ANALYSIS — It is time to take the notion Donald Trump has lost his grip over the Republican Party and flush it down the toilet.
That is what the then-president reportedly did with White House documents that he did not want to see the light of day, often clogging a commode in the West Wing. He appears to have taken some to his Florida resort and locked them in a safe, according to some accounts of a Monday FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago that we now know was approved by senior Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
The former president, in the latest remarkable and unprecedented moment of his political career, used a lengthy statement to announce the raid. It seems a wise political strategy because it left even his onetime Republican skeptics little choice but to join their GOP mates by immediately rallying around the MAGA flag.
Trump denounced the “unannounced raid.” (Fact check: Most are, to prevent evidence from being destroyed or moved.) He said it was “not necessary or appropriate” and ripped it as “prosecutorial misconduct” and “the weaponization of the Justice System.” He contended it was the work of the “Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”
And, following a blockbuster Washington Post report on Thursday evening that he had stolen information related to nuclear weapons, the former president accused the FBI of planting such sensitive documents in his basement storage area in Florida.
True to form, Trump spent most of the week fundraising off the federal law enforcement action. Trump went so far as to falsely state “Democrats broke into the home of the 45th President of the United States.”
Trump appears to have learned little, if anything, from two impeachments and his own egging on his angry supporters before and on Jan. 6, 2021, when a MAGA mob ransacked the Capitol, hunting for lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence. Many of his backers and Republican lawmakers clearly have learned very little, either.
That is, except full and vitriolic loyalty to Trump — no matter what, and no questions asked.
Political journalists and analysts for months have used any 2020 primary defeat or closer-than-expected victory by a Trump-endorsed candidate as evidence that The Donald has finally lost control of the party he hijacked in 2015 as a long-shot presidential candidate.
When asked recently about such flimsy prognostications, one former Democratic official replied: “Wishing it true doesn’t make it reality.”
The collective reaction by GOP lawmakers and conservative users of social media sites Monday night and then their collective silence after the Post report shows such proclamations have but one proper destination: around the bowl and down the hole.
Some of the official documents from Trump’s chaotic term, which should have gone to the National Archives and Records Administration, didn’t quite stay down after he allegedly flushed them, according to images that sources provided to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. But it is time to send the idea, as of Aug. 12, 2022, that Donald Trump is not in full control of the GOP to the political septic tank.
There is little incentive for even potential 2024 Republican primary combatants to do anything but defend Trump. If he does not run, they will need as much of his MAGA base as they can secure. And there will be more primaries in a couple of years for members of Congress.
There was plenty of evidence of Trump’s vice grip-hold before Republican lawmakers like Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado took to a Twitter spaces event Monday evening and said her party — if it takes over Congress in the fall, then the White House in 2024 — should defund the FBI, and online conservative social media users sent the term civil war spiking.
“This is Donald Trump’s party, and I’m proud to be a Donald Trump Republican,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said at a Conservative Political Action Conference forum in Dallas on Aug. 6.
At the same event, Trump won the latest version of CPAC’s Straw Poll with 69 percent of the vote, followed by 24 percent favoring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. That is up from Trump’s 59 percent winning total in a version of the survey during a February CPAC forum in Orlando. (DeSantis got 28 percent of the vote in February.)
Of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, it is likely only two — Reps. Dan Newhouse of Washington state and David Valadao of California — will appear in general election races in November’s midterms. Trump-backed, 2020 election-denying MAGA conservatives are running competitively in places like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia — 2024 swing states, all — for statewide offices. The House GOP conference, in the majority or not, will be more Trumpian.
Then came Monday night’s GOP meltdown over what they treated like a Mar-a-Lago massacre, followed by no Republican breaking with Trump after the nuclear weapons documents allegation was relayed to the Post.
“Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., once a top Trump critic. “But never before in America.” (Never mind that also never before in America has a sitting president sent a mob to Capitol Hill to stop the Electoral College vote count and instructed it to “fight like hell” when it got there.)
“I’ve talked a lot about the civil war in the GOP and I lean into it because America needs fearless & effective Republicans to finally put America First,” tweeted Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., before appearing to call for one with her party’s political opponents: “Last night’s tyrannical FBI raid at MAR is unifying us in ways I haven’t seen. In January, we take on the enemy within.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who needs Trump’s support to — finally — secure the speaker’s gavel he has long sought, responded to the raid with a statement declaring the Justice Department “has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”
He added of an expected GOP-run House next year: “Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.” (Never mind that a federal judge signed the search warrant. Never mind that FBI Director Christopher Wray, hand-picked by Trump, would have had to approve the raid and likely took the request to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Garland.)
President Joe Biden on Tuesday, while signing documents ratifying the Senate’s approval of Finland and Sweden joining NATO, declared in his usual hopeful tone: “We’re showing the world the United States of America can still do big things.”
As they say in MAGA country: Bless his heart. With a dwindling number of examples, “big things” are getting harder domestically when one party has to work with the other. Biden’s upbeat messages are, to be sure, what a president should say — but they are from a far-gone era.
Whatever else Justice officials greenlight in their Trump cases will only add to that. There are internal DOJ and FBI guidelines that make another MAGA-triggering law enforcement event possible, and perhaps likely, before polls close on Nov. 8.
“The bottom line is, we’re not going to know if this case is headed towards indictment for a while. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this search warrant was executed 91 days before the midterm elections,” Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney and law professor at University of Alabama Law School, wrote on Substack.
“DOJ goes silent on investigations with a political nexus in the run up to the election, and while some offices run on a 60 day clock, 90 feels right here,” she added. “Conducting the search today gives DOJ plenty of time to process whatever evidence it now has in its possession.”
Trump shrewdly put up the MAGA equivalent of the “bat symbol” — again — Monday evening. His followers, this time joined by GOP lawmakers, answered him. As they always have. As they always will.
The GOP’s visceral reaction this week tells us plenty about the homestretch of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential race. Forget bare-knuckle politics. The country is about to be pulled down the same vile hole into which Trump apparently tried to send official documents.