Voices: The FBI raid forced Republicans and Democrats to change their midterm strategies

·3 min read
 (Kyle Mazza/via ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)
(Kyle Mazza/via ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock)

After a short a delay because of Democrats’ passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Washington has now entered its August recess, the traditional opening for members to go back to their home districts. In midterm years like this one, that means they’re also about to begin campaigning in earnest.

Both parties desperately want to talk about the Democrats’ signature climate and healthcare bill, which they’ve passed after more than a year of intra-party strife. Republicans want to repeat the (frequently debunked) claim that the act will lead to 87,000 new Internal Revenue Service Agents, hoping to neutralize any excitement about the bill. A year after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and 13 US service members died in a bombing at Kabul Airport, they want to drill into people’s heads that Joe Biden is a failed foreign policy leader as well as a failing domestic leader overseeing skyrocketing prices at home.

Conversely, Democrats want to highlight not just this legislation, but a plethora of other breakthroughs: the CHIPS and Science Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the bipartisan gun bill, and the PACT Act, which offers health benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Promoting their record on its merits is instrumental to convincing voters that they deserve to hold both houses of Congress and that the Republicans – who not incidentally installed the current Supreme Court that overturned Roe v Wade – can’t be trusted with power.

But thanks to the FBI’s search on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, those battle lines have been redrawn in the space of just a week.

That’s particularly true for the GOP, whose ardent Trumpists have reacted to the raid with incandescent rage – to the consternation of some of their less zealous colleagues. As Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, a conservative who has criticized the right flank of his party despite being fairly right-wing himself, told friend of the newsletter Andrew Solender of Axios: “I’m impressed Democrats finally got us to say, ‘Defund the FBI.’”

But it wasn’t Democrats who made Republicans say that. A case in point: Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who tweeted that exact phrase of her own volition after the search warrant on Mar-a-Lago was executed. On Friday, she announced that she had filed articles of impeachment against Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Those articles will not pass the House under Democratic control. But Greene’s words have now established a litmus test for Republicans across the country, who will likely now have to answer whether or not they believe the top law enforcement official in the country is a criminal.

That is not dissimilar to the situation Democrats found themselves in during the summer of 2020, when they had to answer questions about whether they agreed with radical protesters calling to defund police departments after the killing of George Floyd. The “defund” mantra has persisted mostly among non-elected officials and a handful of politicians – Biden is in fact proposing to beef up police funding. But it ultimately damaged many Democrats in swing districts, and it could likely hurt Republicans if the most conservatives voices persist.

Trump’s support among Republicans grew after the FBI’s search, with 3 in 5 Republicans saying they would vote for him in a 2024 primary, according to a Politico/Morning Consult survey. Yet at the same time, that same poll showed that 49 per cent of voters overall thought the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago because of evidence Trump committed a crime – and that only 39 per cent thought the search was an attempt to damage his political career.

And that creates a problem: Republicans need to show their steadfast support for Trump to motivate their supporters to go to the polls in November. But if they are seen as apologists for his actions, they risk alienating voters in the swing districts and states that will decide whether they take back both the House and the Senate.