Donald Trump has it again: the victim role. In the past, the Republican has consistently presented himself as the target of conspiracies by his political opponents, most recently as the alleged victim of large-scale election rigging. It is the Trump system: turning over every scandal, every accusation, every defeat as a supposed attempt by the "establishment" to keep him out of power. The FBI's search of the former US President's mansion gives Trump new fodder for this narrative, and his supporters are embracing it.
Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania: Trump's first campaign appearance since the FBI raid in early August. The 76-year-old is in his element and has a new topic in his repertoire: the "shameful raid" on his home. Trump portrays the search of his Mar-a-Lago estate as a government scheme to prevent his return to the White House. "They're trying to silence me, and more importantly, they're trying to silence you," he told his followers. "But we will not be silenced."
As is so often the case, Trump uses several superlatives: The operation is "one of the most shocking abuses of power by a government in American history", the most vivid example of the "threat to American freedom". This will "create a backlash like no one has seen before."
In fact, it is a first in US history for investigators to comb through the private home of an ex-president. The FBI found what they were looking for and confiscated various classified information, up to the highest level of secrecy. Little by little, the extent to which Trump kept secret government documents in his mansion, long after he left the White House, is becoming apparent. Investigators also see evidence of obstruction of justice. With all of this, Trump could have made himself liable to prosecution.
Trump didn't say a word in Wilkes-Barre about what the documents were doing at his home. His fans don't seem to care either. Some wear caps with the inscription: "Trump has done nothing wrong." Before his appearance, Trump-loyal reporters ask those waiting in front of the arena what they think of the search. "I think they're afraid of Trump," says a gray-haired man wearing a Trump shirt. "They know he's going to win and they're trying everything to stop him." Trump has been fueling speculation for weeks that he could run again in the 2024 presidential election, including in Wilkes-Barre. But he doesn't say anything concrete here either.
The US Congress will be re-elected at the beginning of November. The Republicans - the Reds in the US's political spectrum - are hoping for a majority in both chambers of Congress. In doing so, they could not only block President Joe Biden's policies in the second half of his term, but also initiate investigations into Democrats - including possible impeachment proceedings against members of the government. Quasi as revenge for two such procedures against Trump.
The mood in the country is heated. Biden, who started with the aim of reuniting society after four years with Trump, recently adopted an aggressive tone: He described the part of the Republican Party loyal to Trump as extremist, even "semi-fascist" - and as a danger for democracy.
Trump replies to Wilkes-Barre that Biden's speech was the "most malicious, hateful and divisive speech" that an American president has ever given. Trump castigated the current incumbent Biden as an "enemy of the state". There is only one party that is "waging a war on American democracy," namely the Democrats. Trump speaks of "tyranny" and calls on his supporters to "take back" the country in November.
The politically sensitive investigations against Trump come at a fragile time. Trump loyalist, prominent Republican Senator Lindsey Graham publicly warned of riots if charges were brought against the ex-president. Some Trump fans might take that as encouragement. After the unprecedented attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol in January 2021, nothing is unthinkable in the US. And for those who did not turn their backs on Trump at the time, the improper storage of sensitive government documents should certainly not be a reason to break with him.
It is probably no coincidence that Trump chose little Wilkes-Barre for his first major appearance after the search. It is Biden's homeland: the Democrat was born only about 30 kilometers away, in Scranton, and spent the first years of his life there. Biden performed himself in Wilkes-Barre just a few days ago - in three visits to Pennsylvania in one week. The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, also just traveled to Biden's birthplace of Scranton to dish out against the president.
Pennsylvania is one of the "swing states" that vote this way and that. In the 2016 presidential election, Trump narrowly prevailed here, in 2020 Biden. Pennsylvania could also play a decisive role in the congressional elections in November. And according to Trump, it will be "the most important midterm election in American history."