Trump is back in the political arena, once again on the campaign trail, where he feels at home, surrounded by the admiration of thousands of supporters with whom he has reignited the magic of those mass gatherings that marked his successful 2016 and 2020 campaigns. His June 26 rally in Wellington, Ohio marks the beginning of a new stage in his trajectory and that of a Republican Party that seeks to regain Congress in next year’s midterm elections.
His return has a certain triumphal flavor, which embitters the mouths of those who believed that removing Trump from the White House would break his leadership. Donald J. Trump, by leveraging on the version that he was the victim of a macabre electoral fraud, managed to maintain (even in defeat) the dynamism and hope of a part of his followers, as well as the more or less resigned support of the bureaucratic structures of the Republican Party and of the opinion leaders who are part of the American conservative ecosystem.
Already a few months ago, with his participation in CPAC, it had become clear that Trump continues to be the most powerful leader in the GOP. Now, the Ohio rally shows that this impact is being maintained across America, consolidating him as the Republican front-runner for the 2024 election. However, the Trump of 2021 is not the same as the Trump of 2016 or 2020, and within his own party new figures with national backing have emerged, for example, Ron DeSantis, the very successful governor of Florida.
Therefore, Trump’s future is still up in the air. It is clear that the tycoon wants to continue doing politics and that he is working towards his own presidential campaign in 2024, but it is also clear that even he himself understands that he has a lot going against him and that, as of now, he may have better prospects as a symbolic referent than as a formal candidate.
For this reason, and also because of that theatrical vocation that he has turned into the heart of his political narrative, Trump is fully back campaigning, but without recognizing himself as the candidate that he evidently is in the eyes of his supporters and that his events, speeches and strategy evidently project.
Let us analyze then, some of the key elements that define Donald Trump’s outlook.
Elements that propel Trump towards 2024
In the early morning of November 4, when the election results took a dramatic turn against him, it seemed that Trump’s political career had come to an end, and that he should accept a role more or less similar to that of the rest of the former presidents: write some biography, participate in charity events and live off his old glories.
Since Trump built his brand as a politician around an image of invincibility, the defeat would supposedly leave him humiliated and exhibited before his own followers. Not so, because that early morning Trump came out with a sword to denounce the fraud, and turned the crisis around.
It is true that he could not prove the fraud in court, but in the court of public opinion, he only needed a verdict of “reasonable doubt” and that he did. Proof of this is the poll conducted by Reuters and Ipsos last May, which shows that 56% of Republicans believe that the election was rigged, and 53% believe that Trump is the real president. That’s good enough for him.
Now Trump will have in his favor the inevitable comparisons between the results of his administration and those of Biden. It is not for nothing that on June 26 Trump focused his hour and a half speech on the increase of insecurity, illegal migration and the advance of the radical left inside the schools, since each new action of the Biden administration on these issues will become a new boost for Trump’s campaign inside the conservatives.
Why? Because one of the keys to modern marketing is differentiation, and Trump is very easily differentiated from Biden, whom he accuses of “destroying our nation right in front of our eyes.”
By itself, the aforementioned Ipsos poll indicates that 63% of Republicans believe Donald Trump should run for president in 2024, and as the effects of Biden’s agenda become more evident this number is likely to rise, not only within the Republican Party, but even among independents.
Elements that keep Trump away from 2024
Despite all that operates in his favor, Trump is far from having a smooth path to a third presidential candidacy. Among the obstacles to his project, the following three factors stand out: criminal investigations in NY, the erosion of his leadership, and the emergence of new profiles in the Republican Party.
First, the criminal investigations. There have been rumors for some time about criminal accusations against Trump, and in some cases, these processes seem to be crystallizing. On June 25, it was reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is preparing a complaint against the Trump Organization for alleged illegal moves in connection with payments made to one of its executives. A day earlier, the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court suspended the license of Rudolph Giuliani, the controversial lawyer for the former president.
It stands to reason that if Trump maintains a high profile and seeks the presidency again, both his rivals in the Democratic Party and his enemies in the Republican Party will move heaven, sea and earth to find wrongdoing and drown his campaign in lawsuits. After all, it is almost inevitable that points of legal controversy will arise when running a large company, and even more so when heading a structure as complex as the federal government.
Second. Although Trump has been the most effective and charismatic leader of the last 30 years in American politics, even he wears down. For starters, (despite his very effective use of fraud) the stigma of losing the 2020 election will be with him for life. In addition, he has against him the growing feeling that he “already had his chance” and now it is the turn of another leadership.
At the same time, it is notorious the advance of what we could consider a “Trump burnout”, as many conservatives and Republicans are simply annoyed that all the debates and all the interest revolve around the figure of a former president whom they admire many things, but they do not tolerate his style and his stridency.
To put it in numbers, a poll conducted by NBC News showed that half of Republicans support their party more than Trump, reversing an upward trend of the former president that had been maintained throughout the 2020 election campaign.
In short, for a growing percentage within the Republican Party, the debt of gratitude they owed Donald Trump was paid when they endorsed him last year and they do not feel a moral duty to keep the check blank for the 2022 mid-term elections or the next presidential election in 2024.
Finally, the same polls that reflect his strength within the GOP show that his support among independents has plummeted, and without that support, it is essentially impossible to win an open election. According to Ipsos, just 19% of independents believe Trump was robbed of the 2020 election and 58% believe he should not run in 2024.
Third. New profiles are consolidating in the Republican party with national relevance and with the advantage of offering a fresh perspective, which at the same time is close enough to Trump’s movement to avoid a schism within the conservative movement. Specifically, I am referring to the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, whose almost impeccable management of the pandemic has turned him into a reference, to the extent that he already surpasses Trump in some of the polls on the road to 2024 and is already causing terror in the left-wing press.
Trump is back, but his future is still unclear
Trump himself has publicly toyed with the option of DeSantis joining him as his vice presidential candidate in 2024, but if the governor wins re-election in 2022, he will most likely head the Republican ticket. And someone else could also emerge. A lot can happen in the 2 years that separate us from the kickoff of the GOP primaries heading into 2024.
For now, navigating in that realm of possibilities, Trump reaffirmed in Ohio that “we won the election twice, and we may have to win it a third time,” peppering his harangue with another promise, that “we will take back the House, we will take back the Senate, and we will take back America, and we will do it soon.”
Time will tell if he manages to deliver on his promise and if he does so from the ballot, but one thing is clear, in the voice of those who supported him at his event this weekend Ohio “Trump is not giving up.” And yes, Trump is back, but his future is still unclear.