Donald Trump wants to be reelected. Even now as sitting president, he has thus decided to position himself against the “corrupt establishment.” As in 2016, his campaign consists of uncertainty and polarization.
What does an anti-establishment candidate do when he becomes president and wants to get reelected? Donald Trump has found an answer. While he was in Mar-a-Lago waiting for the findings from the final report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he convened a large contingent of Republicans in Palm Beach for dinner, including Sen. Lindsay Graham, who by now has become his most important ally in Congress.
The senator gave a speech in which he spurred on the followers. When he demanded an investigation into the connections between Hillary Clinton and the so-called Steele Dossier — a file from a former British intelligence agent with unproven information that Moscow is in possession of compromising material about Trump — the chant “lock her up” resounded in the room, a motto from the 2016 campaign.
After Mueller concluded that there was no collusion with Russia and Attorney General William Barr also determined that there was no obstruction of justice, Trump didn’t think about it for long. He now had the option of starting his presidency anew. He could have pointed to the still very good state of the economy, to his tax reform, or even to the revision of the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada. In other words, Trump could have tried to be a somewhat normal president who relies on voters having the impression that they’re doing better now than they were before. But he couldn’t. To really arrive in office would mean to become part of the establishment.
The president, then, will only get a second term if he again succeeds: He has to mobilize the protest voters again. And he has to demobilize parts of the political moderate sector. That was clear from the last congressional election. Trump anchored himself to the topic of immigration. With a campaign of fear in which he warned of caravans of criminals and drug smugglers, he rallied his base, but he also drove independents into the other camp. The result: He became stronger where he was already strong, but he lost in the contested swing states.
Trump has decided to position himself against the “corrupt establishment,” even as the sitting president. His opponents are supposed to be those people in politics and intelligence agencies who, according to Trump, are not only all in cahoots with each other, but are also capable of “treason”: They financed the denouncers, disseminated counterfeit dossiers, conducted witch hunts and would not shrink from toppling a democratically elected president.
As in 2016, Trump is again shooting blindly — against the FBI, against Barack Obama’s White House and against Hillary Clinton. Trump releases his conspiracy theories into the world and undermines trust in institutions. Uncertainty and polarization are his campaign. It makes no difference to him that it wasn’t a potentially fake dossier, but rather his own attempts to prevent an investigation of his people’s connections with Russia, that initiated the intervention of the special counsel.
It was no coincidence that Graham also repeated the “lock her up” chant at the dinner in Florida: “Don’t lock her up! We want her to run again.” She won’t do that, of course. This time, Trump is running against the “deep state,” as in whomever the Democrats nominate to run.