Donald Trump sees himself as the obvious 2024 presidential candidate − or at the very least he is floating the idea − as a way of beating the Democrats “a third time,” as he said on Sunday, with a straight face, at the close of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, whose theme was “America Uncanceled.” While CPAC does not represent the entirety of the American conservative movement, it nevertheless reflects its strongest tendencies. Coming out of retirement, if it ever was one, Trump continued his pathological refusal to acknowledge defeat at the hands of Joe Biden, and continued to drag the majority of the Republican Party into his delusional response, both the grassroots of the party and elected officials alike.
For having blindly reorganized itself around Trump since 2016, the remaining moderates and centrists at the core of the party find themselves surrounded on all sides. One only has to look at the former president’s unprecedented revanchism on Sunday, as he heaped blame on his critics by sharing the names of the 17 Republican legislators who voted to impeach him in the House of Representatives and senators who found him guilty in the Senate.
The fact remains, that if Trump’s appearance in 2016 was the result of the gradual ideological retreat of the party, notably among the white evangelical base, then it was a monstrous product of a partisan organization which, in fact, is less and less able to take power by winning a simple majority of the popular vote. It is immensely demagogic of Trump to shout about election fraud, even though for decades, the Republican Party has attacked electoral democracy with all sorts of vicious methods of voter suppression.
On the one hand, Trump has quieted the voices of the extreme right, by normalizing political violence in the public arena among many ordinary Republican supporters. The Capitol riot of Jan. 6 is a convincing demonstration of this, as is the election of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a member of the conspiracy group QAnon from Georgia, to the House of Representatives.
Greene is the tip of the iceberg. The organization Media Matters, a research center that studies disinformation, identified 67 current and former Republican candidates as being close to QAnon last year. That is how, in Florida’s 21st Congressional District for example, where Trump lives, Republican candidate Laura Loomer lost the election last November to a Democrat, but not without winning 40% of the vote. Short of being charged for his financial and commercial schemes, Trump will continue to weave his web. His most prominent pawn at the moment is Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former press secretary and unrepentant mouthpiece for Trump’s rage and lies. At the end of February, she announced her candidacy for governor of Arkansas.
That said, the man may have turned his gaze toward the 2024 election, but it will be next year’s midterms that will test the durability of his personal influence on the party.
On the other hand, Trump remains well served by the old Republican strategies of voter suppression. Those who seek to free themselves from him are all the more helpless. But these strategies reached a troubling height during the elections. A different organization, the Brennan Center for Justice, calculated that up until Feb. 24, 253 bills to restrict minority access to voting by limiting mail-in votes, increased kinds of identity checks at polling stations or by further limiting voter registration were filed in 43 states.
A disturbing fact, considering that it would have only taken 40,000 voters changing sides in certain key states for Trump to have won the Electoral College vote in 2020.
In contrast, Democrats are contemplating a profound reform of the electoral system in what they call the “For the People Act,” intended to prevent the apparent erosion of democratic rights in the United States, particularly with respect to African Americans, but also directed at confronting problems such as campaign financing. The Democrats, who control Congress for the moment, promise to see it through out of partisan interest, but also because what is at stake, so to speak. The political challenge is a major one, but Lyndon B. Johnson’s faltering “Great Society” needs to be put back on its feet. Otherwise, Trump & Co. will continue to try and usurp power by any means possible, disguising its business as standard election practice.