Donald Trump has more than $100 million in his political war chest. But he has something even more valuable — an active FBI investigation against him.
Anyone can raise money. Few can dominate the nation’s political consciousness, cleaving the country into two passionately opposed sides and giving rise to perfervid theories and counter-theories, based on being the target of a law enforcement action. That’s the quality that Trump has brought to the table for years, and it is boosting him still.
Democrats all over the country have been cynically and not-so-subtly promoting MAGA candidates in GOP primaries. If the Federal Bureau of Investigations were doing the same thing, it wouldn’t have handled its search of Mar-a-Lago any differently.
The raid has put Trump front-and-center again. It has made it easy for him to portray himself as an embattled victim. It has caused nearly everyone in the GOP to embrace him.
Of course, none of this was intended by FBI Director Christopher Wray, although it was entirely foreseeable.
No one is above the law, yet if the FBI search was really over a document dispute, it’s hard to see how the law-enforcement stakes were big enough to justify taking a step sure to inflame roughly half the country.
The episode and its fallout are a reminder that the magnitude of controversy and attention generated by Trump is beyond what anyone else can hope to match.
Last week, Ron DeSantis suspended a “woke” county prosecutor who pledged not to enforce laws that he opposed. For a couple of days, this felt like a big deal. Yet, compared to the action at Mar-a-Lago, the firing was a picayune dispute over county government — Hollywood, Florida, compared to Hollywood, California.
The FBI search played into Trump’s hands in another way. Populism thrives on the sense that big, out-of-control forces are wielding outsize power, that things aren’t what they seem, and that institutions are fundamentally corrupt.
Trump built his political career playing to this sentiment. He portrays himself as the courageous fighter against such malign forces, and their victim.
For him, the contention that he’s being treated unfairly, a constant throughout his adult life, is both a negotiating posture (“How dare you charge such an exorbitant amount to build the clubhouse at my new golf course?”) and a worldview. In the political realm, the more he’s being cheated, the worse and more malevolent his enemies are — and the more his supporters need to rally to his side.
That’s what happened after the raid — for good reason.
It is impossible to overestimate the effect of the Russia investigation on the Republican psyche. To have a couple of years of “the walls are closing in” media coverage, speculation Trump might be a Russian agent, and an intense special counsel investigation all coming to naught and predicated on the Steele dossier that was laughably bogus from the start won’t soon be forgotten.
After that experience, no assurance that, “There’s no way the FBI would do that,” or, “Well, they had a warrant, so it must be OK,” is ever going to get any traction for Republicans.
And because any political taint around federal law enforcement naturally raises apocalyptic fears — and don’t kid yourselves progressives, you’d feel the same way if the shoe was on the other front — there is no room for modulation or nuance.
To the extent Trump becomes the central figure in a Manichean struggle between good and evil, it makes any other concern — electability, a well-considered and achievable agenda — seem small-minded by comparison.
Now, maybe what we learn about the classified material sought by the FBI turns out to be so shocking that the search looks different in the cold light of day.
Maybe, the initial rallying around Trump fades.
Maybe. For now, the chances of another Republican beating Trump for the GOP nomination look more remote. Thank you, Christopher Wray.
(Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry)
(c) 2022 by King Features Syndicate