“What should I say?"
It’s hard to imagine, but Donald Trump has probably never uttered these words. The historically self-assured lifelong real estate developer and reality TV celebrity turned presidential candidate turned president of the United States turned exiled party leader and bomb-thrower extraordinaire exudes confidence, to the point where even his biggest fans and supporters admit he’s gone overboard a time or two -- or a hundred -- in his spur-of-the-moment reactions to circumstances. Media critics have a term for such unrestrained impetuousness -- “unfiltered.”
Well, if there’s ever been an “unfiltered” politician in American lore, it’s Donald Trump.
Trump turns 75 years-old next month (on June 14th), which is an age when most people who’ve lived through the tumultuous past three-quarters of a century look to enjoy time a little bit, turn down the stress volume and maybe work towards savoring and sampling the best things in life. You can be a champion racehorse and still not necessarily be put out to pasture to chew grass and just be thankful for the daily rising of the morning sun. But not Trump. He’ll celebrate his birth month by restarting his favorite recreational pastime (no, it’s not golf) -- delivering political speeches and holding rallies.
Trump’s dropped a number of hints about making another run for the top job in 2024, but due to campaign finance laws -- or perhaps, good common sense -- he’s left the speculation to everyone who desperately wants to see Trump 2.0 as well as those who loath the possibility he might win if he actually opts to give it another try. There’s little middle ground for the “unfiltered” Donald Trump. But when he does go back to making regular public appearances, it might not be bad for him to take others’ advice and hold back a little on the flame throwing.
Distinguished conservative commentator Cal Thomas thinks so. Thomas wrote at The Washington Times:
“Mr. Trump could help himself not only with Republican leaders, but also voters, especially should he choose to run again in 2024, by focusing on the future, not the past. Joe Biden will not be removed from office, but if Mr. Trump stopped reliving 2020 and started concentrating on congressional races next year (while also continuing to attack President Biden’s failed policies), Republicans would be in a far stronger position to retake the House and possibly the Senate. This would set the stage for a Republican presidential victory in 202, assuming the issues and not Mr. Trump’s personality are the focus...
“Name-calling doesn’t persuade or win issues. Perhaps his rants, directed at people he dislikes, as well as his praise for those he admires is not his main goal. It is meant to keep his base engaged. Trump followers hate the Washington Establishment (aka The Swamp) and are preparing for the next battle with Mr. Trump as their leader. Mr. Trump’s planned resumption of rallies next month may show how strongly he retains his base. He must also attract swing voters who largely abandoned him last year because they were turned off by his denunciation of others.”
Yes, Trump does need to court swing voters, though it’s a bit early to think about reshaping his message to attract a few percentage points of support from the mushy middle. Since he rode down the Trump Tower escalator (almost) six years ago, Trump’s pretty much done it his way. If he asked anyone what he should say back then, it’s doubtful they would’ve told him to ramp up the rhetoric to the extent that he did. From the get-go, Trump’s strategy was to make practically everyone in Washington his enemy, including his fellow candidates in the 2016 GOP field as well as the supposedly Republican-friendly Fox News.
The animosity -- at least where the media was concerned -- was not only returned, it was welcomed, since viewers and readership went through the roof whenever Trump was featured.
It’s often said that contestants on a reality show or beauty pageant don’t go there to make friends, they go to win. That’s what Trump did. Still, there are precious few examples where political candidates didn’t give a hoot about appeasing their opponents and rivals -- at all -- and came out successful.
In contrast, Joe Biden offered a fairly bland message during his campaign last year, talking about “unity” and “the soul of a nation” and “bringing people together” blah, blah, blah. Everyone knew it was phony, and his presidency thus far has featured nothing but divide and conquer.
But he also had Trump to kick. With the ferocious liberal media at his side, senile Joe blamed everything on the president, including the mounting death toll of people who succumbed with the Chinese Communist Party (or Wuhan, if you prefer) virus. It was ugly. Trump was constantly on defense, which, in hindsight, may not have been a good way to wage the battle.
At its heart, Trump’s America First emphasis isn’t divisive at all. It places the needs and desires of Americans in front of citizens from other nations. It’s not a zero-sum game. The American president simply acts on behalf of his own people.
It was Trump’s penchant for demonizing the opposition that drew him the headlines but also earned him the eternal hatred and condemnation from his enemies, including those in his party. Cal Thomas isn’t exactly a Trump fan, but he was a Trump voter. The Cal Thomas’s of the world are the ones Trump needs to consult on his message going forward.
In his upcoming rallies, the former president would be wise to emphasize that the fight to expose election irregularities continues; the inquiries won’t stop until the truth is revealed and every affidavit of funny business is investigated and officials are held to account if rules were broken. But then he should leave the subject. Dwelling on what happened months ago isn’t going to alter the results now, and will only open the door for Democrats to dredge up unpleasant memories of January 6th.
Trump should be pleased that his reputation has been repaired and rehabilitated to the extent that it has, since many of his supporters thought it would be near impossible to come back from the public relations debacle. While many, many, including the president himself, have been vindicated of culpability for that day, hundreds still languish (some in DC jails in solitary confinement without being charged or convicted) and the Biden “Justice” department won’t rest until scalps are nailed to the wall.
The former president could take a conciliatory tone, but his enemies never will. Would turning the other cheek help his cause? Would his 74 million 2020 voters think he’s gone soft?
He might not have to talk much about mending fences. As Thomas alluded to, there’s plenty of red meat policy to concentrate on and the current president has created enough crises to last a full two-hour rally speech and leave plenty left over for the next one. In other words, Trump can touch on all the subject matter, still be himself and avoid falling into the “it’s all about me” trap that ruined the final two months of his presidency.
Make no mistake, Trump’s base loved him and his combative personality. But conservatives came to associate the man with his policies more than his fondness for social media and penchant for punching back. The DC establishment needed a good kick in the teeth… and Trump gave it to them.
But the average voter just misses the reassurance that there was political leadership in the White House that had his or her interests at heart, not the radical racists, thought-shamers and climate dreamers now in charge.
What should Trump say? How about that he’s back and there are better days ahead.
Donald Trump rallies
2024 GOP primaries
Joe Biden administration
Joe Biden agenda