The Trump Show Sequel

Former President Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential bid at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night. It is too early to predict anything definitive at this stage, but no one should yet rule out Trump or underestimate Trump’s tremendous staying power.

Trump may have been the truly worst president in U.S. history. He may well have cost the Republican party both the presidency and complete control of Congress. The Republican « establishment » (whatever that may still mean nowadays) may actively oppose him or just passively hope he’ll somehow go away. All that may be. But Trump remains a charismatic messiah figure for a significant segment of « deplorable » culture. He has a genuinely deep personal bond with his supporters that totally transcends the sorts of political events that might have mattered for a more normal candidate. (Think « Access Hollywood, » etc., in the 2016 election and republican electoral losses in 2020 and 2022, all of which would likely have sunk a more conventional politician. But Trump is more like a religious leader, than a conventional politician.) I am not yet convinced that enough of Trump’s MAGA cult-followers can be won away from him, even by the new right-wing flavor of the month, Ron De Santis.

All that remains to be seen, of course. Despite the permanent campaign, 2024 is really a long way off and a lot may – will – happen between now and then. At present, Trump still leads De Santis in the polls. Maybe more to the point, Trump has no known party loyalty to the Republicans and might happily bring the party down even further – perhaps by running as an independent. We ought always to remember that Republicans have proven notoriously poor at winning votes nationwide. Since 1988, they have won the majority of the popular votes in only one presidential election (2004). A two-person race without Trump in which Trump’s MAGA voters just stay home and don’t vote, or a three-person race in which Trump runs as an independent (like TR in 1912), either such scenario would almost certainly result in a 2024 Democratic victory. 

And, to be fair to Trump, his Senate nemesis Mitch McConnell shares some of the long-term blame for the Republicans’ poor showing. Had he not usurped two Supreme Court seats that a Democrat should have had the right to appoint, there would have likely been no Dobbs decision, and so the Democrats’ apparently very effective mobilization of women and younger voters against the Republicans in 2022 might never have happened. And, of course, if McConnell had supported impeachment in 2021 and thus empowered other Senate Republicans to vote to convict, Trump might now be disqualified from office and party politics might look very different indeed.

Of course, the Democrats could also help Trump considerably by a DOJ indictment, which (besides being an inherently terribly dangerous idea for democracy long-term) would make Trump a martyr of sorts. A Democratic Administration attempting to prosecute the leader of the opposition party who is challenging the incumbent for reelection would almost certainly result in a rally-around-the-Trump-flag response, certainly among the MAGA base and likely among many more anti-anti-Trump Republicans.

Trump’s third campaign will likely be different from his first in significant ways. Hopefully, one difference will be that everyone will take the possible outcomes more seriously.