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October 2, 2022

Why an FBI raid won’t stop Trump from running in 2024 — and might encourage him

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas on Saturday, former President Donald Trump dropped another tease that he will soon announce he is running for president in 2024. “We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And we will make America great again,” he told the CPAC audience. “I ran twice, I won twice … and we may have to do it again.” 

Don’t doubt that he will. 

The FBI raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday seems like it would put the brakes on the former president’s political ambitions. But if anything, dramatic actions against him by the Justice Department, in this case tied to classified information Trump allegedly took with him from the White House, according to an NBC source familiar with what happened, is only likely to grease those ambitions further. Trump’s denial of the outcome of the 2020 election before his CPAC fans indicates he doesn’t feel bound by any legal reality — and, in fact, being the subject of a criminal investigation could even fuel his campaign.

Any fear he has of losing has surely been displaced by a more serious one: doing time. Trump must pine for the Justice Department’s shield from prosecution that the presidential seal affords.

Trump may believe that an indictment could help his political profile, promoting his longtime campaign theme of being an aggrieved martyr. Already he’s been able to raise tremendous sums based on telling his core supporters there’s an election conspiracy that denied him re-election; actual proof of criminal targeting under the Biden administration could be catnip to these followers.

Even if Trump were convicted before the 2024 election, it wouldn’t likely be much before. He would almost surely be out on bail, still running for the presidency and claiming that the verdict would be reversed on appeal. As of late July, Trump remained the leading choice for the Republican presidential nomination, with about 50% support, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average and almost every individual poll that shows him with massive double-digit leads over his closest competitor. 

Indeed, despite some naysayers, all signs still point to a Trump run. We ignore them at our peril — doing so means losing precious time both reminding Americans of the “clear and present danger” to our Constitution that he poses and preparing for how best to defeat him.

First among those arguing Trump won’t run again was Michael Cohen. Trump’s former lawyer — who knows the man as well as anyone — said in November: “His fragile ego cannot stand to be considered a two-time loser.” Cohen’s observation seemed sensible then. And since then, polls and focus groups have shown that at least some Republican voters may be tiring of Trump, so there’s some risk he could lose the Republican nomination before he even gets to November 2024. 

There could also be a financial reason to throw in the towel. Trump has been raising hundreds of millions on his “big lie claims,” which Cohen called “a big grift.” Cohen predicted that if Trump ran, he would be “like the boy who cried wolf” — losing twice would cost him many donors’ belief that the same “stolen election” lightning had struck him twice and, with it, their financial support.

Under federal law, if he is formally running, his $103 million Save America PAC can contribute only $5,000 to his campaign. And the Republican National Committee has said that if he runs, it must stay neutral among Republicans and stop covering hefty legal bills related to a separate probe by the New York state attorney general.

Some savvy observers of the White House scene agree with Cohen. In April, Salon columnist Brian Karem came to the same conclusion, relying heavily on the last reason — Trump’s desire to keep raising money. That was also the primary reason Slate editor Jeremy Stahl cited last week in a provocative piece titled: “Hear Me Out — Trump Won’t Run Again.”

But Monday’s FBI search only underscores why those considerations won’t likely win out. In recent weeks, we’ve witnessed an avalanche of evidence from the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 about Trump’s potential criminality leading up to and on that fateful day. Even before Monday’s search, we saw news of an accelerating Justice Department investigation considering whether Trump attempted to overturn the 2020 election. 

At the same time, Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis’ grand jury is hearing from Trump’s inner circle about his possible interference in Georgia’s 2020 presidential vote. And in February, the National Archives requested that the Justice Department look at whether Trump’s handling of White House records broke federal law.

Hence, any fear he has of losing has surely been displaced by a more serious one: doing time. Trump must pine for the Justice Department’s shield from prosecution that the presidential seal affords. And as for Trump’s ability to continue tapping funds from his PACs and using RNC money for some of his legal fees, should he formally announce his candidacy, never doubt his ability to find legal arguments for continuing on as he always has and paying fines for violations if he gets caught. And once the presidency is won, are your people going to enforce the rules against you?

As for Cohen’s assertion that Trump would surrender his credibility if he lost a second time, where’s the evidence that his fans would disbelieve his inevitable claim that he actually won? Indeed, isn’t the risk to his moneymaking apparatus greater if he drops the prospect of returning to the White House? His political relevance would be outshone by that of those who pick up the torch, while his name could be in the headlines predominantly for his entanglement with the law.

Finally, there is the siren call Trump hears of trying to vindicate his 2020 loss and having the power to seek revenge — particularly against a Justice Department that is upping its investigation of his activities. Given all these factors, whatever legal jeopardy he may be in, expect a Trump announcement soon after the midterms saying he intends to be the first president to have ever had an election stolen and lived to win four years later.

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