How the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate could be a gift to the GOP

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“The FBI is the Gestapo”

“Tyrannical”

“A political witch hunt”

That basically sums up how the right publicly described the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Monday.

You won’t be able to tell from their public statements, TV news hits or tweets, but the earth-shaking news that the FBI executed a search warrant likely has some Republicans smiling — maybe even high-fiving one another — albeit in private. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries of Monday’s search will be the cast of characters not named Trump looking to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took to social media to say that an operation like this would happen only in a “banana republic.”   

Whatever is being said out loud, it’s hard not to see how the Justice Department didn’t just do DeSantis and any other 2024 presidential hopefuls a solid by potentially sidelining Trump from federal office.

Whatever is being said out loud, it’s hard not to see how the Justice Department didn’t just do DeSantis and any other 2024 presidential hopefuls a solid by potentially sidelining Trump from federal office.

News reports indicate that FBI agents descended on Trump’s sprawling estate, seizing roughly a dozen boxes of items pertaining to the supposedly unlawful possession of classified documents related to national security issues.  

We’ve seen how leaders in the party who publicly stood behind Trump have, at the same time, privately wished he would just go away. It may seem like ancient history, but less than six months ago, news came out that House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California said “I’ve had it with this guy,” referring to Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. 

Or how about when the tell-all “This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future,” written by two New York Times political reporters, dished out a bombshell that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had privately mused to colleagues on Capitol Hill that in a second impeachment trial of Trump “the Democrats are going to take care of the son of a b—- for us”?

For a long time now, signs have shown that many Republicans — both stalwart establishment figures like McConnell and heirs-apparent to the MAGA mantle like DeSantis — have wanted the party to move on from Trump. 

Although he remains feverishly popular among core members of his base, according to a July New York Times poll, half of all Republican voters see Trump as damaged goods. He has become far too toxic to attract the unique coalition of independents that propelled him to the Oval Office in 2016 and potentially weigh down party candidates down the ballot. They see Trump as an albatross around the party’s neck, and until he either rides off peacefully into the sunset or is removed from the political scene by legal force, he will keep his airtight grip on the party and, in doing so, block new national leaders like DeSantis from taking the reins.

With Trump continuing to tour the country — in what The New York Times has dubbed the “The Traveling Trump Show,” a forum in which he habitually airs sundry grievances about a stolen election and waxes on endlessly about the halcyon days in which he was commander-in-chief — it was looking increasingly likely that he had been gearing up for another run for president. 

And in light of Monday’s executed search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, some speculate that an announcement by Trump of a 2024 run may now come sooner than otherwise expected, as he looks to cash in on the crescendo of outrage among his supporters who see the FBI search of his home as a continuation of a politically motivated persecution.

But 2024 is still a long way off, and if Trump jumps the gun and announces a run before this fall’s midterms as some suspect, his campaign might well fizzle out over the course of 2023 as an avalanche of damaging revelations become public — including potentially what exactly the FBI was searching for and may have found in Monday’s raid. 

Although Trump has yet to be charged or stand trial, legal experts surmise that the Justice Department must have some rock-solid evidence to have signed off on an unprecedented FBI search at the home of a former president.  

To be clear, we don’t know the details of what was collected, but a lawyer for Trump told NBC News that the search warrant indicated that the agents were investigating possible violations of the Presidential Records Act. While the act doesn’t specify an enforcement mechanism, legal experts have pointed out that Trump could be charged under Section 2071 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which makes it a crime to conceal or destroy U.S. public documents. A provision of the code states that convicted persons will “be disqualified from holding” any federal office. 

Nonetheless, it’s still unclear whether the former president could actually be banned from office even were he to be tried, convicted and sentenced to prison for this offense. Some experts even suggest Trump would be able to run for president from jail

But what is quite obvious is that a storyline of a twice impeached former president’s fending off charges of violating national security and possibly running for office from behind bars would end up being a nightmare scenario for the GOP. I’m sure it would much rather be talking about sky-high inflation and weak borders and picking apart the job President Joe Biden has done leading the nation. 

If Trump were to be tried and convicted in the next two years — a possibility that appears a whole lot more likely after Monday’s events — GOP leaders would finally have to face the music and make the unpleasant but necessary choice of cutting off a limb to survive.

And such a move would finally rid the party of its dead weight and open up an unfettered lane for GOP hopefuls like DeSantis.

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