The FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago could wind up benefiting former President Donald Trump’s potential 2024 comeback bid. Political strategists say the Justice Department’s action against Trump has solidified Republican support behind the former president — at least for the time being.
“I’ve never seen the GOP base this red-hot before, and it’s clearly causing Republicans to rally to his defense,” said Andy Surabian, a GOP strategist and former White House official under Trump. “Ironically, all the Democrat-media attacks on Trump, from yesterday’s raid to the January 6th Committee hearings, do nothing politically but ensure that Republican voters stay attached to his hip.”
Since the raid was announced on Monday afternoon by Trump, Republicans have denounced the Justice Department for what they say is governmental overreach. Strategists say the context of the raid, over Trump’s purported failure to hand over potentially classified documents to the National Archives, has played into the former president’s hands.
“This rallies the GOP base to Trump’s side, at least short-term, by making him look like the aggrieved party or the victim,” said Mike Madrid, a consultant who advises both parties and helped found the Never-Trump Lincoln Project. “But I don’t know how sustainable that is once we learn more about why the raid happened or if charges will be filed.”
A large group of FBI agents raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate Monday with search warrants. The raid was reportedly related to materials the former president brought to the residence after leaving the White House in January 2021.
Trump himself was the first to break the news of the raid in a blistering statement accusing the Biden White House of a “weaponization of the justice system.”
“Nothing like this has ever happened to a president of the United States before,” said Trump. “After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate.”
Strategists say the nature of the raid, coupled with the Justice Department’s silence, has allowed Trump to largely define the narrative surrounding the incident. While it’s not certain if that strategy will be possible once details of the raid become public, many believe the widespread distrust of the Justice Department and other federal agencies only benefits Trump.
“The FBI brand has been damaged, the DOJ brand has been damaged,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican consultant who has run several high-profile campaigns. “The trust in those institutions has been lessened for a number of reasons, including the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.”
Trump, who has strongly hinted at a third campaign for the White House, continues to lead the field of potential 2024 candidates. Attention has grown, however, around potential alternatives, most prominently Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.
Political experts say the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago could wind up overshadowing other contenders and give the impression that Biden and Democrats are trying to prevent Trump from running again.
“It really depends on what ends up happening with the investigation. Right now Trump can go out and say, ‘I’m the guy Democrats are targeting, they’re afraid of me,'” said Madrid. “But the other side of this is that GOP voters and independents that already have a bad view of him are likely to be pushed further away.”
The immediate aftermath of the raid, though, seems to indicate otherwise. GOP elected officials have rushed to attack the Justice Department for what they view as politicized conduct.
Even Republicans known for being averse to discussing Trump have weighed in on the raid, echoing the sentiment.
“A stunning move by the DOJ and FBI,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said on social media. “This same DOJ labeled parents in Loudoun County as terrorists and failed to enforce federal law to protect Justices in their homes. Selective, politically motivated actions have no place in our democracy.”
Although Trump has the most exposure because of the raid, Republican strategists say Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland are also in the cross-hairs. They note that the DOJ’s reputation has already taken a beating in the public eye because of Garland’s push last year to investigate parents for making threats against school boards.
“The American people view all of these institutions, from the DOJ to the FBI, with skepticism because they think they’ve been politicized,” said Steinhauser. “It’s happened under numerous presidents, but it’s something Biden will have to own at the ballot box.”
Democratic strategists contend otherwise, though. They say that Trump has significant baggage resulting from the January 6, 2001 incident that will hang over Republicans both this cycle and in 2024.
“GOP congressional leadership wants to keep the focus on Joe Biden, but Donald Trump keeps inserting himself into the picture,” said Brad Bannon, a longtime Democratic Party consultant. “Trump’s constant visibility is an obstacle to Republican success.”
Reporting from Fox News.