It was always assumed that the moment Donald Trump walked out of the White House on the morning of Joe Biden’s inauguration, he would begin angling for a second non-consecutive term in 2024. A year ago, he launched his own Twitter imitation platform, Truth Social, and then in November he officially launched his campaign. His speech was met with tepid enthusiasm, even by some of his most ardent supporters.
In the weeks since, Trump has spent his time on Truth Social attacking Republicans and prospective rival candidates and once again defending himself from the many lawsuits and scandals he finds himself in. That includes his imbroglio with Stormy Daniels and an unexpected dinner with Kanye West, Milo Yiannopoulos and Nick Fuentes.
But despite all the obvious signs that Trump was going to run again, it’s not clear that Trump, those close to him, or anyone in the punditocracy stopped to ask why.
Why does he want to do this? If you ask this question on Twitter, his supporters will reply “to make the country great again” or something along those lines. But that’s not really a sufficient answer. America is a much changed country in 2023 compared to where it was in 2015 — and Trump will be forced to be a different candidate. He cannot run as an insurgent billionaire outsider, setting out to smash the corrupt system and drain the Swamp. With every new proposition or policy, Trump will be pressed on why he didn’t do this in his first term. We already know how he’ll respond: “The Deep State… bad actors within my White House… stymying my agenda…” But will that cut it with voters?
Trump now finds himself as a post-pandemic candidate after being a pre-pandemic president, trapped by his usual bluster of blaming officials he hired, or never fired, over the way the Covid response was handled. Faulting the governors of Georgia or Florida won’t cut it when Trump was in charge of the country. He cannot hide behind the podium on this. How he deals with this quandary going forward will define his coming candidacy.
But then that leads us back to our question — why? Why does Trump, now age seventy-six, want to go through this again? What is the case for subjecting the country to another Trump candidacy? Because, as of now, it does not appear that Trump’s heart is truly in it in the same way as when he descended that escalator amid a sea of cameras and cheers. Right now, the only apparent reason for another Trump candidacy is because he wants to avenge his 2020 loss like a boxer. (Also, as MSNBC talking heads will remind you, legal problems.)
Trump is not someone used to being rejected or told no. In 2020, voters rejected him and told him no. To set out now to assuage his ego is not going to be enough. Voters will see right through it.
If 2024 is about winning for winning’s sake, and reliving every grievance from 2020, his candidacy will be a fool’s errand and an exercise in personal vanity, something Trump knows a thing or two about. Yes it’s true: he might once again secure the GOP nomination, and he could certainly make a case against Joe Biden’s handling of the economy and foreign affairs. But Trump has shown no ability to focus on these things, especially when the national media would rather engage him on election denialism.
For a Trump candidacy to be successful, he has to give the country a reason to look forward. As of right now, it doesn’t appear he’s capable of that.