The former president showed once again why he has won such a devoted following. Will it be enough?
“My fellow citizens, America’s comeback starts right now,” said Donald Trump about 20 minutes into an hour-plus speech last night. “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.” It was an expected announcement and, just a week out from the 2022 midterms, officially kicks off the 2024 campaign. In many ways, Trump was on message and was the best version of himself, proving that he’ll be formidable once again.
Trump is a master at painting things as an obvious binary choice between the worst disaster caused by his opponents and the best successes he brought and will bring again. Last night’s speech was ultimately a very hopeful message, and it’s a vivid reminder of why he evokes such devotion among disenfranchised and disillusioned grassroots folks.
He recounted his many admirable domestic and foreign policy achievements as president, and he celebrated all the new people he brought into the GOP.
“This is a movement,” he said. “This is not for any one individual.”
That’s very true, and it’s also not. Trump is famously obsessed with himself, usually splitting his time between accomplishing things and offering endless commentary about how awesome he is. And as he alluded last night, his second run has a lot to do with avenging 2020. Yet the vast majority of his speech was forward focused, hitting all the right themes, punching all the right villains, and making all the most appealing promises. It was full of the great and wonderful things he pledges to do again, in stark contrast to what is being done (horribly wrong) now by Joe Biden and his Democrats.
What Trump brings to the table this time is hope that the good days will return. He offers a chance to relive the prosperity our nation enjoyed from 2017 through 2019, and that’s a powerfully appealing divergence from the terrible record of the current non compos mentis president.
As political analyst Ben Domenech put it, “Trump’s argument is simple: Things were good when I was in charge, and now everything sucks.”
If he sticks with that message, he may very well be the GOP nominee.
Few politicians elicit the blind hatred that Trump does. Few can offset votes gained with votes against like Trump. Few have a record as full of self-sabotage and inexplicable hatred directed at allies as Trump. Democrats beat him in 2018, 2020, and again in 2022. They’re quite eager to do it one more time in 2024. Those are just observable facts.
By his own doing, Trump has also lost a lot of conservative support. He has never won a majority of voters — not in the 2016 primaries, and not in either general election. Let’s just say it’s hard to believe that will change in 2024. Even if he somehow wins the presidency again, the then-78-year-old can serve only one term and would arguably be an immediate lame duck. Again, those are just observable facts.
Trump is trying to accomplish a feat achieved only by Grover Cleveland in winning another term after losing. There’s good reason to think, however, that the better parallel is Teddy Roosevelt, who bullheadedly divided his party and handed the White House to one of America’s very worst presidents, Woodrow Wilson.
Even so, Trump’s most devoted supporters remain loyal to the end, and they’ll ever-so-politely remind you that no one — no conservative, no Republican, no Fox News talkinghead, no analyst writing for a humble grassroots publication in the mountains of east Tennessee — is going to tell them what or how to think about Donald J. Trump. Woe to the scribes and pharisees who haven’t learned that lesson by now.
The primaries will play out how they play out. Republican voters will have other candidates to choose from, and Trump will have to make his case, which is a strong one. No one brings to the table the base or the record that he does, and that will be a powerful force.
The first test of Trump’s post-announcement influence will be the December 6 Senate primary in Georgia. Trump’s antics in late 2020 cost the GOP two Georgia Senate seats, which brought about unified Democrat control in Washington and all the ills he bewailed while taking no responsibility for allowing. But last night, he stumped hard for Herschel Walker, saying how important it is to go vote for him. We’ll see how that plays out.
Whatever happens in the GOP presidential primary, come 2024, Republicans will either be unified and victorious against whoever Democrats substitute for Joe Biden, or they will be divided, bitter, and angry over the primary fight — and they will lose.
That choice, dear voter, is up to you.