Donald Trump has been preparing for this moment for a long time

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Little has made former Vice President Mike Pence’s views on a 2024 presidential bid more obvious than his tweet following the FBI’s raid of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Pence and Trump have been at political disagreements for months, with Trump endorsing Republican candidates who embrace his bogus claims about the 2020 election and Pence endorsing their opponents. Pence has good reason to be frustrated with Trump, of course, given that the former president not only tried to lay all the blame for Joe Biden’s presidency on him, but also actively stoked anger at Pence then. that furious rioters closed in on January 6. , 2021.

Yet Pence’s response to the research hasn’t been to urge Americans to suspend judgment until we know more—anything! — details of the mandate or of the broader investigation that prompted it. Instead, it was to echo Trump’s deeply political argument.

He shared the “deep concern of millions of Americans over the unprecedented search of President Trump’s personal residence”, Pence wrote. “…After years of FBI agents found to have acted out of political motivation during our administration, the Justice Department’s appearance of continued partisanship must be addressed.”

This response, as a whole, is exactly what Donald Trump has worked hard to instill since at least 2016.

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Let’s start with this claim from Pence – deafening for the past 24 hours – that the FBI has been shown to have targeted Trump politically. Set aside Pence’s self-incriminating framing (that the FBI was acting on a political motivation during the Trump-Pence administration) and remember where this idea originated.

Trump’s first foray into FBI bashing came during the 2016 campaign, when he criticized the bureau for not pressing charges against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. After all, he argued, she had kept confidential information home (in the form of emails). How could the FBI investigation not result in an indictment? (In another context, this would seem like a clumsy foreshadowing.)

Trump then began launching the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as politically motivated shortly after his victory. The rationale was simple and by now quite familiar: he didn’t want anyone to think he had lost the race, but for Russian involvement. So he castigated. On January 10, 2017, with few details, he said the investigation was a “witch hunt”, a stance he has not since moderated.

Pence’s argument that the FBI was politically motivated certainly stems in large part from the narrative that Trump and his allies have constructed to support this position. The revelation that senior officials had disparaged Trump in text messages became the basis for a rickety story about the FBI shelling out a case solely to cause political damage to the president.

(The fact that allegations that members of Trump’s campaign were tied to Russia only emerged after the election was over was explained by the fact that the FBI was looking to leverage Trump. The fact that there were genuine ties between the Trump team and the Russian actors was simply ignored.)

The idea that the FBI targeted Trump for political reasons has never been supported by either an internal review or an explicitly political one conducted by Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr. A 2019 inspector general report found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations into people connected to the Trump campaign. The Barr Inquiry led by Special Counsel John Durham is ongoing but has failed entirely to demonstrate that the Russia investigation was not justified by the facts available at the time.

Trump actively fueled the idea that the FBI was out to get him for a very obvious reason: He made sure his supporters and allies in the conservative media would approach investigations into his actions as suspects themselves. It also had an added benefit: if the FBI launched new investigations, his team would already be conditioned to respond with skepticism.

Of course, there’s no reason a Republican should immediately intervene in Monday’s Mar-a-Lago search. They could just wait and see, wait to find out why the search was done, and offer an assessment at that point.

But that’s not the culture of the modern Republican Party. Instead, there are rewards to be gained by acting quickly to designate the probe as suspicious. Following an example set in part by Trump himself, GOP officials have rushed to pitch products in the robust market of social media comments. Research’s most outrageous exposure could gain more attention and more followers — and possibly more weight. A number of people have scrambled to raise funds thanks to reports from GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel suggesting angry donors to contribute to the party candidate for the Senate in Georgia to the candidate for the Senate in Ohio JD Vance at Trump himself.

One of the reasons why the search for Mar-a-Lago could “unite [the] different factions of the party,” as one Trump aide told Politico, is that he is not pro-Trump but anti-FBI. Republicans in the pro and less pro-Trump segments of the GOP can express their outrage at a group that Republicans are prepared to be wary of. Outrage to a government department that can be presented as the swamp or the deep state or even the elites, depending on who is doing the casting.

Trump’s effort to portray research as the work of “radical left Democrats” has its own value for conservative politicians or members of the media. If you want to appeal to a Republican audience, it’s valuable to pitch this as Democrats versus Trump. More than three-quarters of Republicans still view Trump favorably, down slightly from the peak of the 2020 campaign. That includes more than half who view him very favorably. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, is viewed favorably by virtually no Republicans.

That, too, is part of a concerted effort by Trump, who has focused heavily as president on heightening partisan tensions to bolster the loyalty of right-wing voters. It went like clockwork. Republicans may not have liked Trump in 2016, but they preferred him to Hillary Clinton. Over the years, affection for Trump was correlated with hatred for his enemies. Launch the FBI on the left and you gain support on the right.

You’ve probably noticed how well Pence’s fortunes have fared since 2020. Never as popular as Trump, he saw his favor with the GOP tank following Trump’s criticism of him. But he still wants their votes, so he offers his assessment with trained seriousness: Surely the FBI is a problem.

Compare Pence with another former elected official, former Texas congressman Will Hurd. His appreciation? Of course, it makes sense that Trump could have been the target of an FBI investigation, based on what we already know!

But that’s not a reality that many Republicans recognize, if they even face it. In a poll released Tuesday, 2 in 5 Americans said they believe Trump should face criminal charges related to the Capitol riot. Among the Republicans, it was 3… percent. And it’s the capitol riot, not some vague thing like maybe having classified material at home.

Trump spent a lot of time and energy portraying the FBI as untrustworthy. This meant misrepresenting the work of the office and making false claims about their motives. He worked even harder to impose a structure of loyalty within his base.

Monday night, all that hard work paid off.




Washington

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