In his biography, The Art of the Deal, Donald Trump famously wrote that “good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all”.
The master of spin, if anyone is able to turn a FBI search for classified government documents into a political win it is the former Republican president.
A fundamental part of Trump’s appeal has always been that it is him against a corrupt government establishment. The agency’s Monday night search of the Mar-a-Lago resort strengthens that case for millions of voters, who will see it as unjust persecution.
And the fact is it couldn’t have come at a better time for Trump, whose poll numbers have been flagging in recent months. His endorsements in recent Republican primaries have been hit-and-miss, funding has been drying up and the buzz around potential rivals has been growing.
Trump can rely on a dutiful base – roughly 35 per cent of the electorate – but persuadable Republicans and independents have begun to tire of his myopic focus on the “Big Lie” of a stolen election.
Conservative views on Trump darkened further over six weeks of televised congressional hearings on the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol by the former president’s supporters. Polls showed that one third of Republican respondents thought the 76-year-old should not run for president again in 2024, up from a quarter who held that view in early June when the bipartisan congressional probe began.
A clear majority of primary election voters with at least a college degree – a leading indicator of political preferences inside the donor class – said they wanted to see another nominee.
Meanwhile, the 43-year-old Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been gaining on Trump in some polls, including in New Hampshire, the first primary state, where one recent survey had DeSantis statistically tied with Trump among Republican primary voters.
But nothing riles up Trump followers like an existential fight against “The Establishment”. Some online far-Right warriors even began calling for a civil war.
Fox News hosts spent much of the day claiming to their viewers that the US government was “corrupt” and that the “Democrat-run” FBI was using “police state tactics” to block Trump from power.
Alyssa Farah, a former Trump White House communications director, said she thought that ultimately it would come down to what the FBI discovered. “I’m hoping it goes beyond simply not complying with some archiving laws, or the DOJ (Department of Justice) just handed Donald Trump the Republican nominee and potentially the presidency.”
Since leaving office last year, Trump has been mired in at least half-a-dozen civil and criminal investigations. But none have prompted quite the same full-throated defence from the GOP.
The image of FBI agents raiding a former president’s home, under the cover of darkness, has had an electrifying effect. If he decides to run – and isn’t first brought down by any of his legal entanglements – Monday’s raid could just help propel Trump to victory.
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