Top Republicans who have spent months trying to dissuade Donald Trump from announcing another presidential campaign before the midterms are coming around to the idea, after an unprecedented search of the former President’s Mar-a-Lago property by federal investigators on Monday lit up the GOP base.
Trump has received a fresh wave of encouragement to jump start his next presidential campaign in the 24 hours since his primary residence became the target of an FBI search warrant, several sources familiar with the matter told CNN. The former President, who is widely expected to run again, had previously eyed Labor Day as his target launch date, but is now being advised to accelerate his timeline to capitalize on what Republicans have described as extraordinary overreach and political persecution by Justice Department officials, including by advisers who previously counseled him to take his time with a 2024 announcement.
“My advice that we should wait until after the midterms was based upon a rather standard landscape. [The Justice Department] set off a nuclear bomb on that landscape yesterday. This is no longer a business-as-usual campaign. Not even close,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump confidant, who previously urged the former President to wait for the 2022 election outcome before diving into a presidential primary.
One senior House Republican personally encouraged Trump on Tuesday to launch a bid before November, a source familiar tells CNN, dismissing concerns among fellow GOP lawmakers that a pre-midterm announcement could galvanize Democratic voters in a political environment that is otherwise considered favorable for Republicans.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s Capitol Hill allies, told reporters he spoke to the former President twice on Tuesday and “the one thing I can tell you is that I believed he was gonna run before [and] I am stronger in my belief now.”
“I think President Trump is determined now more than ever to straighten this country out,” Graham added.
The thinking inside Trump’s orbit and among some of his top allies on Capitol Hill has undergone a notable shift since the search was executed at his waterfront estate, said three well-placed sources. Advisers who initially worried Trump would steal the spotlight from vulnerable Democrats if he announced before November have largely abandoned those concerns, while those who fear the FBI search was prompted by compelling evidence against Trump – and he thus shouldn’t rush into another presidential campaign – become a minority in his orbit. The former President, who previously told aides he was concerned about not being able to tap into the $121 million war chest he’s amassed once he declares his candidacy, is now shrugging off those concerns in the last 12 hours, according to a person close to him.
“Where others see criminal jeopardy, Donald Trump sees dollar signs,” said one person close to the former President.
“Most of the downsides of announcing early are regulatory or financial but the Democrats just guaranteed that Trump will raise three times the money he was going to and probably in the immediate future,” Caputo added.
A second person close to Trump said the episode has injected unity into the GOP, whose leaders were welcoming a contested presidential primary just weeks ago amid frustrations with Trump. This person said they had not seen Republicans “this unified behind something in a long time,” pointing to comments by two of Trump’s potential 2024 rivals – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former Vice President Mike Pence – condemning the FBI search.
“When do you see DeSantis and Pence on the same page defending Trump?” said one of the people close to Trump.
‘On the phone since daybreak’
After revealing the FBI had conducted a “raid” of his Palm Beach residence in a statement Monday evening, Trump became inundated with calls from allies wanting him to dive into the 2024 race sooner rather than later, according to a person familiar with the matter. He spent most of Tuesday hopping “from one phone call to the next,” this person said, adding that the former President “has been on the phone since daybreak.”
Those conversations were expected to continue well into Tuesday evening, with Trump huddling with Republican Study Committee members for a private dinner at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. RSC Chairman Jim Banks of Indiana wrote in a tweet hours before the event that Republicans “have a moral duty to fight back” following the search of Trump’s home.
According to Banks, Trump used the Bedminster meeting to inform the group of 12 Republicans that he’s “made up his mind” about launching a 2024 presidential bid, it’s just a matter of “when” he announces it.
The group encouraged Trump to run “sooner than later,” Banks said, who described Trump as being “upbeat,” “fired up,” and “not fazed at all” by the FBI search on his Florida property.
“My sense is he is fired up and ready to go. And he received a lot of encouragement in the room to get out sooner than later,” Banks said.
Meanwhile, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have already initiated discussions about the party’s oversight response to the FBI search, according to GOP sources familiar with the situation, though these talks remain in the early stages. During a House GOP conference call on Tuesday morning, which had been previously scheduled, top Republicans – including Reps. Jim Jordan and Mike Turner of Ohio – made clear they intend to seek a full accounting from the DOJ about the FBI’s actions, according to sources on the call.
One of the more immediate steps likely to be taken is sending preservation letters to top DOJ officials – likely including Attorney General Merrick Garland. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hinted at the party’s investigative plans Monday evening, tweeting: “Attorney General Garland: preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”
There’s also the possibility that Republicans create a select committee to investigate the agency if the GOP retakes the lower chamber in November. However, a source familiar with his thinking said McCarthy is more inclined to let existing committees take the lead, and the decision is not one House GOP leaders would need to make for several more months.
Across Trump world, Republicans’ widespread condemnation of the FBI search appeared to dismantle a divide among his advisers over the timing of his 2024 campaign launch that had long been simmering beneath the surface. While many of Trump’s political advisers have warned him to wait until after the midterms to announce his plans, fearing it would harm some GOP candidates on the ballot in November to launch a campaign early this fall, others believe an early announcement could help the former President sell the argument that a federal investigation into Trump – or even a potential indictment – is strictly motivated by politics.
“There are some people making arguments that an indictment is an endorsement” for Trump, said Caputo, suggesting that Trump wouldn’t “present himself as a victim but as the leader of the victims” if he ran in 2024, harkening back to Trump’s use of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” gaffe as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 to cultivate an anti-elitist bond with his base.
It’s a message Trump has already leaned into. During a rally in Arizona last month, Trump told the audience, “If I renounced my beliefs and… agreed to stay silent, and if I stayed home and took it easy… the persecution of Donald Trump would immediately stop. They would go onto the next victim.”
“But that’s not what I do. I can’t do that,” Trump said.
Still, while many of Trump’s allies are publicly slamming the unprecedented FBI activity at his home, some of the former President’s most loyal supporters are concerned that the search could have only happened because it was provoked by real evidence – noting that federal investigators would be unlikely to take such a drastic step without something tangible to back up their actions.
“They better have the goods or they just went a long way in resurrecting [Trump],” said one former Trump adviser.
A longtime Republican operative who disagreed with that sentiment said the search warrant that was executed at Mar-a-Lago might prove to be politically detrimental for Trump if it becomes “just another reason to pick someone else” for Republican voters in a presidential primary.
“Trump may eventually become too heavy a lift for voters. Now we have better, less draining options,” this person said.
Meanwhile, one top Republican continued to urge Trump on Tuesday to pump the brakes on a presidential announcement until after the midterms, despite the growing outrage over the FBI search among grassroots activists and other potential 2024 candidates.
“You don’t talk about the Super Bowl until you win the playoffs,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told Fox News Tuesday morning.
Nearly all of Trump’s potential rivals for the GOP nomination in 2024 have spoken up – a reflection of how the former President remains the central figure around which others in the Republican Party revolve.
Since the news of the search broke, possible White House hopefuls have expressed everything from measured skepticism of the Justice Department’s actions to full-blown accusations of a political witch hunt against Trump.
Several have adopted the language of Trump’s allies, accusing the Biden administration of “weaponizing” the Justice Department and targeting a political rival.
Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich condemned the raid as “brazen” and “completely unnecessary” in a statement.
“These disgusting actions by Joe Biden’s administration would make a third-world dictator blush. However, in the Democrats’ desperate attempt to retain power, they have unified and grown the entire conservative movement,” Budowich said.
DeSantis – widely considered Trump’s chief competition in 2024 – responded quickly on Twitter Monday night, calling the search a “raid” and “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves.”
Others who may run for president in 2024 echoed those sentiments with similarly strident language and proposals.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas wrote on Twitter that the Justice Department had been “weaponized” and called the search “corrupt & an abuse of power.” Also referring to a “weaponization” of the department was Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who vowed “consequences” against Garland for the search. And Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said the event was an “unprecedented assault on democratic norms and the rule of law,” calling on Garland to resign or be impeached, FBI Director Christopher Wray to be “removed” and for the FBI to be “reformed top to bottom.”
Others have responded less bombastically but with carefully worded outrage about the FBI’s search. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin called it a “stunning move” and suggested it was a “selective, politically motivated” search. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tempered his criticism by saying it demonstrated “apparent political weaponization” of federal law enforcement.
Still other Republicans are framing their response even more guardedly, expressing a desire for the Justice Department to answer questions about the search warrant.
On Twitter, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley called on the Justice Department and the FBI to comment, saying, “If they won’t comment, then Biden owes it to the American people to answer for his agencies.” Pence, who has spent months trying to find an independent political identity from Trump, tweeted a lengthy response to the search.
Pence said he has “deep concern” about what he called an “unprecedented search” of Trump’s home and said the event “undermines public confidence” in the justice system.
“Attorney General Garland must give a full accounting to the American people as to why this action was taken and he must do so immediately,” Pence concluded.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has been talked about as a potential anti-Trump Republican contender in 2024, said the FBI search will “undermine faith in democracy and the rule of law” if the Justice Department “cannot ultimately provide overwhelming evidence that action was absolutely necessary.”
The Republicans’ collective defensive posture appears to reflect how the party’s leaders remain distrustful of federal law enforcement by default – a development borne out of Trump’s own attacks on the FBI ever since its investigation into his 2016 campaign.
During an appearance on CBS Tuesday morning to promote his new book, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said there have long been concerns among Republicans about whether the FBI is “doing their job apolitical[ly].” He also said the search will “raise more questions” and urged people to “let this play out and see what happens.”
And when pressed about whether Trump remains the best representative of the GOP, Scott provided a clue about why even those who may run against him in the 2024 primary may feel compelled to accept Trump’s narrative about the search.
“Certainly he is the largest voice in American politics, period,” said Scott. “The more focus you put on him, the more likely his supporters will rally around him.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.
CNN’s Ali Zaslav and Gloria Borger contributed to this story,