PALM BEACH, Fla. — The FBI’s surprise search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home stirred up a hornet’s nest of anger among his loyal base, who are more determined than ever to help Mr. Trump win a second term in the White House.
But the raid, and any charges the Department of Justice may lodge against the former president, may trip up a third presidential campaign if Mr. Trump runs in 2024.
“The big political question is whether this galvanizes his base now, but ultimately turns off swing voters later,” Clarus Research Group President Ron Faucheux said.
Indeed, among Mr. Trump’s hardy base, enthusiasm for another Trump White House bid only grew stronger following the FBI raid on Monday.
Dozens of his supporters gathered along the causeway leading to Mar-a-Lago, waving Trump signs at passing cars and blaring the soundtrack played at Mr. Trump’s political rallies. They expressed shock and anger about the FBI search and said it reinforced the belief that Mr. Trump has been politically targeted by Democrats and needs to be re-elected to reform the FBI.
“I’ve been un-trustful of the government for years, but this is beyond anything I’ve ever seen and I’m 68 years old,” supporter Mary Ann Robinson said from the Mar-a-Lago causeway. “This is just total B.S. What is going on in our country?”
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Mrs. Robinson, who lives in West Palm Beach, said she continues to support Mr. Trump for her grandchildren. “I’m gonna go to my grave, saving the country for my granddaughters, that’s for sure,” she said.
A new poll of likely voters taken in the days following the raid found that 54% of Independent Voters believe “Trump’s political enemies” launched the FBI raid. Among Republicans, the number who saw political motivation behind the search rose to nearly 77%.
The poll by Conventions of State Action/The Trafalgar Group also found that the raid had, at least in the short term, motivated the majority of those surveyed to vote in the 2022 midterm election in November.
Among critical independents, the number was nearly 72%, while more than 83% of Republican voters said the FBI raid “has increased their motivation to vote.”Democrats were fired up as well, with more than 55% citing the raid as a motivating factor.
The poll was released a day after Trump-endorsed candidates in Wisconsin and Connecticut upset establishment GOP candidates running for governor and the Senate, respectively, leaving some analysts to speculate that the raid juiced pro-Trump turnout this week.
But will attract support beyond die-hard Trump fans?
Some polls had already shown waning enthusiasm for a Trump-led ticket in 2024. A July New York Times/Siena College poll of Republican voters found 49% would back Mr. Trump, but 25% said they preferred Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and another 21% were split among four other GOP candidates.
Among independents, Mr. Trump is in more trouble, and the FBI probe swirling around him may further alienate this critical group of voters.
A Quinnipiac University Poll taken in July found among Independents, only 28% want him to run for president, while 68% hope he is not on the ballot in 2024.
“In the long-term, Mar-a-Lago could be the political cargo that weighs down the ship of Trump, especially if any of this evidence leads to further federal action,” said David Paleologos, director of the Boston-based Suffolk University Political Research Center. “Trump may power through and survive his party nomination, but convincing independents in the 2024 general election could be especially challenging.”
Mr. Trump hasn’t formally announced a 2024 presidential run but has repeatedly suggested he will be a candidate. The federal investigation and raid of his home and office, some believe, will push him into the race.
“One thing I can tell you is that I believed he was gonna run before,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally. “I’m stronger in my belief now.”
The official reason for the FBI search remains a mystery. The bureau has not released the search warrant and Mr. Trump’s lawyers say they do not have a copy.
All that is known for now is that the search was related to efforts to retrieve boxes of material Mr. Trump took from the White House when he left office. Those skeptical of the raid believe the FBI was on a fishing expedition, seeking new information that can incriminate Mr. Trump for causing the January 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
The riot has been the subject of a series of high-profile congressional hearings. Democrats and President Biden want Attorney General Merrick Garland to charge Mr. Trump, even though Mr. Trump may run against Mr. Biden in 2024 and the move could be perceived as political.
That could backfire.
“Unless whatever the DOJ took out of Mar-a-Lago turns out to be the smoking gun that proves Trump plotted with the violent element behind the January 6th riot, this will galvanize GOP voters for Trump, increase Republican turnout in November and blow up in the Democrats face,” Brad Coker, Managing Director of Mason-Dixon polling, said.
Some Democrats believe the raid could ultimately disqualify Mr. Trump from the 2024 ballot.
Marc Elias, a top Democratic election lawyer, tweeted shortly after the raid that the law disqualifies anyone from holding office who has been found unlawfully taking, concealing or destroying federal records. Mr. Elias said at the very least, Mr. Trump would be stuck battling his access to the ballot in court.
Legal scholar Richard Hasen said he disagreed with Mr. Elias, but added Mr. Trump could be disqualified if he’s charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot.
“The Constitution gives the qualifications for president, and I don’t think a statute can alter that,” Mr. Hasen told The Washington Times. “Trump can be disqualified from running for office for his fomenting insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, but that’s a different story.”