American Republicans have had many opportunities to enter the post-Trump political era, but they have consistently refused to take them.
The ex-president’s menacing and manipulative grip on his party is such that he has turned every potentially devastating setback into a return.
In November 2020, the Republican leadership could have challenged Trump’s blatantly false claims that he won the election and that it was stolen from him through voter fraud.
After the storming of the US Capitol on January 6, the Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted to impeach him. Republican senators hesitated, then refused to build a majority to convict him. If Donald Trump had been convicted, he would have been banned from running for office again.
Throughout this summer, a congressional investigation, led by Republican Maverick Congresswoman Liz Cheney, has amassed evidence of Trump’s involvement in the Jan. 6 insurgency. Most other Republican lawmakers called the hearings a “witch hunt.”
This week came what might have been expected to be the deathblow to all of Donald Trump’s hopes for a future in American politics. Yet his latest troubles only appear to have united the Republican Party in his defence, making it a virtual certainty that he will soon be the Republican’s undisputed nominee for the 2024 presidential election – even as the threat of jail looms. on Trump more worrying than ever.
Worthy of a “banana republic”
For the first time ever, the FBI, America’s top law enforcement agency, has launched a criminal investigation into a former president. The Federal Bureau of Investigation showed “probable cause” and obtained a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida base, for evidence of criminal activity.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland declines to comment on why the warrant was issued. He would now be a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States if Republican senators had not obstructed his nomination by President Obama in an unprecedented way.
The FBI is not authorized to explain its actions at this point. Trump is free to publish the contents of the search warrant but he has chosen not to overdo it, even as he denounces the raid as being carried out by “the radical left”, worthy of a “banana republic”.
Officers were seen taking boxes of documents from Trump’s private home. Eviction from official premises or destruction of presidential documents is punishable by imprisonment and, most importantly, disqualification from office, under US law.
Surprisingly, for those unfamiliar with the polarized state of American politics, the FBI raid provided a massive boost to Trump’s political outlook. Prominent Republicans – including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick DeSantis of Florida – came to his aid and attacked the FBI.
“A dark day for our republic”
Trump has been cemented as the keystone of the modern Republican Party. Opposing the FBI investigation is being used by Republicans as a fundraising opportunity ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The organizing Republican National Committee issued immediate appeals for donations, as did Trump himself, urging, “Give the power back to the people! Will you fight with me!”
JD Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, now running in Ohio for the US Senate, was once a staunch Trump critic. Now he has expressed his “solidarity” with President Trump, backing up his own Twitter appeal with “alarm” emojis.
Senator Rick Scott of Florida argued that the raid should “frighten ordinary Americans”. Fox News star Sean Hannity said it was “a dark day for our republic”.
As the midterm elections approached, when opinion polls suggested they could strengthen their position in the Senate and regain control of the House, Republicans had campaigned on the cost of living, the inflation and incumbent Democratic President Joe Biden’s low ratings.
Trump had been sidelined; the candidates he backed had mixed success in the primary contests. De Santis was solidifying his position as the likely candidate for 2024. Now that has all been turned upside down.
Read more: How the FBI raid may have helped Donald Trump as he eyes a second run for the White House
Republicans are back to dancing to the tune of Trump: that he embodies the party and that he is the subject of unjustified persecution by a radical elite of the “Deep State”.
Never mind that Christopher A Wray, the current FBI Director, was nominated by President Trump in 2017. Never mind that Trump repeatedly said during the 2016 campaign that Hillary Clinton should be disqualified for running. in the White House because she was under active FBI. investigating his emails.
Trump maintains that he is only under investigation because he could be re-elected. “If I announced that I would not run, the persecution would stop!” he claimed.
Why plead the fifth?
Regardless of the Mar-a-Largo raid and the evidence gathered on Jan. 6, Trump is already under civil — and potentially criminal — investigation in New York over his tax and business dealings.
This week, Trump ‘admitted the Fifth Amendment’ against self-incrimination in response to what he called “the vendetta”, “the greatest witch hunt in the history of the United States!” by the state attorney general.
“I once asked [of others], “if you are innocent, why do you accept the Fifth Amendment?” Trump explained. “Now I know the answer. When your family, your business, and everyone in your orbit has become the targets of an unfounded and politically motivated witch hunt, you have no choice.”
Contrary to his protests, politicizing his legal struggles likely helps Trump. He intimidates law enforcement to move against him, as well as providing a rallying call for new donations to his cause.
Many are now criticizing the FBI for failing to foresee the consequences of launching its investigation into Trump and demanding a full explanation from the Bureau.
But as then-FBI Director James Comey insisted at the time of the Hillary Clinton investigation, the FBI is supposed to be the unwavering servant of law and order: independent of partisan politics.
It’s too early to tell what the consequences of refocusing the 2022 and 2024 US elections on Trump’s personal melodrama will be. In the polls, the majority of Republican sympathizers accept his claim that the last election was stolen, but are ambivalent about his re-election (when, remember, he lost). A different Republican candidate for the White House now looks increasingly unlikely.
It’s possible that the slow millstones of justice across the gamut of Trump’s investigations could bring him down before the next presidential election, though he’s shown himself adept at avoiding them so far.
For better or worse, the Republican Party has placed itself irrevocably in Donald J Trump’s orbit as he tries to regain control of the most powerful country in the world.