All eyes are once again on Donald Trump. The former president of the United States has had a hectic week since Saturday, August 6, when he made his star appearance at a conservative congress in Dallas. At that time, he did not know that a judge had already signed a search warrant for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, as part of an investigation into at least three crimes. The FBI’s politically explosive action has made almost everything in American politics revolve around Trump, who no longer doubts that he wants to run for president again in 2024.
The populist, demagogue Trump who won the 2016 elections has given way to an extremist and incendiary Trump, who does not respect the law or the institutions of the US. It is the same Trump who refused to accept his electoral defeat against Joe Biden and triggered the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He is presenting himself as a martyr of political persecution. And is reusing hoaxes and conspiracy theories, which spread like wildfire, to garner support. On his journey, he has coopted the vast majority of the Republican Party, over which he holds an iron grip.
His fiery rhetoric has become even more inflammatory (if that were possible) since the FBI search of his Florida home. On his social media network, Truth Social, Trump has accused the Department of Justice of planting evidence, compared the United States to a “broken, Third World Country” and condemned the alleged political persecution against him. Users on the network have rushed to support the former president in heated messages that have called for civil war. One of the platform’s most active users, Ricky Shiffer, crossed the line between verbal and physical political violence last Wednesday and launched an armed attack on the FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was shot dead by the police. Meanwhile, the judge who signed the search warrant, Bruce Reinhart, is facing anti-Semitic threats and insults. Trump supporters have spread what they claim to be his address and phone number on social media. The synagogue Reinhart usually attends has had to cancel some services and tighten security on his account.
US President Joe Biden has avoided making any comment and has even gone on vacation to Kiawa Island, North Carolina in a bid to distance himself from the investigation and claims it is politically motivated. Last week, the president met with historians who warned that US democracy is faltering. One of the historians, Sean Wilentz, a Princeton history professor, compared the current situation with the years preceding the American Civil War and the pro-fascist movements of the 1930s.
“Everyone should take a deep breath right now and try to calm down,” said Wilentz in a TV interview on Saturday. “[Biden] understands the situation we are in. He doesn’t have easy answers either. But I think he’s going to do the best he can to run the country. And that’s the best he can do. We must all do our jobs and I think he’s going to try to do his to the best of his ability.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment last week when asked about the possibility of Biden running against Trump again in two years’ time: “All I can say is that the president intends to run in 2024,″ she said last Tuesday at a press conference at the White House.
Trump has also dropped hints that he intends to run, although he has made no official announcement. “I ran twice. I won twice and did much better the second time than I did the first,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Texas last week, adding “now we may have to do it again.”
Following the FBI search of his Florida home, Trump has spread conspiracy theories to paint himself as a victim of political persecution. He claimed, without the slightest bit of evidence, that it was Biden’s decision to carry out the raid. He suggested, again without evidence, that the FBI had planted evidence against him. And he accused the National Archives of double standards, arguing that former US president Barack Obama was allowed to take “33 million pages of documents, many of them classified” to Chicago.
The claim has gained so much attention, the National Archives had to issue a statement to deny the accusation. “The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) assumed exclusive legal and physical custody of Obama Presidential records when President Barack Obama left office in 2017, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act (PRA),” it explained in a statement. “NARA moved approximately 30 million pages of unclassified records to a NARA facility in the Chicago area where they are maintained exclusively by NARA.”
It added: “As required by the PRA, former president Obama has no control over where and how NARA stores the presidential records of his administration.”
Republican state governors and party leaders in Congress have closed ranks with Trump and repeated his misleading claims about the weaponization of the US justice system. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, one of the most outspoken Trump supporters, has begun to wear T-shirts with a slogan calling for the FBI to be defunded. Some Republicans have toned down their supports after it was revealed that Trump had numerous classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
Those close to Trump believe that legal proceedings against him will not deter him from running for president, but rather strengthen his resolve.
In the meantime, there are less than three months to go until the November midterm elections, in which the entire House of the Representatives and a third of the Senate are up for grabs. Given Biden’s low popularity, Republicans wanted the midterms to be a referendum on the Democratic president, but the poll may end up being a referendum on Trump. That can mobilize the disaffected Democratic vote and drive moderate Republicans away from the polls.
Trump has other reasons to delay announcing his run for president. US legislation on election funding places restrictions on how candidates can raise and use funds. Trump, on the other hand, through the fund of his Save America platform, can receive almost unlimited money and use it if he wants for personal purposes, such as paying his lawyers. At the end of June, according to official data, the fund had $103 million, almost triple the money available to the Republican National Committee.
Trump, who was also called to testify in a financial fraud investigation last week, has in fact taken used his legal problems to aggressively raise more funds, via cellphone messages, emails and advertising. When you want to sign up to receive news from Save America, you first must answer the question: “Do you love Trump?” Yes or no, the world divided in two halves.
Trump continues to hold enormous influence in his party. While most leaders usually step out of the limelight after leaving office, Trump has done nothing of the sort. The former president has an iron grip on the party, and very few dare to contest his leadership. Out of conviction, convenience or fear, hardly anyone within the Republican Party dares to openly contradict his lies that the 2020 election was stolen. Those who do, such as Representative Liz Cheney, who is the co-chair of the House committee investigating the January 6 assault on the Capitol, do so at their own risk: her criticism of Trump may cost her her seat in Congress.
In some constituencies, Democrats have covertly supported the most outspoken Trump supporters in the Republican primaries in the belief that they will have a better chance at beating more extreme candidates at the midterms. But they are playing with fire.
As for the presidential elections, if Trump decides to run, the other potential candidates, such as the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, or Texas Senator Ted Cruz, will have a hard time. Due to his financial power and the overwhelming leadership he has over his party, only more serious criminal revelations are likely to topple him. In an online vote organized last week by the conservative congress in Dallas, the former president swept 69% of the vote. Through it all, Trump remains the party’s favorite.