The Trump factor has both positive and negative connotations.
Every Donald Trump fan would concede as much, just as every Trump hater would insist there’s only negativity surrounding the outsider, first-time-politician-turned former president of the United States. Conservatives admire Trump because he came on the scene and spoke what many, many frustrated longtime Republicans wanted to hear – namely, that the Washington DC establishment of both parties was a fly-and-vermin-attracting pile of you-know-what – but also what desperately needed to be said.
Then, once elected, Trump carried through with his promises made on the campaign trail. He wasn’t always successful in realizing everything he’d offered – the border wall with Mexico wasn’t finished and the government “down there” didn’t pay for it, for example – but his failures weren’t from lack of effort and pushing. America’s eternal internal enemy – again, the Washington DC establishment of both parties and the heinous ruling class media – proved to be an immutable thorn in Trump’s side.
These were mostly positive developments. But, as with everything else in life, we take the good with the bad. Donald Trump’s always confrontational nature rubbed friends and enemies alike the wrong way at times, which invariably led to his inability to fully fulfill his campaign obligations. To claim that Trump was his own worst enemy is an understatement. On many occasions, it seemed as though there were two completely different Trumps working against each other – the dealmaking and conciliatory Trump versus the I-don’t-care-if-we’re-on-the-same-team grouch who was conditioned to treating everyone in the same abrasive manner and turned people off who normally would’ve helped him.
The media was against Trump from the beginning, so naturally they only saw – and reported upon -- Trump’s negative side.
Trump also didn’t help his cause by selecting the wrong people to surround himself with. Especially in the beginning, Trump put in place Republican establishment yes-men whose loyalties were to the GOP’s bad influences rather than the throngs of people the president spoke to at his huge rallies. It took a while for Trump to weed out the bad apples, and by the time he did, it was almost too late. With the fiasco that followed the 2020 election, many argued that his personnel issues were never completely resolved.
Trump’s very public feud with former Attorney General William Barr didn’t look good for him and helped cement the media’s narrative that the president didn’t care as much about being effective as he did about settling old scores and calling people out for lack of loyalty.
Trump’s inability to put the right persons in place spoke to his overall competence as a leader and made him appear naïve by trusting individuals he’d known in the past regardless of whether they were aligned with him politically and/or ideologically. And his lukewarm endorsement record of late hasn’t dispelled the notion that he’ll correct the personnel malignancy in a second Trump administration, either.
Why sugarcoat it? A lot of folks are opening up about the possibility of a Trump-less 2024. The always inimitable Kurt Schlichter wrote at Townhall last week:
“[F]ocus and discipline are not exactly Trump's strong suits. We need to be honest – the guy is human chaos. Sometimes that's great; other times, it is basically him stamping on his own Schumer. In many ways – and this comes from a fan – he is his own worst enemy, and nothing seems to have changed since he left office.
“A prime example of his indiscipline is his inability to stop harping on the 2020 election. I know what the problems were – I was there helping try to clean them up. The hard truth is that Trump was the head of the Republican Party and the Republican Party was absolutely and utterly unprepared for the legal fights that preceded and followed the election. If you want to place blame, you have to place it on the guy in command...
“I like Trump. I voted for him in 2016 and 2020, and I even wrote a book defending him from the lies of the left. But I don't work for him and I have never gotten as much as a Christmas card from him, so I'm free to tell hard truths. We need to assess Trump honestly and in full – he has a lot of factors in his favor for 2024, and he has a lot of factors against him for 2024. But this is not about Trump. This is about winning. If he does run, let's hope there's a tough primary to sharpen him up for the general. And in that primary, each of us is going to have to decide whether Trump is right for America again in 2024.”
Each of us, indeed. As you’d probably expect, most of the folks I know are of a conservative orientation, and there isn’t a single one who comes to mind who’s signaled it is Donald Trump or bust for them in 2024. That’s not to say these enlightened political watchers wouldn’t support him again – everyone would, enthusiastically – but the worries over another potential electoral catastrophe makes them anxious.
Schlichter’s point on the 2020 election – and the fact Trump won’t just phase it out of his pitch – is well taken. Perhaps Trump is waiting until after the 2022 federal midterms to start putting the past behind him (and us). He sure as heck won’t be doing himself a favor by continuing to harp on it all the way up until Election Day, 2024. Trump won’t win by publicly relitigating the issue for the umpteenth time. Folks are starting to tune it out. For Trump’s sake, this can’t be permanently added to his growing list of negative connotations.
As to whether he should reconsider running again, it’s Trump’s call. But others, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, are drawing more looks from the statistically significant anyone-but-Biden-and-Trump contingent. DeSantis sure is polling well for a man who claims he’s not even contemplating a 2024 run. He’s raising money like crazy (well over a hundred million and counting for his gubernatorial reelection) and there may never be a better opportunity for him to try it.
Other polls showing Trump handily beating DeSantis don’t really indicate much in late June, 2022. As time goes by and the Florida governor gains more and more favorable conservative media attention, the numbers will begin to stabilize and get closer. Then, if (as suggested by a recent New Hampshire poll) DeSantis does well in the early GOP voting states, all bets are off.
As soon as DeSantis becomes “viable” in the minds of Republican voters, all of Trump’s negative connotations will come crashing down on him. People will still wear their red Trump “MAGA” hats, but they’ll be giving the alternative a serious look, too. If you were Donald Trump, wouldn’t you at least be a little worried about what they might see?
On one of his shows last week, Tucker Carlson singled out Ron DeSantis as the only Republican governor who is not only governing in a conservative fashion, he’s actively battling the left while doing it. There’s no downplaying or minimizing the conservative grassroots’ hunger for a Trump-like leader who not only signs the right bills and executive orders but wakes up every morning and assesses the best way to bludgeon the left at the same moment.
The “normal” factor might also work in DeSantis’s favor in 2024. He’s young – 43-years-old, born in 1978 during the Carter administration – and came from a very “common” background. He’s got a beautiful wife (who is now a cancer survivor) and three young children who aren’t yet school-aged. Contrast DeSantis with the thrice-married late 70’s-aged Trump who’s spent an adult lifetime generating and battling headlines in the tabloids and seemingly enjoyed news reports of his gold-plated toilet seat on his private jumbo jet.
Years of exposure to Trump’s family demonstrated that they’re a quality group and the media stories attacking them were entirely unfair and false. Just the treatment of first lady Melania alone was disgraceful and lacking taste. Family won’t be a factor in the 2024 GOP primaries, but DeSantis’s youth and “normal-ness” can’t be discounted, either. Again, we’re talking about positive versus negative connotations here.
Here's a scenario I haven’t seen anywhere else. Suppose Trump announces that he’s decided against running in 2024 for a host of reasons, other than health. Then, in the course of the campaign, an inevitable “Draft Trump” movement starts when some element of the MAGA electorate becomes bored or discouraged with the candidate offerings (not likely with DeSantis, but it could and probably will happen if Ron doesn’t run).
Calls for a “White Knight” candidacy happens every four years – or at least when there isn’t an incumbent running – so why would 2024 be immune? If Trump opted not to run again early next year, his “specter” would still haunt the primary race, and if the candidates nudged too close to the “old” pre-Trump GOP, the former president would certainly threaten to enter the fray late.
Many veteran athletes hold out from training camp simply because they don’t want to deal with the drills and meetings and oppressive media attention – who’s to say Trump wouldn’t skip the lead-up campaign to the primaries and then enter after Christmas next year? This way he could ensure that the early declared candidates carry on the MAGA tradition. And, if they don’t, watch out!
It's fun to contemplate. Is it likely? Probably not.
Donald Trump’s negative connotations aren’t going away, but neither are the memories of all the positive things he did during his time in the White House. Trump is reportedly still weighing whether he’s even going to run again, and if he does, it’s probable that he’ll have competition for the Republican nomination.
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