There is a curious op ed at the Wall Street Journal that you don’t have to read if you don’t want to. But let me describe it. Some guy named Holman Jenkins writes Is Donald Trump Finished? The subhead is, Admit it: You don’t want him to run again yet his absence hasn’t solved any problem.
Holman appears to be a loyal Republican who wants to see the party defeat Joe Biden. Trump could be reelected, he argues. There are all kinds of issues he could exploit to win another term. But Trump is blowing it because he won’t let go of the 2020 election. He needs to find a way to at least put that election is behind him, even if he doesn’t admit he lost. And then Jenkins writes,
My own estimate is that Mr. Trump can’t afford not to run for president between now and 2024—it’s too lucrative. His business life now appears to consist largely of paying himself for services his companies provide to his own campaign, funded by thousands of small donations and sales of Trump merchandise. And yet a hunger for him to serve again as president, even among his fans, is not conspicuous. I also ask myself: Would he be selling his Washington hotel, one of the few ways he successfully synergized his business interests with this political interests during his presidency, if he planned on being president again?
I doubt it. Mr. Trump has likely already decided he will be happy with just picking the next president, which explains the troop of hopefuls outside his door in Mar-a-Lago.
… which is pretty much an admission that Trump was just in it to make money.
Philip Bump mentions Jenkins in his column The looming chaos of Trump 2024.
Trump can’t pivot away from his fraud claims no matter how much Jenkins wishes he would. He couldn’t even if he wanted to.
But he clearly doesn’t want to. He was out there making new claims about fraud just this week, part of his effort to convince his supporters and himself that he didn’t actually lose in 2020 at all. If Trump runs for president in 2024, he’s running as the guy who tried to steal the election from Biden as he claimed that Biden had stolen it from him. He’s running not as he did in 2015, as an outsider to the politics game. He’s running, instead, as a representation of an anti-democratic undercurrent in right-wing politics with the support of people who’ve triggered repeated warnings from law enforcement about their willingness to use violence in defense of Trump’s claims.
It’s anyone’s guess if Trump will run in 2024. “If he runs in 2024, even without his approach to politics changing, he’ll again be a candidate unlike any who has come before,” Bump writes. “And again he’ll catch much of the country unprepared.”
David Atkins thinks Trump could still destroy the GOP. Republicans still look to him as the leader of the party, and most of them are terrified to go against him. Which is fine with Democrats, I suspect.
It’s hard to deny it: The GOP is now a reinvigorated cult of personality around Trump. He dispatched his opponents in the 2016 primary with ease despite the open hostility of most of the party establishment, marginalized or co-opted his opposition, and remade the party in his image. More importantly, he hastened a realignment that will be structurally advantageous for the GOP in Congress and the Electoral College for decades, even though Republicans are numerically inferior and shrinking across the country. Trump drove turnout among his ardent fans higher than expected and cut into Democratic advantages among people of color.
But Trump didn’t really take over or save the Republican Party. Trump’s greatest gift to Republicans is also his greatest curse: He gave them permission to be their worst selves. By liberating the GOP to embrace its most noxious impulses, he has breathed new life into the staid culture that nominated John McCain and Mitt Romney while destroying basic norms of public decency and weakening the guardrails of democracy. This has come at a devastating cost to the victims of the hatreds Trump fueled. Despite short-term appearances, unmasking the GOP base’s most vicious instincts might also be disastrous for the party in the long term.
Republicans don’t appear to be paying any prices for this, Atkins says, and the structural advantages they have given themselves could put them in a winning position for 2022 and 2024. But their anti-public health campaign, the dismantling of Roe v. Wade, the Big Lie about the election, and stunts like January 6 have shown the nation what they are. Atkins continues,
This might all seem brilliantly, if diabolically, Machiavellian, but there’s a problem with a well-distributed anti-majoritarian coalition that wins elections despite being outnumbered nationally. It doesn’t take big shifts in the population or the turnout model to breach the walls. You can take over government by winning five-point margins in congressional districts and states. But not if those five-point margins suddenly become competitive due to turnout or coalition shifts.
Trump gave Republicans permission to be themselves. It “worked” for a time at the expense of the country, and it couldallow them to dominate politics for decades to come. But the party may face a high price for allowing the cruelest and most vicious elements of American society to run rampant. It might take some time, but the Trump effect could very well backfire on them in surprising ways.
I hope it doesn’t take too much time, or there won’t be a country left to save. Or a planet, for that matter.