FBI Has Reestablished Trump as the Alpha Dog in the Republican Party

Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letitia James for a civil investigation in New York City, August 10, 2022. (James Devaney/GC Images)

Who could be in a better position to capitalize on outrage over the FBI searching Trump’s home than Trump himself?

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Who could be in a better position to capitalize on outrage over the FBI searching Trump’s home than Trump himself?

A s the late political philosopher Hans Gruber once said, “You ask for miracles — I give you the F-B-I.”

There was a time when having one’s home searched by federal law enforcement would trigger talk about the end of somebody’s political career. But it is a testament to what a bizarre moment in American history we are in that it may very well mark the informal launch of a presidential candidacy.

Within hours of FBI agents leaving his property, Donald Trump was eager to break the news, issuing a press release stating, “These are dark times for our Nation, as my beautiful home, Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, is under siege, raided and occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”

Then Trump’s political operation followed up with a fundraising appeal and a campaign-style video. The four-minute production, which may as well have been the launch of a presidential run, starts off in ominous black and white, with sound effects of a storm in the background while Trump declares that the United States is a “nation in decline.” Among his grievances is that we are a “nation that has weaponized its law enforcement against the opposing political party like never before.” As the video turns to color, he echoes his 2016 slogan, proclaiming, “Soon we will have greatness again.”

Depending on one’s politics, these developments either speak to the FBI’s loss of credibility over the Russia investigation, Trump’s corruption of our politics, or a bit of both. But wherever one comes down, it’s pretty clear that Trump has used the episode to put himself back in the driver’s seat of the Republican Party, a status all but confirmed by the scramble among elected Republicans to be the first to attack the FBI’s actions as worthy of a banana republic.

Before this week, the subject of Trump’s influence within the party was one of significant debate. The skeptic’s case was that people were largely moving on from Trump and that even once-loyal fans were lately more concerned with issues other than his relitigation of his defeat in the 2020 election.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has been performing increasingly well in polls in a hypothetical 2024 matchup against Trump, as he has carefully used his office to establish himself as a warrior on major issues of concern for conservatives. He has been taking on the Biden administration, Covid restrictionists, teachers’ unions, and woke corporations — hitting on the issues of CRT in the schools, gender ideology, tech censorship, and more. Last week, he generated headlines for suspending a George Soros–backed prosecutor.

Yet the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago instantly made Trump once again the focal point of the controversy that is dominating the news feeds of Republican primary voters and generating intense passion.

DeSantis was quick to weigh in, of course. He tweeted on Monday night, “The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic.”

In a presidential primary with Trump out of the race, this sort of posture might be effective. But assuming Trump actually gets in the race, who could be in a better position to capitalize on outrage over the FBI searching Trump’s home than Trump himself?

Also conveniently for Trump, the FBI’s action came the same week that Senate Democrats passed legislation providing a funding boost to the IRS that would allow the tax agency to hire 87,000 more employees. It didn’t take long for many conservatives to connect the two events. In what could easily be a Trump 2024 campaign slogan, blogger Rich Baris tweeted, “The FBI is for Donald Trump. The IRS is for the rest of you.”

The Biden Justice Department’s pursuit of Trump will continue to be the leading political news story, with the Republican electorate firmly on the side of Trump and rival campaigns likely to hold their fire.

There is, of course, the possibility that the FBI found something seriously incriminating that implicates Trump in clearly criminal conduct. But even if the FBI unearthed something potentially damaging, opponents won’t want to seize on that information as you’d typically expect other campaigns to do, fearing that they’d be tagged as being in league with the witch-hunters.

While it is best to await more information before speculating more on the details of any potential DOJ investigation into the former president, it is safe to say that the FBI action has reestablished Trump as the alpha dog among Republicans.

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