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Ron DeSantis Walks a Tightrope Over the Mar-a-Lago Search

Republican politicians weighing how to respond to the FBI’s search for Mar-a-Lago last week had several options. They were boiled down:

1. Immediately denounce it as a “witch hunt” and threaten to investigate or even demote the agency while advocating the impeachment of Attorney General Merrick Garland.

2. Issue a tentative, temporary statement expressing confidence in the process while expressing a tone of concern about the potential for overshooting the Department of Justice. Say little that could become embarrassing as more facts emerge that cast a negative light on the former president’s behavior.

3. Criticize Trump for endangering the national security of the United States. Call on him to release the search warrant and explain what officers were looking for and why he hadn’t returned the documents they were looking for.

4. Wait for more information before commenting.

The political dilemma has been particularly acute for Republicans aspiring to run for president in 2024 — requiring a pompous act worthy of the Flying Wallendas.

Enter Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, widely seen as Trump’s most serious potential rival in a Republican primary. The political world today watches every move by DeSantis, and many waited with bated breath for his response to the search.

Sometimes disaster ensues.

In a clever but dishonest online prank, someone has spliced ​​two separate videos together to make it look like DeSantis had been defending the FBI. host’s use of the word “raid” to describe the FBI’s actions.

“It’s not a robbery,” DeSantis says in the edited video, adding, “they filed a due process in accordance with the laws and the Constitution of the United States.”

It would have been an explosive moment—the first real fireworks of the 2024 presidential primaries in the shadows.

But it never happened.

In reality, DeSantis defended a 2020 home search by law enforcement officers of the home of Rebekah Jones, a former data specialist for the state of Florida, who alleged that the DeSantis government was manipulating information about the coronavirus pandemic.

Hannity, for example, called the video “FAKE NEWS” and demanded that Twitter remove it.

What DeSantis actually said was: this tweet:

“The MAL raid is another escalation in the arming of federal agencies against the regime’s political opponents while treating people like Hunter Biden with velvet gloves,” DeSantis wrote. “Now the regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to use against its opponents? Banana Republic.”

Note what was missing here: some defense of Trump’s behavior. DeSantis made similar remarks at a Sunday meeting before Kari Lake and Blake Masters, the Republican nominees for governor and Senate in Arizona, criticizing the Justice Department and citing examples of what he described as FBI misconduct while remaining silent about the alleged mistreatment of the former president of classified documents.

David Jolly, a former Republican congressman from Florida, said the “dance” between DeSantis and Trump quietly consumed both sides behind the scenes.

Trump has periodically – accurately – noted that he remains the most popular Republican in hypothetical primary matchups in 2024, with DeSantis a distant second. But the two have yet to seriously spar.


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Instead, they circle around each other like cage fighters sneaking around the ring before a match.

DeSantis allies have founded “Ready for Ron,” a super PAC that supports Florida’s governor’s potential candidacy — even though he insists he’s focused on his Florida reelection and has no connection to the effort. (Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican agent who heads the super PAC, did not respond to a request for comment.)

Still, DeSantis has also courted Trump’s donors and occasionally criticized the former president’s handling of the pandemic. Trump allies have been watching his maneuvers cautiously as they denounce DeSantis to reporters as an overrated political talent.

According to Jolly, “the smartest thing Trump could do is declare now.”

That, he said, could be “the catalytic moment that squeezes everyone out of the Republican field” by forcing would-be contenders like DeSantis to defend Trump more aggressively or distance himself from the former president’s legal woes.

But if Trump were to clear the decks to prepare for a third presidential bid by fueling anti-government tensions over his legal troubles, Jolly added, he would “create one of the most dangerous moments I think our country can do.” to experience.”

Some might say the politically savvy course of action for Republicans would be to choose the fourth option from the above menu: say nothing.

That’s what Charlie Dent, a former Pennsylvania congressman, suggested his fellow Republicans should have done when news broke that federal agents had searched Trump’s home.

“At a time like this, my advice to GOP members would be to exercise restraint and be cautious in their public comments,” said Dent, who retired in 2018 rather than face reelection after becoming one of the more trustworthy critics. of Trump’s behavior. as president.

“With Trump,” Dent added, “there’s always more to the story — and it’s usually not very good.”

As the week went on, that advice seemed more solid.

News outlets, including this one, reported that the FBI was looking for highly classified documents that Trump or one of his aides had taken from the White House and stashed at the former president’s private club and residence in West Palm Beach.

some documents, The Washington Post reportedrelated to nuclear weapons – one of the most sensitive materials in the possession of the federal government.

But silence is not what many Republicans did. Let’s briefly review what happened:

  • Ronna McDaniel, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote an opinion essay for Fox News who described the search as “part of a pattern of bureaucratic abuse against Trump.”

  • California Representative Kevin McCarthy, the highest-ranking Republican in the House, clearly threatened the Justice Department, saying Republicans planned to “immediately monitor” the agency. Attorney General Garland, save your documents and clear your calendar,” McCarthy said.

  • New York Representative Elise Stefanik, the third Republican in the House, said the FBI had committed a “high-level abuse of power.”

  • Representative Jim Jordan, a key Trump ally, cried Garland and Christopher Wraythe Trump-appointed director of the FBI, to testify about the search before the House Judiciary Committee.

  • Senator Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, declined to comment on the quest while traveling to visit flood-ravaged communities in his native Kentucky.

  • Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene Called on Congress to “Defund the FBI”

In the past few days, however, as new information emerged as to why the Justice Department deemed it necessary to invade Mar-a-Lago, most elected Republicans have adopted a stance similar to that of DeSantis: the FBI and Justice torn apart. Department as achieving too much, while refusing to back Trump outright.

In a revealing appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” South Dakota Republican Senator Mike Rounds urged the department to release more information about the “justification for this raid.”

But he quickly turned to more favorable political territory.

“Right now, with the 2022 midterms approaching,” Rounds said, “we’d rather focus on what are the policies that are hurting our economy.”

  • Legal pressure on Donald Trump and his closest allies has continued to mount: Prosecutors have informed Rudolph Giuliani, his former personal attorney, that he was the target of an extensive criminal investigation into election meddling in Georgia.

  • Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin are pushing intensely to gain more control over the state’s voting infrastructure. But whether that happens could depend on two major elections, one in November and one in April, writes Reid Epstein.

  • The Republican Senate campaign committee has slashed its reservations for television advertising in three critical states on the battlefield for the fall, a likely sign of financial trouble, Shane Goldmacher reports.

  • With Liz Cheney facing an almost certain defeat in her House primary tomorrow, this is the likely end of the two-generation dynasty of the Cheney family in Wyoming, as well as the disappearance of a less tribal, more club-like and substance-oriented politics. . Jonathan Martin has the story.

— Blake

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