The former Republican president, true to himself, and with an intense “marketing” campaign, feeds the expectations about his return to the electoral competition.
The move is pure Donald Trump. The former president gives an interview to New York Magazine in which, in addition to saying that life is smiling on him at his golf course in New Jersey, he provides the journalist with the following headline: “I’ve already made that decision.” Obviously, the decision is about whether he intends to run in the 2024 presidential election. Does that mean he will be a candidate? It’s not 100% clear. And the contrary? Even less so. In the interview, he also says, “Look. I feel very confident that, if I decide to run, I’ll win.” He then refused to reveal the meaning of his choice of words, adding in a conspiratorial tone, “I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after.” Before or after what? This much is clear: He is referring to the midterm legislative elections, scheduled for November, in which a third of the House of Representatives and the entire Senate are at stake. Trump is back in the political fray (if, indeed, he ever left it).
As he proved during his four years in the White House, he moves better than anyone in the political arena among absurdity, marketing and suspense. For weeks now, everyone in Washington has taken it for granted that he will run, and the only question is when he plans to announce it. The interview with New York Magazine at least makes progress toward setting the time frame of his more-than-foreseeable decision.
Some media reported last week that the decision would come in July. Despite this coming from his entourage, the former president tells New York Magazine that it was “fake news.” There are at least two immediate matters. On the one hand, there is the need to take advantage of the many weaknesses of his most likely opponent, President Joe Biden, for whom the problems are piling up. The latest is a survey by The New York Times and Siena College, which indicated that 64% of Democratic voters would prefer “anyone else” to run, whatever the risk of the unknown. On the other hand, there is the idea that if Trump launches his race now, with two-and-a-half years to go, this could avert the possibility of an indictment for the revelations made by the bipartisan commission investigating the attack on the Capitol. The latest was revealed by Republican Liz Cheney at the end of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack’s seventh session of findings. Apparently, the tycoon called one of the witnesses, someone who worked for him, who is collaborating with members of Congress. That person did not pick up his phone, and he brought it to the attention of the authorities. Did he want to influence the whistleblower’s mood? That is not entirely clear either.
Whether Trump announces his candidacy before or after the midterm elections is important. Especially for his fellow Republicans, whose party he has held hostage since he lost the 2020 election and insisted on the theory, which has been shown to be baseless, that the Democrats stole it. He is still on it, as he demonstrated again at a rally in Anchorage, Alaska, where he went to support the candidates for the primaries in that state. These include Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president with John McCain, and was one of the most prominent figures of the Tea Party, a political movement that, just over a decade ago, served as an early laboratory for the style that would take the New York tycoon to the White House, altering the rules of Washington perhaps forever.
Of the 31 states that have held primaries so far (19 more to go), one theme has stood out for the conservatives: the extent to which Trump’s influence still reaches. Each endorsement has been interpreted in that manner, given that the former president has chosen his candidates (each one more heterodox) in each race. He has not always been right.
Republican Lip Service
Should he announce that he is running for the White House, his polarizing effect (either for or against him) will surely be accentuated, and the rhetoric of the RINOs will hijack the debate in the party. RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) are those members who are not sufficiently aligned with the party’s conservative values and, for example, quietly support abortion rights or call for some form of gun control legislation.
It is also true that, as the scandalous revelations of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack’s investigation become known, the idea that Trump disregarded the advice of his collaborators and family members and went ahead with the theory of electoral fraud despite the catastrophic consequences of something like that (which became a reality on Jan. 6, 2021), is making his presence increasingly uncomfortable within the party, regardless of whether he ends up being charged for these things. The person who must decide on that outcome, Attorney General Merrick Garland, doesn’t exactly have it easy: such a move could have enormous legal and political consequences, starting with the discussion of whether Garland would be incurring a conflict of interest by going after an opponent of his boss, President Biden. But even that might not matter. Trump has a half-dozen pending court cases in Washington, New York and Georgia.
He has also petrified the aspirations of his possible adversaries in the party. His shadow is still so long that few dare to place themselves in front of the tycoon. For the moment, the politician most cited as a possible primary challenger is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has gained national attention with his unvarnished conservatism on issues such as abortion and education with the enactment of and subsequent confrontation with The Walt Disney Company over CS/CS/HB 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill. Detractors have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, because that is partly what it seeks to do: Until the age of nine, it bans classroom discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing it in later grades only if it is age- and developmentally appropriate for students, encouraging parents to report teachers who breach it.
In the interview with New York Magazine, the former president disparages DeSantis, saying that if he became governor, it was thanks to him, and then practicing another of his favorite games: bending the truth (or, rather, the kind of truth that blurs the data). He cites a poll according to which he would win the Florida Republican primary by a wide margin (58% to 10%), although that’s not quite the case: There is another poll from the University of New Hampshire that gives DeSantis a very slight lead: 39% to 37%. Once again, the move is pure Trump.