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The Meaning of the Raid on Mar-a-Lago

The point is to deter political engagement by half the nation by making it legally costly to be an active Republican.

The FBI Executes A Search Warrant At Former President Trump's Mar-A-Lago Estate
A protester of former President Donald Trump speaks with a Palm Beach police officer outside Mar-A-Lago on August 8, 2022. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

The Republicans are already fundraising off the late Monday surprise FBI raid on former president Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago. Democrats, for their part, are quick to gaslight: “No one is above the law.” Forget that no such raid on a former president has ever occurred in American history. The real question is this: what does the FBI, or the Democratic Congress, hope to gain from the raid?  

Mark Elias, the Democratic field marshal and elections lawyer, gave one clue in a tweet Monday evening, when the dust from the raid had barely settled. He cited Title 18 of the United States Code, section 2071(b), which to an untrained observer appears to suggest that Trump, if convicted under this title beyond a reasonable doubt, would be barred by statute from holding public office. In a follow-up tweet, Elias conceded that the Constitution, which in Article II explicitly sets an exhaustive list of qualifications to be president, would dash his hopes (if the statute even applied), but he noted his real goal: to make Trump “litigate this during a campaign.”  


Since 2016, the media, the deep state, and the left have worked in concert to delegitimize Donald Trump. Since the 2020 election, these same actors have worked to make two things very clear to the American public. First, questioning the security of our elections, or the narrative that January 6 was The Worst Thing Ever, is verboten. Second, doing so will put you in legal jeopardy. By making this clear to the American public, these actors seek to deter political engagement by half the nation. Raising the costs to be a Republican will have effects in federal and state elections in every race, in every district, for all time. It is, in effect, an in-kind donation to Democrats from the FBI and the media.

Democrats are betting that their pressure campaign has gotten us to the point that the average American won’t be outraged that political incumbents are using the government to interfere with domestic elections. Rather, they expect the average American to shrug and say, “It’s Donald Trump.” And they might be right. To date, many have shrugged as Trump legal advisors like John Eastman and Jeff Clark have been put on the hook for hundreds of thousands in legal bills for giving reasonable (even correct!) legal advice about the structure of the Constitution and responsibilities of various parties in certifying the 2020 presidential election. They have shrugged as Democratic attorneys general continue to try to retroactively criminalize investigation into election irregularities, including against their statewide opponents. The public has shrugged and shrugged, so why stop now? Why not go after the king himself?

If the former president isn’t safe from politicized fishing expeditions, and his lawyers aren’t safe, then why on earth would I want to attend a rally? Why would I want to volunteer as a poll worker, or a clerk, or a delegate? The chilling effect is stunning. One of the major lessons of 2020 (and, conversely, the Youngkin win in Virginia) is that having more eyes on the electoral process favors Republicans. With eyes on our elections deterred, the likelihood of anti-establishment candidates winning statewide in places like Arizona, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania drops dramatically.

Imagine if Donald Trump runs again in 2024 (as I suspect he will), and he wins (as I hope he would). Quite apart from the staffing difficulties we had in his 2016–20 term, a battlefield where every would-be Trump staffer in the middle of the country knows that he or she would face Inspector General actions, bar complaints, media attacks, even criminal investigation for doing the right thing while serving—such an environment would deter many from serving.

In this respect, the pressure campaign surrounding investigation into the 2020 election, and surrounding January 6, is a win-win for Democrats. They do not need to deliver a single conviction. They need only demonstrate to the average Republican that there is no lawful way for them to participate in the political process. Following 2020, so many highly credentialed former staff who would, under any other administration, go on to earn big money in the private sector, remain underemployed. With this as the background, what is the upside in serving in a Trump term two, or under DeSantis, or anyone else?

It is a dangerous enough environment in any Third World nation when leading opposition candidates are disappeared or imprisoned. But this is America. What will happen as a majority of the country, or even a plurality, continue to see daily signs that peaceful engagement in politics is completely forbidden to them?