Aug 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump's 2024 boost

Photo illustration of President Donald Trump riding on the back of an elephant

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Trump's top prospective rivals for the 2024 GOP nomination are fiercely defending him over the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago, alleging — without evidence — that he's the victim of political persecution by a rogue Biden Justice Department.

Why it matters: At a moment when Trump's grip over the GOP has shown signs of weakening due to primary losses, the Jan. 6 committee's explosive summer hearings, and the rise of a popular alternative in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the potential 2024 Republican field is suddenly coalescing around him.

The big picture: The outpouring of support from the likes of DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and other potential 2024 contenders underscores the tightrope that ambitious Republicans must walk in an era in which Trump is still the party's dominant force.

  • They'd love to clear Trump from the 2024 field — but also recognize they must join in the uproar to court the Trump base, which is newly energized by fresh allegations of "deep state" misconduct.
  • In supporting Trump on an issue that has — in many ways — defined his political trajectory, his party rivals are inadvertently empowering him to run.

What they're saying: DeSantis tweeted within hours of the FBI operation, slamming the "raid" in his home state as "another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents."

  • What we're watching: DeSantis has rallies in Phoenix and New Mexico over the weekend. His team told Axios that while the governor speaks "on the fly" and often decides what he's going to say just hours before he steps on stage, they anticipate he’ll bring up the FBI search.

Pence, who opened an irreparable rift with Trump by refusing to overturn the 2020 election on Jan. 6, expressed "deep concern" over the "unprecedented search" and used it as an opportunity to rehash allegations that the FBI acted on “political motivation” during the Trump administration.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who has taken advantage of his freedom to move against his former boss, including openly attacking Trump-backed candidates like Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate primary — tweeted that executing a search warrant against a former president is "dangerous."

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) called the search an "unprecedented assault on ... the rule of law" and demanded the removal of FBI Director Christopher Wray and the impeachment or resignation of Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) made similar calls, saying in a statement that Garland and Wray "no longer deserve to remain in office" if they do not immediately explain the purpose and justification for the search.

Other potential 2024 GOP candidates that unleashed furious tweets or statements defending Trump and attacking the FBI include Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

The other side: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose frequent criticism of Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection has triggered speculation of a potential 2024 campaign, does not plan to weigh in, her team told Axios.

  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told CBS News that Americans need to let the DOJ investigation "play out" before jumping to conclusions.
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said the FBI search was "fair game," as long as authorities had the "factual underpinnings" to convince a federal judge to sign off on the warrant.

What to watch: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he spoke to Trump on Tuesday afternoon and is now convinced — more than ever — that the former president will run again.

The bottom line: The fallout from the search has reignited the right's deep-rooted beliefs that the Justice Department, FBI and establishment government are corrupt and politically motivated — unifying conservatives behind Trump in a way not seen since he left office.

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