This editorial was originally published in The Los Angeles Times and was distributed by The Associated Press.
Don’t misunderstand what Donald Trump means when he says he’s running for president again, as he did Tuesday evening.
He doesn’t mean that he will present his case to the American people in 2024 in the expectation that a majority of them will choose him, as they have never done before — not in 2016, when he lost the popular vote but won the electoral college, nor in 2020, when he lost both.
He doesn’t mean that he puts his faith in American democracy, election integrity, the laws of presidential succession or any other institution that is coterminous with the nation itself. He doesn’t mean he plans to abide by any of those things.
That would be what pretty much any other candidate would mean. But not Trump.
The ex-president has demonstrated unmistakably that he intends to take the office by hook or by crook, by denying the validity of any vote against him, by lying to his armed and angry rabble, by pressuring state election officials, state legislatures and federal courts to lie, cheat and otherwise betray the American people and their democracy.
He means that winning office, for him, need not mean being elected to it, but merely attaining it, even by coup if that’s what it takes.
That’s not hyperbole, or mere opinion. It’s not simply a hunch or a worry. It’s a fact, verified by his shocking and unprecedented actions and statements following his November 3, 2020, defeat. It’s inherent in his blatantly false claims that ballots two years ago were lost, stolen or fraudulently cast.
It’s documented in his attempt to obstruct Congress in certifying his election loss by calling on his vice president to break the law, and by summoning his own supporters to Washington to march on the Capitol to thwart the ceremonial count. It’s clear by his rapt attention to the televised deadly invasion of the Capitol after his speech whipping up the mob, and his failure, for more than three hours, to call on the insurrectionists to stand down.
It’s evident by his role in adding January. 6, 2021, to the list of unforgettable dates — December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001 — on which the nation’s laws, democracy and freedom were imperiled.
And it’s obvious by his refusal, even now, to acknowledge that he lost the 2020 election or that he tried to sabotage the will of the people.
Hoping he might suddenly play by the rules, abide by the law and acknowledge the truth is absurd. He’s the same man he was two years ago. He doesn’t deny it.
The danger that he poses is not that the American people will say yes to his latest candidacy, but that when they once again say no he will once again do whatever he can to subvert their decision.
He has enough true believers, hopelessly lost in blind supplication, to help him inflict mortal danger on the republic.
It is stunning to hear self-proclaimed patriots and prophets call for military intervention to overturn their hero’s prior defeat. That is the stuff of fascist dictatorship.
And it is pathetic to watch the rubber-spined senators, governors and other elected officials who have basked in Trump’s glow now ponder whether to hold tight or to drop him now that his weakness with voters was displayed in the historic Nov. 8 midterm elections, where election deniers lost their bids to take control of state elections. And where he led his party — for the second straight election — to loss of Senate control.
It is tempting to pull up a seat to watch Trump be defeated and his cult dismantled by former acolytes like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is vying to replace him as the Republican Party’s standard bearer, or former Vice President Mike Pence, who has finally acknowledged that just maybe Trump’s tweets to the mob on Jan. 6 were “reckless.” Or by Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, a once-unapologetic Trump partisan who now claims he always said Trump was “dishonest, disloyal, incompetent, crude.”
But because Trump’s past and possible future paths to power are paved with lies and sedition, not legitimate election victory, it matters little that he has never won a majority of American votes and is unlikely to ever do so. His declaration of candidacy should be treated as the pealing of bells, warning the people of danger in their midst.