As expected, Donald Trump announced Tuesday evening that he’s running for president again in 2024, a week after Republicans turned in one of the worst midterm performances in 80 years for either party with a member of the opposite party in the White House.
The blame for that poor performance has mostly shifted to Trump, while some of his diminishing pool of loyalists are testing the suggestion that it’s Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s fault. Good luck getting rid of that guy.
Under Trump’s presidency, the Republicans lost the House, Senate and the White House. In this year’s elections, Trump threw his king-making seal of approval behind some disastrous candidates, most of whom gained his support by backing Trump’s false claims of a stolen presidential election in 2020 while proposing some rather anti-democratic ideas on how to turn that deceit into reality.
The American people said no thanks.
Subsequently, Trump’s Tuesday announcement was a sad sight, with a small crowd that didn’t look entirely engaged the longer things went. He exhibited low energy, the fatal flaw he pinned on Jeb Bush during the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Trump went through his stale litany of petty grievances, outright lies and just plain strange statements, one of which was, “I’ve gone decades, decades without a war. The first president to do it for that long a period.”
As many quickly pointed out, Trump was in office for four years; it just felt like decades.
Multiple reporters said a sizable chunk of the audience tried to leave during the rambling, one-hour speech, but security wouldn’t let them. At least one reporter contradicted that, although video from the event does show a large crowd forming at the exit well before the speech ended. Most TV networks that broadcasted the announcement cut away after 20 minutes or so. Even Fox News, which hung on later than most, dropped out and went to Sean Hannity and former ardent Trump supporter Laura Ingraham later saying the network would return to the event if something newsworthy happened. Ouch.
The announcement was notable for who wasn’t there. No one of import in Congress was spotted. Pundits also seized on the absence of Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, both of whom were integral to Trump’s past campaigns and his presidency.
Observers noted that it didn’t even seem like Trump wanted to be there. A few speculated that the low-key performance was intentional, because Trump didn’t think networks would carry his announcement if he went full orange tornado, although that doesn’t make much sense.
Others, such as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, said they don’t think Trump’s heart is in it. Haberman and others suggested Trump’s just doing this because he needs the attention, misses the power and believes declaring for office will somehow protect him from fraud investigations in New York; election interference investigations in Georgia; possible charges stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection; and potential charges under the Espionage Act stemming from investigations on top-secret documents found at Trump’s Florida home.
Just because he’s a candidate doesn’t mean Trump can’t be held accountable for breaking the law, but Trump probably figures potential prosecutors will hesitate if they believe charging Trump with a crime comes off as political. Good luck with that.
Wednesday, the New York Post, a former staunchly pro-Trump publication, ran a headline at the bottom of the front page about his announcement that didn’t even mention him by name, instead referring to Trump as a “Florida man.” (After last week’s midterm disaster for Republicans, that same publication ran a front-page cartoon with Trump as an egg sitting on a wall, calling him “Trumpty Dumpty.”)
These are all signs of a shift. The midterms strongly suggest people are tired of hearing Trump grouse and toss out lies about the 2020 election. They’re also emotionally exhausted.
Trump’s grudge-bearing style demands 24/7 rage and panic, which, as I’ve said before, isn’t infinitely sustainable. More than anything, Republicans appear tired of total fealty to a loser who keeps costing them elections.
It doesn’t help that Trump’s constant whining about the 2020 election, echoed by his acolytes, has probably kept some Republicans from bothering to vote.
Trump looks cooked, but keep in mind that self-preservation is his prime mover and he’s at his best when desperate. Those who roll their eyes now could be singing a different tune in a week or a month or a year.
The big difference this time around is that Trump has a political record, and it is bleak. That spark he captured in 2016 as an outsider is gone. That doesn’t matter to some, but will it not matter to enough people to sustain a presidential campaign? Right now, it’s still possible Trump isn’t done ruling Republicans and losing to Democrats.