Don to dust? Trump's on shaky ground for 2024

Former US president's biggest disadvantage going into battle this time is he does not command the media platform – especially Twitter – and sense of novelty he had when he ran the first time

By Chidanand Rajghatta

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Published: Wed 16 Nov 2022, 9:18 PM

The memes came in thick and fast even as Donald Trump announced another shot at the White House. "He's not running to be US President; he's running to avoid prison," read one. "Trump 20-24: years in prison," read another. A third showed him holding a placard that read "I'm not done losing yet."

But for his legion of admirers and fans, derided as MAGA maniacs by liberal intelligentsia, Trump's announcement that he is running for President for a third time was just the jolt the Republican Party needed after an underwhelming performance in the midterm elections, never mind that the establishment wing of the party is blaming him for the fiasco. They also believe it is another chance to win back the White House from the hated Democrats, who they genuinely think "stole" the 2020 election from Trump, even though that canard has been thoroughly discredited.

"They threw everything at this man and he’s still standing. The Russia Hoax, 2 Fake Impeachments, the China Virus, FBI/DOJ investigations and a raid on his home and his associates. And yet he’s RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN in 2024!" gushed one MAGA minion. "No one in the history of this nation was so successful on foreign policy as President Trump," boasted another, even as TVs across America split screened President Biden at the G-20 in Bali trying to head off world war three after Russian missiles fell on Poland. For the largely insular American political class, all the action is at home.

The United States is forever in a perpetual election cycle. Barely a presidential election -- let alone midterm polls -- end, various political players are already planning four years, even eight and twelve years, ahead. There is subtle jockeying, nuanced positioning, crafty laying the ground for the biggest prize in the land -- the White House Oval Office. No such artful dances for Donald Trump, who announced yet another White House bid with all the finesse of an asteroid crashing into jurassic park.

For Democrats, it was a moment of jubilation compounding their joy at an unexpectedly sound performance in the midterm poll. Given the number of prominent Trump acolytes who lost in the mid-term, they genuinely believe they have his number for 2024, and regardless of who the Democratic nominee is, they will defeat him by more than the 3 million margin Hillary Clinton beat him in 2016 (only the electoral college put him into the White House) and more than the 7 million votes Joe Biden beat him by. After the midterm Republican defeat in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two battleground states, Democrats believe the 2016 electoral math will not be repeated.

Besides, Democrats reckon that Trump Republicans and the establishment GOP will spend the next 18 months knifing each other before settling on the Presidential nominee. Indeed, the bloodletting has already begun, and one reason for Trump's hurried announcement that he will run in 2024 was aimed at pre-empting a bid by Ron DeSantis, who won a second term as Florida governor and burnished his credentials as a putative White nominee. Democrats are reveling at the prospect of a Ron v Don battle that they believe will benefit them. The more conspiratorial among them believe Trump is just playing to the gallery and firing up his base to make sure he has protection from prosecution in a whole range of cases and lawsuits against him. They think he will have even fewer popular votes this time than in 2016 and 2020.

Such easy assumptions have been made before. As Trump, and the GOP, have shown before, it is possible to win the White House even with fewer popular votes just by winning a few key states and the electoral college with it. Trump’s 2016 win rested on three states that gave him a 80,000 vote lead even though he lost the national popular vote by nearly three million.

Besides, American politicians – Republicans and indeed Democrats too – show a remarkable capacity to forgive, heal, and come together once the bruising nomination battles and debates are over. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battered each other in debates but she became his Secretary of State. Trump linked GOP Senator Ted Cruz’s father to Kennedy’s assassination and called his wife a pig, but Cruz is now one of Trump’s principal lackeys.

Trump’s biggest disadvantage going into battle this time is he does not command the media platform – especially Twitter – and sense of novelty he had when he ran the first time. Some conservatives have even trashed him as a bore. When he came down the golden escalator in Trump Tower in 2016 to announce his run, hired actors filled the lobby because Republican grandees and groupies did not take him seriously. This time his wealthy minions filled the gilded ballroom at Mar-a-Lago but there was a distinct lack of fervor.

Even Fox News cut away from the typically bombastic hour-long Trump speech amid scuttlebutt that the Murdoch empire does not back him anymore, with some Fox faithful laying into him openly for the midterm meltdown. Plus there will be no Ivanka Trump by his side – politically at least. “I love my father very much… This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children and the private life we are creating as a family. I do not plan to be involved in politics. While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena," she said in a statement. Without Fox, Ivanka, and Twitter, Trump, at 77, may not be fighting fit for what is going to be a brutal campaign to return to White House.

- The writer is a senior journalist based in Washington

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