How the FBI Search Revived Trump

GOP presidential hopefuls have gotten a powerful reminder that their political future is inextricably linked to Donald Trump’s.

A truck with a 'Trump 2024' flag arrives at a rally in August 2021
A truck arrives at a Trump rally in August 2021. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

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One takeaway from the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, Elaine Godfrey wrote earlier this week, is “the simple fact that an angry septuagenarian still holds the Grand Old Party in a vise grip.” I asked Elaine what that might mean for other Republican politicians, particularly those with presidential aspirations.

But first, here are three new stories from The Atlantic.

He’s Back

Isabel Fattal: You wrote that “in another universe, last week’s FBI search could have provided a perfect opportunity for a wannabe party leader like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to set himself apart.” What’s happening in this universe instead?

Elaine Godfrey: Republicans up and down the Trump scale are circling the wagons in defense of him. You could’ve definitely expected that, but I didn’t expect it from Mike Pence, for example. I didn’t expect it from Mitch McConnell.

I think some people were surprised by DeSantis’s response because, as I wrote, it would’ve been a great opportunity for him to say “No comment,” or to leave his response a bit more ambiguous, as a way to set himself apart or to show that he’s above it all. But we’re seeing that even DeSantis—a sitting governor!—knows that his political future is tied to Trump’s.

They’re circling the wagons because people know where their bread is buttered. They know where the base is. They have put their finger to the wind and realized, We have to be on Trump’s side of this.

Isabel: Are any notable 2024 hopefuls diverting from the “circle the wagons” strategy?

Elaine: Yesterday Mike Pence actually came out and said that people should stop attacking the FBI—and that calls to defund the FBI are as bad as calls to defund the police. Other than that, there hasn’t been much. I do think it’s important to note that even DeSantis is giving himself some room, and a lot of these people are giving themselves some room, by not saying “This is an attack on Donald Trump.” They’re trying not to mention Trump. They’re framing it instead as an overreach by the government. That’s sort of a middle route. Instead of saying “Poor Donald,” they’re doing the diplomatic third way of “The FBI is infiltrated by leftists.” There are a lot of 2024 and 2022 hopefuls doing that, who don’t quite want to directly defend Trump but want to say something seen as a defense.

Isabel: What are these politicians most worried about when it comes to defending Trump more explicitly?

Elaine: Saying Trump’s name is a very powerful thing. It immediately ties you to him in a way that can be used for or against you. Mike Pence has done a really excellent job of just never talking about Trump directly as he challenges Trump-endorsed candidates in primaries. It’s a fine line.

Some Republicans are testing the waters of Trumpism without Trump. That’s the message DeSantis and others want to stick to—to seem like they’re defending Trump but also to be able, in the case that Trump disappears, to continue this line of thought without it being about Trump.

Isabel: It’s like Trump is this albatross, and these other hopefuls are just waiting for him to disappear.

Elaine: Right. People have been asking me, “Do you think he’s going to run?” I have no idea. I do know that he just really seems to love being able to hold this over everyone, threatening to run. I don’t really think he wants to be president again. But he definitely doesn’t want to exit the conversation, as we’ve seen.

Now he’s very much back in the conversation, and I think that was a jolt to reality for people like DeSantis who were enjoying Trump’s falling to the wayside. There were a few months this year where he was not part of the conversation, just posting into the ether and sending out his little press releases. And now he’s back.

Isabel: If Trump gets indicted, what does that mean for 2024 contenders?

Elaine: The people I talked with about that question—specifically about DeSantis, but I think you can extend it—said that we’re seeing a small glimpse of what would happen if Trump is indicted. If he’s actually indicted, it’s going to be more circling the wagons, more “The leftists are coming for us and they’re coming for you too” kind of language. At some point, candidates like DeSantis will have to make a decision: Are we going to jump in the primary and challenge him or not? An indictment would make it way less likely that they would. They wouldn’t want to be seen as opposing the great leader in his hour of need.

Democrats really want Trump to be prosecuted. Politically, that might be the worst-case scenario as far as solidifying support for Trump. Although you could also argue that Trump is the best candidate for Democrats to run against in 2024, because he’s just so polarizing. You can look at it all kinds of ways. But my prediction is that an indictment means that Trump will almost certainly be the nominee.

Isabel: Am I right to observe that none of the 2024 hopefuls have responded to the threats and violent rhetoric that have been circulating since the Mar-a-Lago search?

Elaine: I think you are observing it correctly. I was sort of surprised that none of the highest-profile 2024 hopefuls who have been trying to set themselves apart from Trump—with the exception of Pence yesterday—have stood up for the FBI or condemned people’s super-intense rhetoric on all of this.


Today’s News

  1. Allen H. Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to 15 felonies related to a tax scheme.
  2. A grand jury indicted the man who is accused of stabbing Salman Rushdie last week.
  3. The Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson agreed to be suspended for 11 games and was fined $5 million. Watson has been accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct.


Evening Read

You Have No Idea How Good Mosquitoes Are at Smelling Us

By Katherine J. Wu

A black-and-white-striped Aedes aegypti mosquito on skin
Luis Robayo / AFP / Getty

Nothing gets a female mosquito going quite like the stench of human BO. The chase can begin from more than 100 feet away, with a plume of breath that wafts carbon dioxide onto the nubby sensory organ atop the insect’s mouth. Her senses snared, she flies person-ward, until her antennae start to buzz with the pungent perfume of skin. Lured closer still, she homes in on her host’s body heat, then touches down on a landing pad of flesh that she can taste with her legs. She punctures her victim with her spear-like stylet and slurps the iron-rich blood within.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

A scene from the movie Paris, 13th District
A scene from "Paris, 13th District" (IFC)

Read. Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse, a masterfully rendered comic about a white gay man growing up in the segregated South.

Watch. Paris, 13th District (streaming on multiple platforms), a soapy comedy about Parisian romance and the messy lives of Millennials.

Play our daily crossword.


In an edition of the Daily last month, Elaine asked readers for their Aperol spritz recipes, so of course I checked in with her on what she learned. “I think I had probably 20 people email me recipes. Basically all of them were like, ‘Instead of Aperol you should try Campari, because it’s better.’ And I did, and it was better!” she told me. “I think I’m a Campari girl. That’s been my great discovery for the summer.”

Thank you, Daily readers, for improving the quality of our summer beverages.

— Isabel