The immediate GOP response to Monday evening’s FBI search for documents at Mar-a-Lago is almost as revealing as the search warrant itself.
Having witnessed the bulk of the party harden its commitment to protecting Trump at any cost after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, nobody should be shocked to learn that ranking Republicans—without any information about what was seized, or why—were willing to stake their political careers on the claim that it was a lawless, partisan “raid.” The darkest versions of these claims called for doing away with federal law enforcement altogether.
Back when Robert Mueller was investigating the connection between the Trump campaign and the 2016 election—elements of which have now been confirmed by Paul Manafort—the GOP seized comfortably on Trump’s claims of a “witch hunt” and the “Deep State” as a way to obscure the many troubling findings in the final report, including clear connections between his 2016 campaign and Russian efforts at election manipulation, as well as multiple uncharged instances of what seemed to be obstruction of justice. Trump’s then-Attorney General, Bill Barr, led the charge in confusing and distorting the Mueller Report findings in ways that reinforced the idea that a partisan political investigation (spearheaded by anti-Trump, “deep state” forces), had singled out a beloved and popular President for after-the-fact persecution.
Even after the singular horror of January 2021’s insurrection, Republicans like Kevin McCarthy, fell in line, even though he had initially told fellow Republicans this on the day of Jan. 6:
When they started breaking into my office, myself and the staff got removed from the office. In doing so, I made a phone call to the president telling him what was going on, asking him to tell these people to stop, to make a video and go out. I was very intense and very loud about it. We cannot just sweep this under the rug. We need to know why it happened, who did it, and people need to be held accountable for it. And I’m committed to making sure that happens.
Somehow, though, by the time the Jan. 6 special committee was being convened, McCarthy was fully onboard with the notion that it was not a valid investigation and that he had no obligation to comply with subpoenas. With the search of Mar-a-Lago this week, McCarthy has skipped that vexing middle step: No need to wait to learn the facts! Just issue a pronouncement.
“I’ve seen enough,” McCarthy tweeted hours after Trump confirmed that the search warrant had been executed. The DOJ’s actions, he wrote, were proof of “an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.” He warned Attorney General Merrick Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar.” (No matter that the DOJ, without discussion with the White House, had persuaded a federal judge there was probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, and to grant a warrant to search Trump’s residence.)
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), picked up on the same theme: “Hunter Biden skates free while DOJ executes a political plot to destroy lives of political opponents,” he tweeted. “This is un-American and @Jim_Jordan led Judiciary Committee hearings in January can’t come soon enough!”
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), tweeted that he wanted to scrutinize the “viability” of federal law enforcement going forward. And here is the Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, tweeting “abolish the FBI.”
Another strand of GOP Twitter went further, denouncing a dark, fever dream-like fantasy of a coming Garland-led police state. Bob Good, (R-VA), wrote on Twitter: “The continued weaponization of the federal government against its citizens and political opponents continues under the Biden/Garland march toward a police state.” Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) tweeted that, “If you’re a Republican with any kind of voice, and not speaking up for President Trump tonight don’t expect any of us to speak up for you when your time comes.”
A tweet from the Texas GOP compared the U.S. to a banana republic:
Marco Rubio chose to blame Biden personally. His tweet is both incomprehensible and one for the ages: “Biden is playing with fire by using a document dispute to get the @TheJusticeDept to persecute a likely future election opponent Because one day what goes around is going to come around And then we become Nicaragua under Ortega.”
Setting aside the fact that the FBI is directed by Christopher Wray, whom Trump himself appointed, the specter of a renegade federal law enforcement system weaponized against law-abiding Americans is thus being deployed right now by GOP leaders in order to (at best) encourage a red wave in November, and (of course) to fundraise for the same.
But this will have collateral consequences. The chilling argument that former presidents are simply above the law, and that law enforcement exists only to take out the little people, is also laced throughout this critique.
It’s textbook authoritarianism, sure, but it’s also a formula that has helped Trump elide accountability in the past. That’s the strain of this that has already made its way into the larger Q-Anon/self-help community online, which was immediately fired up on Monday night to near pre-insurrection levels of vigilantism and paranoia. Crowds gathered at Mar-a-Lago seem to believe law enforcement and the press are in on the deep stating: As Ben Collins tweeted: “The posts on these pro-Trump forums tonight are as violent as I’ve seen them since before January 6th. Maybe even moreso.”
Like the events of January 6, whether this discourse turns into a violent powder keg will be down to Trump, again, who broke the news about the raid using the same old terms and charges most likely to foster furious reaction in his listeners. He told followers that his “beautiful home” was “under siege, raided and occupied” and warned yet again about the “weaponization of the Justice system” while insisting that “such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.”
“Sadly, America has now become one of those Countries, corrupt at a level not seen before. They even broke into my safe!” he wrote. Again, no mention of Wray, of a federal warrant, of a federal judge, or of probable cause. (Not that we could have expected that.) But in this narrative, policing exists to punish the lowly. Anything else is a witch hunt against an untouchable, regardless of the form that police power takes.
Recall that this is a Republican party that called for years to “lock her up”—wanting Hillary Clinton to be jailed, without charges, for nonexistent crimes, never charged or proven. Yet today we are on the brink of becoming a “banana republic” because a lawfully executed warrant was lawfully executed?
Monday night’s raid and the political discussion around it will now inform not merely the terms of the November 2024 election, the impacts of the Jan. 6 investigation, and the public perception on the Garland Justice Department for the foreseeable future. It may also determine just how quickly years of deeply politicized debate over accountability for criminal actions by powerful Republicans can tilt into violence and chaos.