The day after federal agents searched Mar-a-LagoFormer 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 get back to work.
“He shouldn’t be deterred,” said Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, one of 12 Republican House members who met with Trump on Aug. 9. He described Trump’s state of mind in the aftermath of the raid as “pretty vexed.” , but measured.
Everything that’s happened since that meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey – and since federal agents seized a treasure trove of top secret and other highly classified documents of his resort town – has put Trump exactly where he and his supporters want him to be, according to people close to him. He’s in a fight, taking on Washington institutions and a political establishment that he says want to catch him, issues he raised in the meeting with lawmakers and in conversations with others.
Taken together, it has shifted Trump’s thinking about whether to announce a presidential campaign before or after the midterm elections, according to those who have spoken to him over the past two weeks. They said Trump felt less pressure to announce early because viable challengers who might otherwise force his hand have faded. But there are other reasons to wait.
Trump is now inclined to launch his candidacy after the November election, in part to avoid blame if an early announcement undermines GOP efforts to take control of Congress, a person close to him said, speaking under covered with anonymity to speak more freely. A post-midterm announcement would suit Republican leaders who have urged Trump to wait so he doesn’t eclipse party candidates. Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign and administration official, described Trump’s attitude in recent days after speaking with him. , like “business as usual”.
“He’s already moved on. It’s business as usual for him,” he said.
Still, there are many in his orbit who think Trump ignores legal issues too quickly and is in the forefront for the wrong reasons.
Two days after the Mar-a-Lago raid, Trump invoked his right to avoid self-incrimination 440 times in a civil case in New York targeting his business practices. On Monday, his longtime friend and former lawyer Rudy Giuliani officially became a target of an independent criminal investigation into alleged attempts to interfere with the results of Georgia’s 2020 election. On Thursday, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges and is expected to testify against the former president’s namesake company in a New York case. On the same day, federal prosecutors in open court raised the possibility of Witness to intimidation and obstruction of justice in his investigation into sensitive documents kept at Mar-a-Lago to argue against the unsealing of the affidavit used to search his club.
Cascading revelations would generally crush any politician’s presidential hopes. But for Trump, they have, at least for now, heightened his resolve to run for president, while giving him a paradoxical aura of calm, according to six people close to him who recently spoke with him but asked for permission. anonymity to speak frankly because of the multiple investigations surrounding it.
They said Trump appeared buoyed by increased fundraising when his political committee last week took in $1 million a day on two different days, according to a Washington Post report confirmed by NBC News. Trump, sources said, is also reveling in polls showing him widening his lead over Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida in a possible Republican primary. Trump has also been encouraged by focus groups that show his growing popularity among Republican voters offended by the FBI’s search of his home, one of the sources said. Another described him as “over the moon” on Tuesday night when his top nemesis, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, lost her primary by a wide margin.
“Yes, we have problems. He is aware of it, ”said another Trump ally. “But the thing is, he needs a fight to focus. He’s got that now. He feels like he’s in the arena.
Yet even some of Trump’s staunchest allies wonder how long his streak of defending against serious threats can last. While Trump insists the surveys are “hoaxes,” polls show voters don’t think so, and some in his orbit aren’t quite so optimistic.
A close Trump ally who hopes he will run in 2024 said the former president does not appear to be aware of the perilous position he finds himself in, saying: “He may be getting closer to the prize but in reality , he slips.”
“It seems like the net is surrounding him more and more, and his ability to dance around those things is going to get harder,” the ally said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”
Another person close to Trump expressed concern that the former president is not taking the investigations seriously enough.
“Look, when I spoke to him, it was a little weird. It was like he didn’t really care about anything that was going on or take it seriously,” this person said. “He thinks they’re all bulls—. Me too. But bulls—can still get you in trouble.
These issues are not expected to go away any time soon. During the hearing to unseal the affidavit, a Justice Department official said the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago records was still in the “early stages.” The probe could end up following Trump through the 2024 campaign, forcing him to fend off a federal probe backed by the virtually unlimited resources of the US government.
Of all the potential legal threats Trump faces, however, some people close to him believe the most immediate is the ongoing criminal investigation in Georgia, where local prosecutors are examining his alleged efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 result. . Giuliani spent six hours before a grand jury in Atlanta this week after learning he was a “target” in the investigation, which his attorney confirmed to NBC News. Giuliani and his attorneys have not commented on his testimony, as his attorneys previously said he would not answer questions that would violate attorney-client privilege. A lawyer said the former New York City mayor “showed up” when needed.
“Georgia is a much more serious investigation,” said the first person close to Trump who knows of his penchant for announcing his 2024 plans after midterms.
“I don’t care who you are,” the source added, “it weighs on you.”
For now, however, Trump appears to be solidifying Republican support since the unprecedented search of his home. In retrieving the records, the FBI tapped into the deep-rooted grievances of many Republicans that government institutions are untrustworthy and persecuting their only defender, said several GOP operatives interviewed by NBC News.
“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 runs focus groups among swing voters, said for much of the summer they seemed to be drifting away from the former president. 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 Aug. 8 when the FBI arrived on Trump’s doorstep.
“The rally effect around Trump is real,” she said, while adding that “whether he stays 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 he is our candidate took this news with concern.
Trump points to those same trend lines. He mentioned to his allies a Politico/Morning Consult poll that showed him with a 10 point rebound on DeSantis. (The poll was taken in a single day after the Mar-a-Lago search, Aug. 10.) A source said Trump had also seen other survey data that shows he went from virtually tied against DeSantis in a 2024 multi-candidate field before the FBI search, to lead DeSantis 52% to 20% thereafter.
Yet while Trump relishes polls that show his support among Republicans growing, he has trouble with independent voters, according to a new national online newspaper. YouGov poll conducted for The Economist after Mar-a-Lago’s research and published on Wednesday.
Every time Trump announces his plans for 2024, one of his properties could end up being the backdrop. Some sites that have been discussed include Mar-a-Lago and Trump National Doral Golf Club near Miami, according to people familiar with the matter.
One advantage of both is that they would send a message to DeSantis: that Trump is not afraid to challenge the incumbent governor of Florida on his home turf. The staging of 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 Trump wants Mar-a-Lago as the location for the announcement, but he’s sure Trump is now totally indifferent. to a serious main opponent if he shows up in 2024.
“I know now that he can raise as much money as he wants,” Caputo said. “There is no challenger”