Phoenix, Ariz. – Former President Donald Trump's hold over the Republican party remained at a rally that he did not attend in Phoenix over the weekend as some of the biggest candidates in the 2022 cycle decried the FBI search on Mar-a-Lago.
"I really anticipate that the state of Florida will be the one to get the election wave off the ground," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during his roughly 46-minute appearance at an event for Arizona Senate nominee Blake Masters and gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake.
DeSantis, who is up for reelection in 2022, came in second in a recent CPAC straw poll for the 2024 presidential election, 45 points behind Trump – although the poll was taken before the FBI search. But when Trump was taken out of the poll, DeSantis was in the lead.
DeSantis' visit to Phoenix capped off a chaotic six days since theand seized . The revealed that Trump is under investigation for destruction, removal or destruction of records, obstruction of an investigation, and violating a provision of the Espionage Act related to gathering, transmitting or losing defense information.
Attendees in Phoenix were energized, and some clearly angered, by every mention of the FBI's search and seizure of documents at Mar-a-Lago. Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, used his warm up speaking slot to argue the raid has only made Trump more popular. Lake, a staunch Trump supporter and former TV journalist who won the GOP primary on Aug. 2, said the FBI agents were "politically motivated."
"How dare they. Joe Biden, we have had enough. Our 'government created of the people, by the people, and for the people.' That government has turned onto 'we' the people. And we will begin to fight back," Lake said.
Turning Point Action, a conservative organization geared towards young Republicans, organized DeSantis' stops in Arizona and New Mexico on Sunday to headline "Unite and Win" rallies for statewide GOP candidates.
While he did not explicitly mention Trump by name during his remarks, DeSantis did criticize the FBI's search and said it's another example of agencies being "weaponized to be used against people that the government doesn't like."
"They're enforcing the law based on who they like and who they don't like. That is not a republic. Well, maybe it's a banana republic when that happens," he said, after referencing the FBI's investigation of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server.
"Why has this been able to happen? It's because Congress lets these agencies get away with it," he said. "What I hope we see if Republicans take majorities, is use the power you have under the Constitution to bring accountability to a bureaucracy that's totally off the rails."
Masters did not mention the search during his remarks but during an appearance on Kirk's show on Monday, said "it's clear" the FBI was not following the "rule of law" and that it was "political persecution."
"Everybody knows this is about neutralizing Trump and taking him off the table in 2024," Masters said, adding that if he is made president again, Trump has to fire "every partisan operative" in the FBI and "clean house."
in threats to law enforcement officials following the FBI's search of the former president's home. The threats, which are "occurring primarily online and across multiple platforms, including social media sites, web forums, video sharing platforms, and image boards," were identified by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the days following the FBI's authorized seizure of 11 sets of classified documents from the former president's home, including four sets that were classified "top secret," according to the unsealed search warrant.
A group of armed protestors, which is legal under Arizona law, were outside the Phoenix FBI headquarters on Saturday morning, according to CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO.
Ellie Summers, a pro-Trump Republican that believes there was "cheating" in the 2020 election, said outside the event that she wants Congressional Republicans to be more vocal against the FBI raid.
"Where is McCarthy? Where is McConnell? Where is anybody fighting for us? That's why we're so angry, because Republicans are not fighting for us. They need to get off their butts and do their jobs and quit writing books, quit begging for money, and start fighting and do their damn jobs," she said.
"I think the FBI needs to go. I think the upper echelon of the FBI, if it doesn't go away altogether, needs to be changed out. The lower level seems to be doing just fine. But those people at the top, need to go," she added. "They're ruining this country."
Ari Corr, an independent voter, and Matt Bevans, a recent Democrat-to-Republican convert, said they were willing to see what the FBI investigation would lead to.
"I want to see if there's grounds for it. If there isn't, I'm afraid that's going to cause more divisiveness and more of an issue and that terrifies me," said Corr.
"I believe in the institutions of this country and I want to have faith in them," added Bevans. "So I don't have a reaction until I see evidence."
DeSantis' visit to Arizona in particular, a perennial presidential battleground former president Donald Trump narrowly lost in 2020, comes after multiple polls show DeSantis as the second pick for most GOP voters for president in 2024, behind Trump.
But attendees in Phoenix gave raucous applause to the southeast governor as he ticked through his COVID-19 response, his criticisms of Mr. Biden, and a string of controversial bills he passed related toabout gender identity and sexuality from kindergarten through the third grade.
"You should not have kids in elementary school having lessons on gender ideology. You do not take a six year old boy and tell him he may actually be a girl. That is wrong, and that is illegal in the state of Florida," he said.
Lake, who joked about the governor having "BDE" ("Big DeSantis Energy"), said she was honored to have received the nickname of "the DeSantis of the west."
Most Republicans at the Phoenix event dreamt of a potential Trump-DeSantis ticket in 2024, but were confident if DeSantis decided to run on his own against the former president, that he'd lose.
"You aren't going to beat that team. That would be the way to go. I hope they do it," said Summers. When asked who she'd pick if the two were head-to-head against each other, Summers quickly replied, "Trump all the way."
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