NEW YORK ( Associated Press) — For much of the year, small cracks in political support for Donald Trump have been growing.
Disgruntled Republican voters began to weigh potential new presidential candidates during the primaries. Republican donors are grappling with the damaging revelations exposed by the January 6 commission. Several party leaders have also considered taking on Trump for the presidential nomination in 2024.
But after the FBI executed a search warrant at his Florida property, the Republican Party quickly closed ranks with the former president.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, arguably Trump’s biggest rival in the primary, referred to President Joe Biden’s administration as a “regime” and said Monday’s raid at Mar-a-Lago for documents was unfair. Confidential information taken from “There was a new escalation. The use of federal agencies as weapons against political opponents”.
The GOP’s efforts to cast Trump as the victim of the political Justice Department did not address the potential criminal behavior that justified the finding in the eyes of a federal judge. They also drop Trump’s role in appointing FBI Director Chris Way, whom he now criticizes, and who was also a high-ranking Justice Department official during the Republican presidency. For its part, the White House assured that it had no advance information about the search warrant.
But Trump’s defense on all fronts is a fresh reminder of the former president’s influence still in the GOP, driven by his ability to exploit a sense of grievance among many GOP voters toward the government and other institutions. Trump took advantage of that animosity to overcome the consequences of two political trials and a rebellion. His aides said Tuesday that the FBI raid would only strengthen his position.
“The sooner he starts his campaign, the better,” said Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee.
Banks was one of a dozen Republican lawmakers who spent several hours Tuesday afternoon with Trump at his summer residence in Bedminster, New Jersey. At lunch, which included steak, oysters, mashed potatoes, salad and a Trump cookie, the group discussed this year’s election and the 2024 presidential race, Banks said.
The former president told lawmakers that he had “already made a decision” on the 2024 campaign and that “we would all be happy with his decision.”
The FBI raid appeared to trigger a turnaround among Trump advisers, who privately urged him to wait until after the midterm election to make known his intention to seek the presidency. Suddenly, the same advisor was urging him to start his campaign before the November election.
Trump fueled the speculation by posting a video hours after the raid, which could be interpreted as a campaign rally, on social media. “The best is yet to come,” he assured.
He later issued a fundraising appeal, declaring that “It is important for them to know that they have violated not only my home, but the home of every patriotic American I am fighting for. “
In Columbia, South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham said she had spoken with Trump and was sure another campaign was coming.
“One thing I can tell you,” said Graham: “I thought I was going to run before. Now I believe it more strongly.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Meg Kinnard, Alan Fram and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.