Support for Trump in the Wake of FBI Raid Won't Knock Out 2024 Challenges

Former President Donald Trump has seen a boost in support after the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home earlier this month, and he's even used it to say that he "may just have to" run again in 2024. However, experts say that the recent controversy shouldn't deter other GOP hopefuls from seeking the Republican nomination.

"The only thing predictable about politics is that the unexpected will happen," Republican strategist Jay Townsend told Newsweek. "While Trump seems to have received a temporary boost and a bump in his daily fundraising haul, the long-term impact on him and the campaigns of other contenders remains to be seen."

A poll released last week from The Economist/YouGov found that Trump saw a double-digit increase among GOP voters after the search—with 57 percent saying they had a favorable view of the former president, compared to the 45 percent who said the same before the raid. Another survey conducted just two days after the search showed Trump with his highest level of Republican support since the 2020 election.

The FBI raid has been widely criticized by Republicans, even among those in the party who have begun to move away from Trump. A day after the raid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Trump has dubbed an "old broken down crow," called for a "thorough and immediate explanation" from the Justice Department (DOJ).

Trump 2024 FBI Raid
Above, former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on August 6 in Dallas. Trump saw his highest level of Republican support since the 2020 election in a poll conducted two days after the FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago home. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

But while Trump has been able to draw wide support across the Republican Party, and although the raid increases the likelihood that he'll run in 2024, Republican strategist Alex Patton said to Newsweek that neither factor will "change the trajectory of any other person interested in running."

The public sentiment around the FBI search could also face a sudden reversal. Depending on what comes out of the investigation, the raid could ultimately end up hurting Trump while boosting his GOP opponents, Gregory Koger, a political science professor at the University of Miami, said to Newsweek.

"Republican voters espouse loyalty to Donald Trump, but at the same time, there's a growing uneasiness about the various controversies, legal problems that he is tied up in," Koger said. "Before the raid on Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump was already starting to lag because of the effective January 6 hearings in the House. Once the dust settles, this raid will only contribute to that."

Amidst the congressional hearings on the Capitol riot, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has risen to prominence for his leadership, saw his best showing yet. In June, during the House select committee's most explosive hearings, the governor saw a 6 percent increase from the previous month, and a 9 percent increase from his March numbers.

Koger said new details that emerge from the investigation could ultimately contribute to a growing sentiment among Republican voters. They may disagree with potential charges against the former president, but they may also "increasingly consider him to be damaged goods."

Ron DeSantis 2024 Hopeful
Above, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Unite and Win Rally on August 19 in Pittsburgh. DeSantis saw his best showing yet in a 2024 poll conducted during the public hearings put on by the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot. Jeff Swensen/Stringer

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, told Newsweek that one way GOP presidential hopefuls can position themselves well for 2024 is to keep their comments on the FBI search confined to federal overreach and stop before they defend Trump's actions.

"Going out on a limb to defend Trump is always politically risky, especially now," he said.

"The Republicans who came out and just attacked the FBI and called for slashing its funding, they may come to regret those comments," Koger agreed. "In a party that was otherwise strongly supporting law enforcement and trying to contrast itself from the Democratic Party, who they portray as a soft on crime, it cuts against that message."

While former Vice President Mike Pence said he was "deeply troubled" to learn that a search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago, he said the DOJ could still be held accountable without the rise in attacks against FBI agents.

"The Republican Party is the party of law and order," Pence said at an event in New Hampshire last week. "And these attacks on the FBI must stop; calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police."

On the evening of the raid, Texas Senator Ted Cruz called the search "corrupt & an abuse of power."

"What Nixon tried to do, Biden has now implemented: The Biden Admin has fully weaponized DOJ & FBI to target their political enemies," he tweeted.

Rottinghaus said that walking the fine line will be especially important for candidates like DeSantis, who has raised his national profile by championing law enforcement officers. He said that if the governor joins the Republican voices that have "demonized" federal law enforcement authorities, DeSantis' pro-police platform could "certainly take a tumble."

In response to the raid, DeSantis called the search "another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime's political opponents," and slammed the increase in tax enforcement efforts included in President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act as "as another 87k IRS agents to wild against its adversaries."

Rottinghaus said the FBI search "might be an opportunity for another candidate to siphon off some of the support of voters who want to back the blue."

Mike Pence FBI 202
Former Vice President Mike Pence Pence greets guests at the Bremer County Republicans' Grill and Chill lunch on August 20 in Waverly, Iowa. Pence said he was "deeply troubled" to learn that a search warrant was executed at Mar-a-Lago. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Experts say what's more likely to play a key role when it comes to the 2024 GOP nomination is the results of this year's midterm elections.

Patton said that November will have a "far greater effect" than the FBI raid, especially if Republicans lose the high ground and fail to take back both chambers of Congress in "what was such an incredible environment for the GOP."

Townsend agreed, noting that while Trump has a "hard core following" within the GOP, there remains an "unsettled civil war." He added that if Democrats are able to pick up seats in the Senate because the former president's endorsed candidates run "too deep into MAGA land," Republican voters will question whether they want Trump's name on the 2024 ballot.

Essentially, if Trump takes the blame for the massive 2022 loss, "then this week will pale."

"Anyone considering running for 2024 has to take a longer view than just one week's events, because Lord knows in this day and age, a week is simply an eternity," Patton said.