The day after Federal agents raided 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 sounded ready to get the job back.
“He was not to be 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 “pretty upset.” , but measured.”
Everything that has happened since that meeting in Bedminster, New Jersey, and since the federal agents seized top secret treasure and other highly classified documents from his resort — has put Trump exactly where he and his supporters want him to be, according to people close to him. He is in a fight, taking on Washington institutions and a political establishment that he says is out to get him, issues he raised in meeting with lawmakers and in conversations with others.
Taken together, it has refocused Trump’s thinking on whether he should announce a presidential campaign before or after the midterm elections, according to those who spoke 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 launching his candidacy after the November election, in part to avoid blame should an early announcement undermine the GOP’s efforts to win control of Congress, said a person close to him, speaking under condition of anonymity to speak more freely. A post-midterm announcement would be fitting for Republican leaders who have been urging Trump to wait so as not to outshine the party’s 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 has already moved on. It’s business as usual for him,” she said.
Still, there are many in his orbit who believe Trump is shrugging off legal issues too quickly and being 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 former attorney Rudy Giuliani officially became a target of an unrelated criminal investigation into alleged attempts to interfere with the results of the 2020 election in Georgia. On Thursday, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges and is expected to testify against the former president’s namesake business in a case in New York. On the same day, federal prosecutors raised in a public hearing the possibility of witness intimidation and obstruction of justice in his investigation into confidential documents stored at Mar-a-Lago to argue against disclosing the affidavit used to register his club.
Cascading revelations would normally crush any politician’s presidential hopes. But for Trump, at least for now, they have heightened his resolve to run for president, while also giving him a paradoxical aura of calm, according to six people close to him who spoke with him recently but requested anonymity to speak candidly because to the multiple investigations that surround it.
They said Trump sounds buoyed by a surge in fundraising when his political committee last week received $1 million a day on two separate days, according to a report. Washington Post Report confirmed by NBC News. Trump, the sources said, is also reveling in polls showing him widening a lead over Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida in a possible Republican primary. Trump has also been heartened by focus groups showing 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” Tuesday night when her high-profile nemesis, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, lost her primary by a wide margin.
“Yes, we have problems. He is aware of that,” said another Trump ally. “But the fact is he needs a fight to focus. He has that now. He has that feeling that he is in the arena.”
Still, even some of Trump’s most ardent allies question how long his streak of fending off serious threats can last. While Trump insists the investigations are “hoaxes,” polls show voters don’t think so, and some in his orbit aren’t so optimistic.
A close Trump ally 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 close to the prize, but he’s actually slipping.”
“It seems like the web is surrounding him more and more, and his ability to dance around these things will become more challenging,” said this ally. “It is 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 it was a little weird. It was like he didn’t really care about everything that was going on or didn’t take it seriously,” said this person. “He thinks it’s all nonsense—. I also. But the bulls… they can still give you trouble.
Those problems are not likely to go away any time soon. At the court hearing on the opening of the affidavit, a Justice Department official said the investigation into the Mar-a-Lago records is still in the “early stages.” The investigation could end up following Trump throughout the 2024 campaign, forcing him to reject a federal investigation backed by the virtually unlimited resources of the US government.
Yet of all the potential legal threats facing Trump, some people close to him see the most immediate as the criminal investigation unfolding in Georgia, where local prosecutors are examining his alleged effort to overturn the state’s 2020 result. Giuliani spent six hours before a grand jury in Atlanta this week after being told he was a “target” of the investigation, something his attorney confirmed to NBC News. Giuliani and his attorneys did not comment on his testimony, and his attorneys previously said he would not answer questions that would violate attorney-client privilege. a lawyer said the former New York City mayor “came in” 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 2024 plans after the midterm elections.
“I don’t care who you are,” the source added, “this affects 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 among many Republicans that government institutions are unreliable and are going after their only defender, several Republican officials interviewed by NBC News said.
“I don’t think being behind bars will stop him from winning the Republican nomination,” said Brendan Buck, a Republican consultant.
Sarah Longwell, a GOP strategist who runs focus groups among undecided voters, said that 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 on Aug. 8 when the FBI came to Trump’s door.
“The rally effect around Trump is real,” he said, adding that “whether or not it holds” is uncertain.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, chairwoman of the Montgomery County Republican Caucus in Pennsylvania, said the last 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 has mentioned to his allies a Politico/Morning Consult poll that showed him with a 10-point rebound on DeSantis. (The survey was conducted a single day after the Mar-a-Lago search, on August 10.) One source said Trump also looked at other poll data showing he went from being virtually tied with DeSantis in a 2024 multi-candidate field before the FBI search, to leading DeSantis 52% to 20% afterward.
Yet while Trump is enjoying polls showing his support among Republicans is growing, he is having trouble with independent voters, according to a new national online report. YouGov survey Made for The Economist after the search for Mar-a-Lago and published on Wednesday.
Whenever Trump announces his plans for 2024, one of his properties could end up being the backdrop. Some locations that have been under discussion include Mar-a-Lago and the 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 sitting Florida governor on his own turf. Hosting the ad at Mar-a-Lago would be “a direct shot at Ron DeSantis,” said the first person close to Trump.
Caputo, the former Trump administration official and campaign adviser, said he’s not sure Trump will want Mar-a-Lago as an ad location, but he’s sure Trump now isn’t worried about a serious opponent in the primary if he is running in 2024.
“I know now he can raise as much money as he wants,” Caputo said. “There is no challenger.”