Some top Republicans are acknowledging the growing fear and concern as it has become clearer that Trump has been storing some of America’s most sensitive secrets in an unsecured basement — even refusing to hand them over when the National Archives and Department of Justice tried to get them back. . A top Republican fundraiser who was asked to describe the mood among donors said, “There is tremendous frustration.”
“The question is whether there is a willingness to express that frustration,” the fundraiser added. “I don’t know the answer to that. But there is real frustration, and with the exception of people who are too stupid to understand the need to be frustrated, it is almost universal.”
Tense defenses and personal frustrations are familiar emotions for some Republicans during the Trump era. But the stakes are particularly high this fall, with projections of a red wave in the House dimmed to a smaller GOP majority and as Sen. Chuck Schumer seems potentially poised to retain control of the Senate.
In interviews, some GOP employees insisted that there was a “be-there, done-that” feel to the current news cycle. David Kochel, a longtime Iowa employee and a critic of the former president, said he would “always advocate for greater caution.” He believed the GOP’s response was rooted in the belief that media coverage of Trump was inherently overblown.
“After five years,” he said, “I think a lot of these Republican members are tired of it all and are just hitting back. Right now it’s Pavlovian. They’re hitting back at the media that they say is always unfair to Trump and none of them this stuff is as bad as the press claims they won’t drive him out of Mar-a-Lago.”
But the current problems Trump faces are also different in critical ways. For one thing, he no longer has the powers of the presidency. And, more unusually, he has so far avoided the limelight.
In the weeks since the search for Mar-a-Lago, the former president has been off the air, even shunning appearances in friendly shows. Instead, he has defended himself on his social media site Truth Social and through his Save America super PAC.
The more he speaks for himself, the more political headache he gives Republicans. On Monday, he bluntly suggested that he be crowned the “rightful winner” of a 2020 election that was won fairly by Biden, or that the vote be determined to be “irretrievably jeopardized”. In the latter case, he proposed to retake the election.
Trump is expected to address the FBI quest in his first public appearance before a Saturday Save America rally in support of approved candidates in Scranton, Pa. next weekend.
“I think people would expect him to go on Fox, go on radio shows, go on primetime shows, do Newsmax, OAN, do one-on-one interviews and a media blitz,” said one person close to the Trump operation. . “He doesn’t do media, but the surrogates are there, the lawyers are there, which is smart from a legal standpoint.”
When the news first broke that the FBI had entered Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, many Republicans called it a politically motivated witch hunt. But at least on Capitol Hill, Trump supporters are beginning to move away from their initial anti-FBI appeal, offering a hodgepodge of possible explanations as more details of the investigation emerge.
Trump’s storage of top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago was fine because the estate is secure, some defenders said. Others said the FBI search was simply a distraction from inflation and gas prices.
Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the highest-ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, claimed on Fox News that the search stemmed from classified documents that resembled “an accounting issue more than a threat to national security.” sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who faces a tough reelection challenge this fall, argued that “there was probably a much greater threat to national security based on what Hillary Clinton did.”
Like Johnson, many Republicans pointed to Trump’s 2016 opponent, who was investigated for holding classified data on a private email server, but was ultimately not prosecuted after the FBI indicated her case lacked the typical aggravating factors that are common in cases of the Espionage Act. Johnson’s comments also seemed to ignore recent reports that unauthorized individuals have gained access to Mar-a-Lago — even Trump personally.
Other Republicans, however, have subtly moved from defending Trump to warning about what could happen if — as is increasingly suspected — he is charged. sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.), who fends off attempts to testify in another Trump-related investigation, warned on Fox News that any “prosecution of Donald Trump for mishandling classified information” would eventually result in “riots in the streets.” .
In the background is Trump himself, demanding allegiance from Republicans, declaring the US a “Third World nation” and ramping up his grievance-fueled attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI as violent threats against his opponents mount.
And the Republican lawmakers who took to TV this week to support Trump are senior conference members and close allies. When Congress returns to Washington next month, the entire GOP will be in for a 2017 déjà vu with a Capitol press corps no doubt firing Trump questions rather than the Biden-focused themes the party would rather hit.
Even if the subject were to focus on the Biden administration, the president is emerging from a period of rising approval ratings and surprising legislative success as Trump continues to offer 2020 reprotests.
It’s enough to make even some more seasoned GOP incumbents resort to rhetorical gymnastics to put back the responsibility of the 2020 victor; sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) accused the Biden administration on Monday of seeking Mar-a-Lago’s search warrant simply to hurt the GOP’s chances in November.
“With all the crises that have happened during this administration, they needed a little distraction,” Ernst told Fox News on Monday. “And this was [a] excellent opportunity for this administration to attack President Trump, to talk about this raid, rather than the problems of their own that they have caused over the past two years.
– Sam Stein contributed to reporting