Makes sense to me. But then, I thought it made sense for Trump to announce early even before the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago. Why should he stand around waiting for DeSantis to join the race next year when he can jump in soonish, while his rival is preoccupied with running for governor, and try to consolidate Republican primary voters?
The best argument for waiting was that having Trump front and center before the midterms would make it easier to blame him if the GOP ends up underperforming. But there are now alternative explanations if Dems do better than expected on Election Day, like the backlash to Dobbs and the surprise passage of Build Back Better. Plus, there’s a risk to waiting: If Trump doesn’t get in early and Republicans blow the roof off in November, Team DeSantis will point to it as proof that the GOP doesn’t need Trump in order to win. In fact, they may do better with voters when he’s on the sidelines.
So there was already an argument for him getting in early. After the FBI raid, that argument has gotten stronger.
Trump has received a fresh wave of encouragement to jump start his next presidential campaign in the 24 hours since his primary residence became the target of an FBI search warrant, several sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The former President, who is widely expected to run again, had previously eyed Labor Day as his target launch date, but is now being advised to accelerate his timeline to capitalize on what Republicans have described as extraordinary overreach and political persecution by Justice Department officials, including by advisers who previously counseled him to take his time with a 2024 announcement…
One senior House Republican personally encouraged Trump on Tuesday to launch a bid before November, a source familiar tells CNN, dismissing concerns among fellow GOP lawmakers that a pre-midterm announcement could galvanize Democratic voters in a political environment that is otherwise considered favorable for Republicans…
The thinking inside Trump’s orbit and among some of his top allies on Capitol Hill has undergone a notable shift since the search was executed at his waterfront estate, said three well-placed sources. Advisers who initially worried Trump would steal the spotlight from vulnerable Democrats if he announced before November have largely abandoned those concerns, while those who fear the FBI search was prompted by compelling evidence against Trump — and he thus shouldn’t rush into another presidential campaign — become a minority in his orbit.
Only in this nihilistic autocratic cult of a party could a federal search warrant being served on a candidate make him more appealing to voters rather than less. The rational argument for nominating Ron DeSantis has never been stronger, that the right is better off with a nominee who’s at no risk of finding himself under indictment in the middle of the next presidential campaign. But the cult wants what it wants.
One obvious new reason for Trump to announce soon is to leverage the outrage about the raid and monetize the nuts who are shrieking about civil war. He’s always had a keen huckster’s eye for salesmanship and understands that the FBI operation is the fundraising opportunity of a lifetime. “The former President, who previously told aides he was concerned about not being able to tap into the $121 million war chest he’s amassed once he declares his candidacy, is now shrugging off those concerns in the last 12 hours, according to a person close to him,” CNN reports in the piece linked above. To the extent Trump didn’t already have his own money printing press for the coming primary, he has it now.
Another obvious reason is that it’s less comfortable for the DOJ or state AGs to pursue a criminal case against an active presidential candidate than a once and future candidate who’s currently a private citizen. Trump has been eyeing a 2024 run as a potential get-out-of-jail-free card for many months, having learned during his presidency that the Justice Department won’t bring — and maybe can’t lawfully bring — charges against the head of the executive branch. By declaring his candidacy ASAP, he would be daring them to charge someone who’s officially campaigning to win that position again. Maybe they’ll back down. And if they don’t and end up charging him, the ensuing outrage on the right will help get him closer to the presidency.
The third reason is that declaring early is an opportunity to sideline DeSantis.
A senior GOP strategist observed that yesterday was a bad day for DeSantis, who was forced to issue a statement defending Trump https://t.co/8yt7Jw90Uz
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 9, 2022
This is his big chance to elbow the rising star from Florida aside and reframe the coming election as a glorious crusade to place him above the law and beyond the reach of the “deep state.” DeSantis won’t dare counter by arguing that Trump is damaged goods, as to do so would imply that the search warrant might be justified. And God knows, he won’t frankly suggest that Trump might have done something wrong that warrants federal scrutiny.
He’s stuck now. He can try to make a broad “electability” case based on his margin of victory in the gubernatorial race but that case is looking less relevant by the day:
Some suggest, "Well that's the past, I'm focused on the future." If you accept Trump's premise that the last election was stolen and DOJ is purging conservatives, you can't exactly move past it! Not coincidentally, candidates are doing quite well (in primaries) with that message.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 10, 2022
And FWIW, this whole playbook was clear from election night 2020, there was no mystery. But there's nobody to defuse it — that's what they surrendered when they decided to let early election lies fester, not follow through on 1/6 impeachment, or wage a subsequent internal fight.
— Benjy Sarlin (@BenjySarlin) August 10, 2022
Running on “electability” against a guy who’s convinced most of the party’s voters to adopt his delusion about a rigged election was always going to be risky insofar as it implies Trump didn’t win in 2020 after all. But it’ll be twice as risky following the FBI raid, after Trump remakes the primary into a test of whether we’re going to let the FBI take down “the most persecuted person in American history” or whatever. I’m frankly not sure DeSantis will even run in an environment like that notwithstanding his fear of missing his chance if he waits until 2028. It’s one thing to challenge Trump in a “neutral” primary climate, it’s another to do so knowing you’ll be accused of siding with the “deep state” by announcing. That might ruin DeSantis’s chances of ever winning the nomination going forward.
There is one way that Trump declaring early could backfire on him and Republicans, though. There’s now a non-negligible chance that the sort of lunatic that broke into the Capitol on January 6 to try to effectuate a coup will do something similarly nutty to “avenge” the FBI raid. Violent threats are rampant online this week among the most hardcore Trump cultists and lord knows the man himself relishes seeing his followers spoiling to commit violence in his name. He and other MAGA influencers are going to keep whipping them up and eventually someone will do something horrible — again, we’ve seen this movie before — and suddenly he and the other “civil war” blowhards will be on the defensive. What sort of backlash at the polls there might be to political violence committed in Trump’s name, I don’t know. But Republicans had better price it in as they keep banging the drum about how this is the darkest moment in American history.