A politically wounded, low-energy, criminally investigated Donald Trump just formally launched his 2024 presidential campaign. This announcement comes two years after the twice-impeached former president launched an attempted coup. Instead of a golden escalator in New York, Trump announced in Mar-a-Lago — his Florida resort and stolen classified document storage unit.
While Trump’s candidacy is certainly a threat to democracy, he is currently facing threats of his own. There is now unprecedented heat from his own party and a potential incoming indictment. Trump’s allies have said he is trying to replicate his "underdog" 2016 campaign. But this isn’t 2016 and Trump isn’t the same reality TV star-turned-fear-mongering nationalist that won the GOP base over.
Donald Trump is now a disgraced former president who is currently under criminal investigation for his attempt to overthrow American democracy and potential theft of classified documents. His businesses have been exposed as fraudulent and he faces a $250 million civil lawsuit from the New York Attorney General. While Trump still remains popular within the Republican Party, he maintains high disapproval ratings among the majority of Americans. Understandably so. We all endured Trump’s presidency, which was a disaster by every measure.
Trump has now led Republicans into three disappointing election cycles over the past four years. In 2018, 2020, and now 2022, Trump has showcased he is electorally toxic. For a man whose brand is winning, he sure does lose a lot. Trump used election denialism as a loyalty test for those who wanted to earn his endorsement ahead of the 2022 midterms. Those who did, like gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake (AZ) or Doug Mastriano (PA), lost toss-up races in battleground states across the country. Trump-backed Senate candidates in Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire all lost, which handed Democrats the 50 seats they needed for another two years of Senate control – even before the incoming Georgia runoffs.
Just like 2016, Trump remains divisive, but this time the dividing lines are different. Trump now unites his opposition and divides his own party. Republicans not only fear that the timing of this announcement will hurt Herschel Walker’s chances against Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia (D), but they’re also worried about what it means for the party at large.
In the immediate aftermath of the midterm elections, Republicans and right-wing commentators were quick to blame Trump and praise Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The Rupert Murdoch media empire also appears ready to toss Trump to the side. Wall Street Journal editorials have condemned the former president’s impact on the midterms and the New York Post deemed him "Trumpty Dumpty." If the headlines weren’t bad enough, a new report from i quotes a News Corp executive lambasting Trump’s 2024 candidacy: “We have been clear with Donald. There have been conversations between them during which Rupert made it clear to Donald that we cannot back another run for the White House."
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Senate and House Republicans weren’t too enthused by Trump’s incoming announcement. Some "don’t think it’s good for the party" and have expressed their openness to other 2024 GOP nominees. Trump’s former Vice President Mike Pence, who Trump targeted with a violent mob on January 6, doubled down on this sentiment. In an ABC interview that was released the day after the midterms, Pence responded to a question about Trump’s 2024 run by saying, "I think we’ll have better choices in the future.” Pence is widely expected to run for president himself.
The conservative group Club for Growth went further, publishing a memo with polling that showed DeSantis leading Trump by 11 points in Iowa, 15 points in New Hampshire, 26 points in Florida, and 20 points in Georgia. Triggered by DeSantis’s popularity, Trump has been attacking him on Truth Social and deemed him "Ron De-Sanctimonious."
There are now clear dividing lines within the Republican Party. There are some Republicans, like Senator Mitt Romney (UT) outgoing Reps. Liz Cheney (WY) and Adam Kinzinger (IL), who want to leave the extremism within the party behind. There are others who want to maintain Trumpism but without Trump, by elevating Trump imitators like Ron DeSantis. And then there are the remaining Trump loyalists, who are willing to go down with the Trump cult.
Republicans could’ve avoided this mess if they convicted Trump in his second impeachment trial over the January 6 insurrection. That would’ve banned him from running again. The GOP could’ve held Trump accountable over the past six years instead of twisting themselves into shameless sycophancy, but now they’re facing down a monster of their own making. After spending a lifetime exploiting people and discarding them like trash when he no longer needs them, Trump is panicking as the same thing is beginning to happen to him. That’s because the only thing the GOP respects is power, and many in the party are recognizing that his power is waning.
So what’s motivating this run? This announcement could very well be a cover for what Trump believes will be an incoming indictment. Trump could use this active candidacy as a false basis to cry "witch hunt." It’s unclear exactly how this will impact Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision-making, but one thing is for sure: Right now, Trump is the weakest and most desperate he’s ever been.
CBS News’s Robert Costa reported that Trump is isolated and mean-spirited right now. While that certainly might not surprise anyone, Costa also quoted an anonymous Trump adviser who claimed, “I have never seen him more irresponsible and chaotic than he is today. He seems to be in self-destruct mode." Given the fact this is the same president who literally incited an insurrection, the idea of Trump reaching new levels of unhinged is a deeply troubling thought.
The 2022 midterms should have put the nail in Trump’s political coffin. We’re in a totally different environment with a years-long trail of electoral losses anywhere Trump walks. But anything can happen. While Republicans can push all the rhetoric they want now, talk is cheap. They will ultimately swing with the base. Suppose the base chooses Donald Trump in the 2024 GOP primary (or, as I like to call them, the Trump clone wars.) In that case, all signs point to him leading Republicans to yet another electoral shellacking in 2024 general and more political violence for the country.
Trump’s only real talent is his ability to identify and shamelessly exploit the weaknesses in people, cultures, and systems. In 2016, he was a privileged, self-interested con man who saw the flaws in America as mere weapons to be used for his advantage. He served as a mirror that reflected the country’s worst blemishes. As long as these flaws still exist, there will always be an environment for Trump or a Trump-like figure to exploit them.
As flawed as we are, I’m hopeful that the vast majority of Americans have caught on to Donald Trump’s con. I believe, in the end, Americans will choose decency over depravity and ensure Trump never sets foot in the White House ever again.
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