Almost all of us can recite the reasons why Donald Trump’s political career should be over. We hear them again and again. He lost the presidency in 2020 after four exhausting years. His angry fans stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a now infamous day in American history. He lost his media clout after being banned from Facebook and (until recently) Twitter. He has clung to his "election denial," as Democrats like to call it, and that makes all his political antics now seem petulant and tired. In the midterms in November, a fair...
Almost all of us can recite the reasons why Donald Trump’s political career should be over. We hear them again and again. He lost the presidency in 2020 after four exhausting years. His angry fans stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, a now infamous day in American history. He lost his media clout after being banned from Facebook and (until recently) Twitter. He has clung to his “election denial,” as Democrats like to call it, and that makes all his political antics now seem petulant and tired. In the midterms in November, a fair number of the candidates he backed lost crucial Senate and gubernatorial races which his party should have won. Even his supporters — not to mention some rich donors — seem to be losing faith. Right-wingers are turning more and more to Florida governor Ron DeSantis as their new hope.
Often dubbed the first reality TV president, Trump no longer seems able to command the one thing he prizes above all else — ratings. Reports from his nascent 2024 campaign suggest it is already a vanity car-crash. He looks a spent force.
The logic seems impeccable. The only problem is that it just isn’t true. People forget that Donald Trump’s life has been a long series of vanity car-crashes. He’s always been petulant and exhausting. Yet he pranged his way into the White House and, in doing so, created arguably the most powerful political movement of the twenty-first century. Trumpism with Trump is still the dominant force in Republican politics. And Trumpism with Trump isn’t going away — no matter how hard people wish it would.
The latest Morning Consult poll of potential Republican primary voters shows that Trump commands 48 percent support. DeSantis is a distant second on 31 percent and Mike Pence, the former vice president who is regarded as a Judas figure in Trumpworld because he refused to “STOP THE STEAL” in 2020/1, comes in a distant third on 8 percent.
Other polls have shown DeSantis gaining more ground on Trump and, yes, we have a long way to go until the first primaries of 2024. The overall picture is clear, however. Trump is the favorite to win the Republican nomination. He has been running for president, pretty much non-stop, since 2015. DeSantis’s name may now be widely recognized, but Trump is arguably the most famous human being in the world. In elections that are often decided by people who take almost no interest in politics, that counts.
Trump has won the nomination twice — and he received almost 75 million votes in 2020, more than any presidential candidate ever apart from Joe Biden. He controls the MAGA movement. He has campaign architecture and grassroots fundraising capabilities which any putative rival candidate would kill for.
Trump fatigue may be real but, in their desperation to see off Trump, most anti-MAGA pundits have been too eager to overlook DeSantis’s considerable flaws. A Floridian career politician, and a former military lawyer, he has none of Trump’s New York unpredictable charisma. DeSantis may have said and done bold things as governor, but he gives off an air of calculation. He’s much more serious than Trump, which may be to his advantage in these grave post-Covid times. But he is a party machine Republican in a way Donald Trump never could be even if he tried. That does not endear him to American conservatives who despise the Republican party machine.
American politics is now a sub-division of the entertainment industry and, on that front, Trump still wins hands down. “Who would people rather watch?” Trump’s friend Michael Caputo asked Alexander Cockburn of Harper’s magazine. “A wild, bucking bronco or something tamer and well-behaved?”
Yes, Trump’s 2024 campaign is already riddled with problems. Having declared so early, he has given himself more time to fail. His candidacy announcement disappointed his more hardcore admirers, who wanted more railing against the satanic pedophilic corporate elite. Trump even admitted to being — gasp — “a politician.”
But then, far more clearly, so is DeSantis. Trump knows that, as the richest Republicans turn against him, he can do what he did in 2016 — pitch himself as people’s hero against the establishment choice. He will take pleasure ripping into “DeSanctimonious” — just as he delighted in insulting “Crazy” Hillary Clinton, “Little” Marco Rubio, “Lyin’” Ted Cruz and “Low Energy” Jeb Bush. His routine may be a little old, but people will always tune in to watch people in suits abusing each other. The word this week is that @realDonaldTrump is expected to start tweeting again.
For establishment Republicans who want to move on from the fractious age of the Donald, the 2024 presidential election could then start to look like a horror sequel. Lots of Democrats are just as disenchanted with eighty-year-old Joe Biden, but at present they have no DeSantis equivalent. If Joe chooses to run and his health holds, it’s difficult to see how anybody can stop him.
A lot can change and will. But a lot can stay the same — so don’t be surprised if the 2024 presidential shapes up to the same as 2020. Trump vs Biden: The Return of the Great Undead. You won’t want to watch it, but you will.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.