It’s May 26th, 2016. After almost a year of being labeled by GOP leadership as a fool, a boor, a threat to the Republic, the mortal enemy of Truth itself, and — most importantly — a losing horse, Donald Trump clears the delegate threshold, emerging as the next Republican nominee for President of the United States.
Then, one by one, those who mocked him the day before crouch to join his flock, forming a MAGA-capped gospel choir behind him. The wardrobe change isn’t a shift of heart. It isn’t a road to Damascus moment. It’s what happens when craven hearts yearn for the seat of power. And in this case, the easiest route to the mountain’s top isn’t a four-year realignment plan. It’s white-knuckling the coat flaps of Donald J. Trump.
The GOP’s Midterm Hangover
Now it’s November 2022, the horns of morality are blowing, and the early 2016 GOP cassette has been rewound. They beat their chests and call him a fool, a grudge-holder, an egotist, a liability, and an aging, waddled nutjob. But come the 2024 Republican primary season finale, it’ll be Donald with the delegates.
Yes, the 2022 midterms told a story about the fracturing foundation of Donald’s influence. But it’s a special form of foolishness to call his coffin readymade and to claim that all that’s needed to get him in is a decisive poke to the chest by Florida Governor Ronald DeSantis.
In his touching obituary for Richard Nixon, Hunter Thompson explained his relationship with the disgraced former president, analyzing how Nixon’s animal instincts gave him political longevity, defeat after inglorious defeat:
“The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death, which confuses the dogs and lures them in for the traditional ripping and tearing action. But it is usually the badger who does the ripping and tearing. It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.”
Donald Trump’s 2024 Odds
Sure, from a cerebral standpoint, Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon. Trump lacks a command of history, let alone owns a working theory of it. He lacks a surrounding clan of sharp political minds. And he severely lacks patience. Trump also has a reputation for alienating the personalities that positively affect his campaigning. For example, the feud with Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2016 digital guru.
If Trump played it right, he might’ve even reeled DeSantis onto his ticket. (I wouldn’t count it out as a possibility. Although with all the hissing, the possibility grows more distant every day.)
The thing that Trump shares with Nixon, though, is a lifetime spent in pursuit of legitimacy. And that driving starvation is what gives him the animal instinct to sense changes in weather, smell the fears pouring from a crowd of voters, place a timely knee to a groin, hoist the right holy book in the air, and tell which lies can be spun into gold. That’s why, when evaluating the potency of political candidates, it’s less important to focus on what they are but, rather, what drives them.
Sure, maybe Donald Trump isn’t as agile as a badger, but there’s got to be some semi-domestic, barnyard equivalent. Perhaps an embittered prize hog who has managed to evade the farmhand’s axe, year after year, by squealing so viscously that the butchers are afraid they’ll lose a finger if they approach too quickly.
Donald Trump’s Loyal Base
Trump’s main asset, come the primary, is Democracy and all its weaknesses. There are 40-50% of Republicans who’ll still vote for him no matter how foul the weather. As things stand, this base is enough to ram him through a primary; all Donald Trump needs to do is to hold them for about 500 days.
So, until a skilled poacher enters the race, it’s hard to imagine Trump as anything less than the 2024 Republican front-runner. Because Trump has changed what it looks like to lead the Republican party. And if someone can’t decisively thread that needle fast, with Trump playing goalie, there’s little chance to halt his march.
Of course, thoughts automatically turn to Florida Governor Ronald DeSantis. But we’re yet to determine if DeSantis is merely the Republican flavor of the month or the next genealogical branch on the MAGA family tree. There are still questions surrounding DeSantis’ viability:
- His likeness might play poorly outside of Tallahassee.
- His andriod-Yale-ish personality could be a severe liability next to Trump’s free-wheeling bombast, similar to the 2016 front-runners.
- He might not even run.
Now that the results of the midterms are taking full form, it’s evident that a candidate like DeSantis might perform better than Trump in the general election. But the 2022 midterm primaries proved fertile ground for the root crops of Trump Farms. Yes, the results showed the weakness of his influence over independents and fence-sitters, but there’s no reason to think his base isn’t enough to lift him over the delegate threshold again.
Trump the Third
“But Trump isn’t new,” they say.
“His vision is tattered,” they say.
Trump’s biggest concern isn’t newness; it’s if he still holds box office value. Of course, being boring is a great crime in American politics; but follow the money, and we’re all exposed as suckers for reruns, even if we’re well aware of a decline in quality. Never forget, Shrek the Third raked in almost twice as much as the original.
At this point, a Donald Trump speech feels like a Billy Joel concert. He takes the stage, pumps out the hits, and his fans roar while tuning out the dull, unfamiliar bits. Pundits can call his speech low-energy as much as they want, but the reality is that Trump’s speeches have been 90% boring from the beginning. And so is just about all raw footage. After all, it’s a 21st-century age of snippet, lens-filtered politics. And, as Walter Murch once said, “…the whole eloquence of film is achieved in the editing room.”
While there are many reasons to think Trump’s flare has worn off and Republicans are tired of carrying the heavy sack of stupidity and election denial, he remains the most likely person to receive the GOP nomination again in 2024.
It could be the most blood-laced primary battle in the history of American politics. It could be an undisturbed glide into the general election. But Trump’s base will likely hold. Then, the GOP officials will return one by one. The MAGA skullcaps will cover their balding heads once more. And, once again, they’ll worship, palms outstretched, till their sweating red ink.
- Timeline of the 2016 election
- Ted Cruz rant against Donald Trump
- Ted Cruz endorses Donald Trump
- GOP donors and politicians claim to be over Trump
- Richard Nixon obituary
- Trump’s demotion of Brad Parscale
- Shrek the Third Box office returns