Voices: Republicans responded to the Trump FBI raid and destroyed their chances in the midterms

Pages from the affidavit from the FBI, with multiple redactions (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Coming after the publication of the (redacted) affidavit that the FBI used to obtain a warrant to search President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, this weekend’s Sunday shows could have given Republicans the perfect chance to defend the former president.

But instead of dispatching Jim Jordan to yell about Hunter Biden’s laptop on Fox News or dispatching ranking House Intelligence Committee member Mike Turner to CNN, Republicans had only two lawmakers show up to fight Trump’s corner.

CNN’s State of the Union featured New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who infuriated Republicans when he passed on challenging Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan in this year’s midterms and who therefore has little to do with national affairs. ABC’s This Week, meanwhile, bagged Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Mitch McConnell lieutenant who’s departing the Senate in January.

Pressed by Dana Bash on the implications of the raid, Sununu – who once said of Trump “I don’t think he’s so crazy that you could put him in a mental institution, but I think if he were in one, he ain’t getting out” – mostly called for transparency and raised suspicions about the raid’s timing. “Let’s remember, this has been a year and a half in the making,” he said. “You think this is a coincidence just happening a few months before the midterm elections and that sort of thing? So this is unprecedented, and they had to have had an unprecedented strategy, which they clearly didn’t have.”

Blunt, likely feeling the need to do this out of his loyalty to the GOP rather than Trump, mostly asked why the Senate Intelligence Committee wasn’t briefed on the raid. He then deflected to the saga of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the conduct of former FBI Director James Comey. “They had them on the internet, which is much more dangerous than having them in a box somewhere,” he said, of the emails. “But everybody needs to be more careful about how these documents are dealt with.”

Careful handing, indeed. Lest we forget, FBI agents who examined the contents of boxes retrieved from Trump’s home in January of this year found “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 documents marked as secret, and 25 documents marked as top secret”. Additionally, the affidavit released last Friday alleged that Trump held papers that contained national security information from Sensitive Compartmented Information, “designed to protect intelligence information derived from clandestine human sources, commonly referred to as ‘human intelligence.”

Blunt lived up to his surname and explained his real frustration: “What I wonder about is why this could go on for almost two years. And less than 100 days before the election, suddenly we’re talking about this — rather than the economy or inflation or even the student loan program you and I were going to talk about today.”

And therein lies the problem. The Republican Party had a chance to purge Trump from its ranks for good after the events of January 6, 2021. Yet ultimately, only 10 House Republicans – most of whom will be leaving – voted to impeach him for his part in the Capitol riot, and only seven Republican Senators voted to convict him. The bulk of them did so not out of deeply felt loyalty to Trump, but out of fear of their base and their more belligerent colleagues.

By not cutting Trump loose, the party made his problems their problems. Even Republicans who don’t want to go to Washington or are heading for the exits are still forced to answer for his every action, his every speech, his every Truth Social post. And with the midterms only weeks away, that blurs their focus on Joe Biden.