Trump 2024 is a real threat to America – New York Daily News
In the final act, horror movie monsters that seem unstoppable — zombies, vampires, giant sharks — always shock the living who presume their terrifying enemies had been killed once and for all. Donald Trump, like one of those monsters, seems to have died in the 2022 election. Don’t count on it. Though gravely wounded, he’s likely to rise again to threaten not a handful of teens in the woods, but the Republican Party and, beyond it, American democracy.
You might have forgotten that in the cascade of eye rolls reacting to his 2024 announcement speech last week. Pundits on Twitter, or what’s left of it, called him low energy. They mocked how meandering he was. They called him a loser, in contrast to the young Florida governor who had just run the table in a politically powerful state where Trump happens to live.
But Trump’s potential remains obvious. He has a campaign war chest of about $100 million. Though no doubt smaller than it used to be — clinging to discredited, democracy-destroying conspiracy theories and inciting an insurrection against the Congress, it turns out, have drawbacks — his devoted following remains enormous. He is still the most recognized GOP figure in the country, by far, able to capture attention and captivate rally crowds like no other. He is ruthless; and so far, none of his potential challengers seems like they will be immune to his vicious ways.
More to the point, Trump is Trump, and for all his horrible qualities — which I’ve spent decades of my life detailing — he’s a uniquely compelling political figure capable of turning small fires into massive conflagrations. All he has to do is finish first in a multi-candidate field to win the GOP nomination. If he can do that, all bets are off on what could happen in a general election, even if he loses overwhelmingly.
In pointing out that he remains terribly dangerous, I don’t mean to suggest he’s invulnerable. Republicans are lining up to demand the party and the country turn the page. The latest of the daring is Mike Pence, who served as Trump’s vice president. Traveling America to tout his obligatory pre-presidential campaign book “So Help Me God” (this is the title, not the cry of exhausted voters), Pence is being coy about his intentions even though he has fantasized about being president for more than a decade. Four months after the Trump team took office in 2017, he formed a political action committee and began soliciting donations. So far in 2022, he has been to 35 states.
Last week Pence appeared on all the major cable and broadcast news outlets, using his book launch as a pretext for testing campaign themes as many have before. Speaking on CNN, he distanced himself from his former boss, repeating lines he had said elsewhere. He said that voters will have “better choices” than Trump come 2024.
Pence’s attempt to create a difference between himself and his former boss revolves around Jan. 6, 2021, when the president stirred up an angry mob and pointed them at the place where lawmakers were voting to ratify the Electoral College votes. Trump had chosen to be “part of the problem,” said Pence, but he was “determined to be part of the solution” as he refused Trump’s demand that he block certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
In a series of not-so-humble-brags, Pence made himself into that day’s hero as if he single-handedly stopped a violent coup attempt mounted by Trumpists chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” He seized the moral high ground, insisting that even though Trump endangered him, his wife Karen, and his daughter Charlotte, who were with him in the Capitol, he quickly forgave Trump. On CNN, he said that the Bible required him to forgive — and though Trump never expressed real remorse, he believed he felt it.
The trouble for Pence, which Trump would surely expose, is that during four years in the White House, he never expressed his superior moral sensibility about other awful things Trump did and said. Instead, he played the sycophant even as Trump orchestrated a ferocious effort to overturn the 2020 election on obvious lies about voter fraud.
Can’t you just hear Trump challenging Pence to explain why, if he was so sure Trump was wrong, he didn’t speak up earlier? Similarly, Trump could savage the mild-as-milk Pence as the consummate turncoat. The former president reserves his most vicious attacks for those he deems disloyal, which means he will thrill crowds with his fire-breathing rhetoric about the Judas who betrayed him. (Two can play at using the Bible.)
Others, including Sen. Ben Sasse and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, are showing signs that they too may wish to be among the “better choices” offered for Republicans. Will the party faithful who turn out in primaries, many of whom love what Trump accomplished in his four years in office, embrace a so-called Never Trumper? Unlikely. That’s why someone who channels much of Trump’s energy — and has of his genius at magnifying cultural grievances — without his baggage is likelier to give him a serious run for his money.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is leading the pack, according to the polls, and he is the only potential contender thus far in this cycle to respond to a Trump attack. At a recent rally, Trump called him “Ron DeSanctimonious” and displayed poll numbers, or unknown origin, that showed him outperforming DeSantis 10 to 1. DeSantis said, “At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.”
That comment, of course, referenced the fact that DeSantis and down-ticket Republicans had an extremely strong showing in Florida in the midterms — while nationally, where Trump and Trumpism loomed large, an expected Red Wave of Republican victories reduced to a ripple. An expected takeover of the U.S. Senate failed to materialize and though the party gained control of the House, its performance fell far below the usual midterm performance of a president’s opposition. Add losses in other important races for governor and secretary of state and GOP leaders felt moved to join a chorus of lament.
This is what came of the party after the former president’s son Eric said in October, “It’s no longer the Republican Party. It’s the Trump Party.”
Officials who feared that Trumpism would hurt their side in races that seemed winnable now see that his endorsements turned out to be poison, especially in battleground states. Candidates who wanted Trump’s blessing had to jump on his careening bandwagon of election denial. When it crashed on Election Day, the victims included a local newscaster named Kari Lake who ran for governor in Arizona, the celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, who sought to be the U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, and the scion of Nevada’s powerful Laxalt family, Adam Laxalt, who couldn’t defeat a freshman senator from the Democratic Party.
Republican losses this year 2022 only reminded everyone in politics that Trump, who didn’t win the popular vote in his 2016 election, subsequently presided over three poor GOP showings in a row. The Republicans lost the House in 2018, the White House and all of Congress in 2020, and couldn’t capitalize on their opposition status to win back the Senate in 2022.
The barely contained anger coming from officials, donors, political operatives and Trump’s former supporters in the press was loud and clear. “Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser,” declared the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire spoke as if Trump had become an ever-shrinking figure whose impact is “more minimal every day.” Big campaign donors have backed away.
Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone said he would back someone from a “new generation” of Republicans. Outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania declared Trump “toxic” and his influence is harmful to the GOP’s prospects.
Surely, at this moment, Trump is at the lowest point in his political life. Indeed, he has only experienced a crisis that’s even remotely similar back in the early 1990s, when his mismanagement caused his business empire to collapse and bankers circled like vultures.
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With his detractors enjoying their sense of schadenfreude, Trump resurrected himself by persuading his lenders that they would get more of what they were owed if they let a celebrity — namely him — run the collection of brands that offered a glittery illusion of status. Trump eventually came back and then became so famous that he ran for president of the United States on the basis of personality alone.
No one should be so naive as to think he cannot pull the trick again. Even if the media and the public are less captivated by Trump than when he was a headline-grabbing phenomenon in 2016, and less obligated to follow him than when he was president in 2020, the man remains uniquely talented at controlling the conversation. Even when we hate him, we cannot turn away. Shameless demagoguery worked once, and it could well succeed again.
The history of political eulogies for the former president go back to the 2016 GOP primaries when he lost the Iowa primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and, surprise surprise, cried “fraud” and demanded a “do-over.” However, the Iowa outcome turned out to be a blip. A fusillade of loud complaints about his lies, nastiness and puerile name-calling were relegated to footnotes.
It happened again when Trump won the 2016 GOP nomination. Republican normies said he was too obnoxious to win the general election. His abysmal performance in his first debate with Hillary Clinton and the release of the “Access Hollywood” video supposedly put more nails in his coffin. Party bigwigs abandoned him in droves and three senators called on him to step down. We all know what happened next.
As the Trump-is-finished crowd has swollen, a few voices now advise caution. GOP consultant Doug Heye compared Trump 2015 and Trump 2022 and found him in precisely the same spot. “Take this seriously,” he wrote on Twitter. Conservative writer Kevin Williamson published an essay titled, “Trump Could Win Again.”
They are right. The horror movie is not nearly over yet.
D’Antonio is the author of “The Truth About Trump” and “A Consequential President.”