Republicans saw Trump's end finally looming. Then the FBI gave his message a jolt of life.

·5 min read

The FBI search of Donald Trump’s home in Florida jolted life into his potentially flagging 2024 campaign for the Republican nomination for president.

Once again, when the former president looked to be a weakened patient, the FBI showed up with a political defibrillator to shock him upright.

Republican political reaction to the FBI’s move was imminently predictable. The idea of sending 20 or 30 agents to pick up a handful of documents seemed like overkill to pro-Trump and “move on” Republicans alike, only adding to Trump's narrative while also hurting Republican attempts to move past him.

A DOJ statement made too late

For months, speculation has swirled about whether Trump is actually under investigation over his role in the U.S. Capitol riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and the FBI shows up Monday to check his TPS reports. It’s a search not even Bill Lumbergh of "Office Space" could support.

Former President Donald Trump's home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
Former President Donald Trump's home at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Most Republicans believe that they were there looking for something – anything – else to nail Trump with, and that they are using the paperwork issue as a cover story. We’ll perhaps know soon what they took from Trump’s home if a judge in Florida unseals the warrant and property receipt, as the DOJ has requested.

This episode has breathed life into Trump’s omnipresent argument – that no matter what he does, he’s forever being unfairly persecuted by the blue-check Twitter zealots who now run the White House and Department of Justice.

Waiting is the hardest part: Lack of details around FBI's search of Trump's home is maddening. It's also the process.

You don’t have to be all that smart to draw up a conspiracy theory that would seem more than plausible to the Trump half of the country. There was no official announcement from the DOJ about what happened for three days until Attorney General Merrick Garland made a short statement on Thursday in the wake of public demands for some transparency.

American citizens will need more and soon if whatever legal outcomes are on the horizon are to have legitimacy among more than just the people who think Trump should already be in jail. It has been a colossal mistake for the DOJ to remain silent.

A new hill for Republicans to fight on

To understand the modern Republican Party, you must internalize this phrase: all the right enemies. Trump has them, and Republicans are, for the time being, rallying around the former president because their instincts are to always defend against President Joe Biden, the news media and the people who they believe unfairly persecuted Trump from the minute he took office. Remember the articles about Democrats plotting his impeachment before he was ever sworn in?

This attitude toward Trump – that he was never a legitimate president to begin with and therefore should be destabilized every minute of every day – helped him overcome his very real shortcomings and bad judgment. And it sealed this new Republican attitude that every hill must be defended and perished upon, even if it is likely that your general made some extremely poor decisions to put you there.

This could backfire: Democrats so badly want Trump to go away, but FBI's Mar-a-Lago search is helping him stay

Such as it is today.

Trump clearly made mistakes – colossal mistakes – around the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. Maybe he violated the Presidential Records Act or mishandled classified material. But for Republicans, there’s always the looming thought that people who never accepted his legitimacy in the first place will never give him a moment’s peace. And some of those people are now in very high places.

White House officials say they had no idea this search was happening beforehand. True or false, no Republican believes that.

Hoping for accountability: The truth? A lot can still go wrong, but FBI search on Trump's Mar-a-Lago was cathartic.

Disrupting GOP attempts to move on from Trump

This search has temporarily interrupted the attempts by some Republicans to move the GOP on from the former president. Just look at the pre-search polling:

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had caught up with Trump. Nationally, DeSantis had closed to within single digits.

►The most recent Monmouth University Poll, taken July 28 to Aug. 1, painted a dark picture for Trump’s possible third attempt at the presidency: 56% of Americans said they would definitely or probably not vote for Trump, versus just 40% who said they would or might.

►A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows Trump losing ground and lacking major support with Republican voters.

►Politico and Morning Consult conducted a snap poll in the wake of the raid that verified my instinct and what I had been hearing anecdotally from Republicans: 57% of GOP voters said they would support Trump if the 2024 presidential primary were held today, the highest on record since his 2020 loss.

Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City.
Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower on Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City.

You could almost see a future where enough Republicans decided to go a different way. But after the search at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s would-be opponents immediately fell in line behind him, decrying the FBI action. They aren’t stupid, of course, and were able to discern immediately how this episode would be perceived by grassroots Republicans.

It’s hard to imagine anyone drawing up a better scenario for Trump to remind everyone who really has all the right enemies, and whom  those enemies hate the most. Republicans might one day be persuaded to move Trump along, but they will be damned if they are going to let Biden, Garland, the FBI or the news media do it for them.

A criminal or a martyr: The FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home will make him a criminal or a martyr

Maybe Trump will be indicted. Maybe he won’t. And maybe much more damaging information will emerge shortly. But it is clear that this search has temporarily pumped new life into Trump’s campaign for the 2024 GOP nomination. I agree with former Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer – this can only end in one of two outcomes: Trump’s indictment, or in the sacking of the senior leadership of the DOJ and the FBI. There’s no going back now.

Scott Jennings is a Republican adviser, CNN political contributor and partner at RunSwitch Public Relations. He can be reached at Scott@RunSwitchPR.com or on Twitter: @ScottJenningsKY

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: FBI's Mar-a-Lago search gives Trump's potential 2024 campaign new life