Donald Trump lost the presidency to Joe Biden, but he has not left the U.S. political scene. Against all precedent, in spite of his defeat and that of his party in the election a few months ago, he has remained at the center of the discussion and seized control of the Republican Party. It defies logic that Trump is still holding the reins of the party when his bid for reelection failed and, in his infinite stubbornness, he contributed to the party’s loss of control of the Senate. But there he is, dictating the agenda and the direction to Republican state governments and to party leaders in Congress, who haven’t found the courage to distance themselves from him.
The fear of the ire of the Trumpists has, for example, led Republican legislators to oppose the independent commission that was to carry out a bipartisan investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The same thing has happened with the Republican position on vaccination and public health measures. Trump made a habit of discrediting science and experts. His spreading of conspiracy theories and other disinformation has now encouraged vaccine hesitancy on the part of millions of Republican voters. One would think that now that it is over, the brutal Trump presidency would be a thing of the past, along with Trump. What has happened is the opposite. Rather than falling in line with the science and recommending caution in the face of the pandemic, Republicans with political aspirations have sought shelter in their leader’s stubbornness.
The most dramatic example is of the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential candidate. DeSantis is a capable, educated man. He has a law degree from Harvard University. It is inconceivable that, deep down, he doubts the importance of masking in the fight against the virus. In public, DeSantis is one of the most strident voices against the public health measures recommended by federal authorities. Why is he doing this? Because thanks to Trump, the political incentive lies in irrationality, in the rejection of the experts and of scientific evidence.
From now on, the question is whether Trump plans to translate his control of the party into a new presidential nomination. Everything seems to indicate that that’s the way it will be. Last week, journalist Michael Wolff, author of several books on Trump’s presidency, published an editorial column in which he reaffirms his certainty that Trump is going for the presidency in 2024. According to Wolff, what is driving Trump now is vengeance (which was already motivating him, but more so now). In spite of the fact that there is no evidence of election fraud, Trump seems to be convinced that Biden stole the presidency from him.
And as if that were not enough, Wolff suggests what Trump’s campaign strategy will be. If four years ago he employed an ethnocentric nationalism as the principal message, this time he will fall back on the lie of election fraud. He will say that he was robbed, and invite his followers to correct the alleged outrage. His campaign rallies will be presented as those of a legitimate president, with all the paraphernalia of a president. (He has already been doing this, from his appearance to the style of podium he uses.) And, as before, he will no doubt encounter believers. Judging by the polls, six out of 10 Republicans believe that Biden won unfairly. It is a staggering number, above all because there is no evidence of election fraud. But even beyond that, because it reveals the potential of the deceitful Trumpist message. If enough voters decide to believe the Trump fantasy of the stolen election, it is not impossible that the losing candidate of 2020 might return to the White House four years later. He would return to call in old debts, with the sword of vengeance unsheathed, with absolute control of one of the country’s two political parties. And all arising from a lie. A sad scenario.