The day after federal agents searched Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump told a group of conservative lawmakers that “being president was hell,” according to three people at the meeting.
But to some he seemed ready to have the job again.
“He shouldn’t have been deterred,” said Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, one of a dozen Republican House members who met with Trump on Aug. 9. He described Trump’s mood immediately after the search as “very upset. , but measured.”
Everything that has transpired since that meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, and since federal agents seized a trove of top secret and other highly classified documents from his compound, has put Trump exactly where he and his supporters they want it to be, according to people close to him. He’s in a fight, facing off against institutions in Washington and a political establishment he says are out to get him, issues he raised in meetings with lawmakers and in conversations with others.
Together, it reorients Trump’s thinking about whether he should announce a presidential campaign before or after the midterm elections, according to those who have spoken with him over the past two weeks. They said Trump feels less pressure to announce early because viable challengers who might otherwise force his hand have faded into the background. But there are other reasons to wait.
Trump is now leaning toward running after the November election, in part to avoid blame if an early announcement undermines the GOP’s effort to win control of Congress, a person close to him said, speaking on condition of anonymity. of anonymity to speak more freely. An announcement after the midterms would suit Republican leaders who have called on Trump to delay so he doesn’t overshadow the party’s nominees. Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign and administration official, described Trump’s attitude in recent days after speaking with him. , as “business as usual”.
“He has already passed. It’s business as usual for him,” he said.
Still, there are many in his orbit who believe Trump is ignoring legal issues too quickly and that he’s front and center for the wrong reasons.
Two days after the Mar-a-Lago search, Trump invoked his right to avoid self-incrimination 440 times in a New York civil case targeting his business practices. On Monday, his longtime friend and lawyer Rudy Giuliani officially became the target of an unrelated criminal investigation into alleged attempts to interfere in the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. The Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges on Thursday and is expected to testify against the former president’s namesake business in a New York case. The same day, federal prosecutors in open court raised the possibility of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice in their investigation into sensitive documents stored at Mar-a-Lago to argue against unsealing the affidavit used by search your club.
The cascading revelations would normally crush any politician’s presidential hopes. But for Trump, at least for now, they have increased his determination to run for president while giving him a paradoxical aura of calm, according to six people close to him who spoke to him recently but spoke on condition of anonymity to speak frankly because of the multiple investigations surrounding him.
They said Trump appeared buoyed by a surge in fundraising as his political committee last week brought in $1 million a day on two separate days, according to a Washington Post report confirmed by NBC News. Trump, sources said, is also reveling in polls showing him increasing his lead over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a potential Republican primary. Trump has also been encouraged by the discussion groups showing his popularity is rising among Republican voters offended by the FBI home search, one of the sources said. Another described him as “over the moon” Tuesday night, when his high-profile nemesis, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, lost her primary by a wide margin.
“Yes, we have problems. He’s aware of that,” said a different Trump ally. “But the fact is, he needs a fight to focus. He’s got that now. He feels like he’s in the arena.”
Still, even some of Trump’s most ardent allies wonder how long his streak of fending off serious threats can last. Although Trump insists the investigations are “hoaxes,” polls show voters don’t think so, and some in his orbit aren’t so optimistic.
A close ally of Trump who hopes to run in 2024 said the former president doesn’t seem to be aware of the dangerous position he’s in, saying: “He may be getting closer to the prize, but in reality, he’s falling.” .
“It looks like the web is getting around him more and more, and his ability to dance around these things is going to get harder,” this ally said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
Another person close to Trump expressed concern that the former president was not taking the investigations seriously enough.
“Look, when I talked to him he was kind of weird. It was like he didn’t really care about all this stuff that was going on or he wasn’t taking it seriously,” this person said. “He thinks it’s all bull. . . . So do I. But bulls can still cause you trouble.”
These problems are likely to disappear soon. At the court hearing on the sealing of the affidavit, a Justice Department official said the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago records was still in the “early stages.” The investigation could end up casting a shadow over Trump during the 2024 campaign, forcing him to avoid a federal investigation backed by the virtually unlimited resources of the US government.
Of all the potential legal threats Trump faces, however, some people close to him say the most immediate is the ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia, where local prosecutors are looking into his alleged effort to overturn 2020 state result Giuliani spent six hours in front of a grand jury in Atlanta this week after he was told he was a “target” of the investigation, his lawyer confirmed to NBC News. Giuliani and his lawyers would not comment on his testimony, as his lawyers previously said he would not answer questions that would violate the attorney-client privilege. An attorney said the former New York City mayor “came forward” as required.
“Georgia is a much more serious investigation,” said the first person close to Trump who is familiar with his inclination to announce his plans for 2024 after the midterms.
“I don’t care who you are,” the source added, “it takes its toll on you.”
For now, however, Trump appears to be consolidating Republican support from the unprecedented search at home. In retrieving the records, the FBI tapped into deep-seated complaints from many Republicans that government institutions are untrustworthy and are going after their only defender, several GOP operatives interviewed by NBC News said.
“I don’t think being behind bars would prevent him from winning the Republican nomination,” said Brendan Buck, a Republican consultant.
Sarah Longwell, a GOP strategist who conducts focus groups among swing voters, said they seemed to be drifting away from the former president for much of the summer. A common concern among voters was that he was carrying too much baggage and was destined to lose a general election, Longwell said, but that changed on Aug. 8 when the FBI arrived at Trump’s door.
“The rallying effect around Trump is real,” he said, while adding that “whether it sticks or not” is uncertain.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Republican Committee in Pennsylvania, said the past two weeks “so far have energized the party” and that “even Republicans who don’t like Trump and don’t want him to be our candidate have taken this news with alarm”.
Trump points to these same trend lines. He mentioned to allies a Politico/Morning Consult poll that showed him with a 10 point rebound over DeSantis. (The poll was taken just one day after the Mar-a-Lago search, Aug. 10.) One source said Trump has also seen other polling data showing he went from virtually tied against DeSantis in a multi-candidate field from 2024 before. the FBI search, to lead DeSantis 52% to 20% later.
However, while Trump is basking in polls showing his support among Republicans growing, he is struggling with independent voters, according to a national online news outlet. YouGov survey conducted for The Economist after researching Mar-a-Lago and published Wednesday.
Whenever Trump announces his plans for 2024, one of his properties could end up being the backdrop. Some locations that have been discussed include Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Doral golf club near Miami, according to people familiar with the matter.
An advantage to both is that they would send DeSantis a message: that Trump is not afraid to challenge the incumbent Florida governor on his home turf. Holding the announcement at Mar-a-Lago would be “a direct shot at Ron DeSantis,” the first person close to Trump said.
Caputo, the former Trump administration official and campaign adviser, said he’s not sure whether Trump will want Mar-a-Lago as an ad venue, but he’s sure Trump isn’t entirely concerned now. for a serious primary challenger if he runs in 2024.
“Now I know he can raise as much money as he wants,” Caputo said. “There is no challenger.”