Overall carnage and an insurrection notwithstanding, Donald Trump will run for the presidency again - but not necessarily for the Republican Party.
It remains the worst kept secret in politics. Donald Trump will run again for the presidency in 2024. Not to "make America great again" or to redeem himself for the failed insurrection he's being held accountable for but solely based on self-preservation.
Attorney General Merrick Garland recently announced that the Department of Justice is probing Trump as part of its January 6 investigation. Combine these long overdue developments with the various other legal issues the former president faces, and one understands why the immunity the office provides and the option to appoint his very own Attorney General again must sound highly appealing.
Not a Question of If but When
Indeed, Trump seeks to announce his candidacy as soon as possible, while, for strategic reasons, GOP leaders, including some of Trump's closest advisers, oppose an announcement before a pivotal Midterm election in November.
Retaking the majority in the House of Representatives is highly likely, and the GOP seeks voters to focus on President Joe Biden and his suboptimal presidential track record to guarantee a win. An early Trump announcement, however, would shift the emphasis away from being a referendum on Biden to one on Trump. Will Trump care? Probably not. The longer he takes, the more other hopefuls can establish a profile.
Republican in Name Only
Bearing this disregard for Republican goals in mind, party members have long accused each other of disloyalty to party goals or creeds. But accusations of partisan heresy have intensified significantly in the US over the past two decades. A term that has risen to particular prominence is RINO, an acronym for "Republican in Name Only”. Donald Trump has accused even the most traditional Republicans, such as Liz Cheney, of being such.
The irony in this approach is apparent and yet, to this day, implausible to many Trump voters: he has arguable never been a genuine Republican but an opportunist using the party for his benefit.
The idea that Trump has been seeking to salvage Republican politics and conservative goals has always been preposterous.
No, Trump was never "married" to the GOP, and loyalty towards the party has never existed. His spiel in 2015, repeatedly threatening an independent run or his coquet to walk away from the party post the election loss in 2021, are exhibits A and B. In fact, one can argue that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been paying for Trump's "loyalty" dearly. According to reports, the RNC has been paying Trump's legal fees while promoting Trump and his business on their social media platforms.
However, with Trump's loyalty not being to the GOP but to his proclivity for attention and self-serving interest, the political symbiosis between Trump and the RNC will be put to the test more than ever during the next presidential cycle.
Unlike in 2016 and 2020 (he didn't face a challenger as incumbent), Trump will face political heavyweights in Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, Mike Pence, and, above all, Ron DeSantis, who could make his race rather complex.
Neither of them will be able to win the nomination by merely continuing to praise Trump, and they will thus shift their modus operandi of lauding and complimenting the former president for attacks on his persona.
Therein lies a real issue for Trump. He has to dominate the coverage and the conversation and be the focal point—a daunting task in such a strong field.
Most importantly, Trump is no longer the GOP's golden boy. In and around the GOP, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, has become the most likely candidate for 2024. He currently leads the former president in various polls, and Fox News, America's most influential right-wing cable station, has already aligned itself with DeSantis for the upcoming election cycle.
The more DeSantis' momentum grows, the more the animosity between Trump and the latter will exacerbate. There's undoubtedly a scenario where Trump breaks away from the GOP as a result of DeSantis' popularity and declares an independent run – even in the middle of the primary campaign – if he is convinced Republicans and the RNC are no longer favouring his return to the Oval Office.
Ross Perot 2.0?
Granted, it is a strategy that has never worked. From the beginning of American politics, most experts have opined that a third-party or independent candidate could never become president.
The closest was Ross Perot, who ran in 1992 and received 19 per cent of the vote. It did not suffice, but it arguably cost the Republican incumbent, George H W Bush, his second term in office.
But there are two significant distinctions between Ross Perot's bid and the current situation: Perot's attempt was before the age of Trump, who had once before beaten all the odds when he became president in 2016. Moreover, even Perot captured a considerable swath of the electorate. An electorate that had many millions fewer independents than exist nowadays.
Donald Trump could still command as many as 50 million voters out of his 74.2 million voters in November 2024 – as an Independent candidate. His followers have repeatedly shown that Trump not only "is the party" but is above the latter. Changing his affiliation thus will hardly impact his popularity, especially not if America continues on the current downward trajectory.
In a three-person race, 50 million votes would be an impressive number, perhaps a sufficient one.
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