told Insider.
"I now advise him to get in tomorrow," Caputo said, adding that he'd discussed the next presidential race with Trump at a conservative conference in Dallas last weekend, just before the raid took place. "The FBI just guaranteed, in my opinion, that he's going to be a candidate in 2024."
Trump and his allies have expressed confidence in the face of controversy before. The former president went through two impeachment trials over his pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival and urging supporters on January 6 to march on the US Capitol.
But past is not always prologue.
Kristin Davison, a political advisor to Virginia's Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said it is too early to say how this investigation will play out.
"Anyone right now saying, 'This is a shoe-in for Trump, no questions asked' — or anyone who says, 'He's dead' — isn't thinking it all the way through," Davison said. "Because we have no idea what is going to come out of this."
Indeed, The New York Times reported this week that some senior Republicans have been "warned" by Trump allies not to be so aggressive in criticizing the Department of Justice "because it is possible that more damaging information related to the search will become public." The Washington Post has also reported that some of the documents held at Mar-a-Lago were related to nuclear weapons.
Still, Davison told Insider that Trump could succeed in spinning the probe and channeling it into conservative grievances with the Biden administration.
'Pretty much unbeatable in a primary'?
Some Republican strategists who spoke to Insider said they view the investigation as a huge plus for Trump, regardless of its merits, with GOP voters.
"I think it makes him pretty much unbeatable in a primary," said one GOP operative who worked on a rival campaign in 2016. Trump can reprise his role as a "martyr" at the hands of a Democratic deep state, even if he himself selected the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who signed off on the search.
The operative cited Trump's ability to convince a majority of Republican voters to believe that he actually won an election that he lost decisively. "You think they're going to believe the FBI?" the source said. "It allows him to gin up his supporters," the operative said after recent polls suggested that support was weakening.
At least among the GOP base, "He's going to be stronger than he ever was before."
Still, even if that's how it plays out in the GOP primary — without considering the impact of any potential indictments or trials — that doesn't mean Trump will be better positioned to become only the second president after Grover Cleveland in 1892 to win the White House in non-consecutive elections.
"He has not become more electable this week for the general, despite what anyone around him wants to tell him," Sam Nunberg, an advisor on Trump's 2016 campaign, told Insider. "This doesn't help him get elected president."
Nunberg sees the primary as coming down to Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Another long-time GOP operative with ties to Trump said it's unlikely any other Republican will be able to improve their own political fortunes — even if the former president was fighting for his freedom in federal court at the same time as the next presidential election.
"My gut says no," the operative said about the FBI raid opening a window for other Republicans to attack Trump as a criminal, "because every time people try to do that he comes back even stronger." It has been tried before, "many times," the operative said, "and no one has successfully pulled it off."
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