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Donald Trump, Sadly, Can’t Be Counted Out

A twice-impeached former president announced his third run for the presidency last week from the gold-leafed ballroom of his Palm Beach club. It was inevitable, perhaps, despite many Republicans wishing he’d held off from announcing before next month’s Senate runoff in Georgia. Of course, Trump serving his own needs shouldn’t be surprising given his last disastrous foray into a Georgia runoff, when his refusal to accept his 2020 loss may have helped the Democrats net two Senate seats and control of the chamber. 

But the Trump who spoke at Mar-a-Lago wasn’t the terrifying, if occasionally amusing, wannabe autocrat we saw during his four years in the White House. Trump looked diminished. The midterms a week earlier turned out not to be a referendum on the party in power, as had been predicted, but instead another disaster for Trumpism. (Just ask Arizona’s Kari Lake.) This was the third election in which Trump was seen as damaging his party’s performance, following Republicans losing the House in 2018 and the presidency two years later. And it was yet another example of Trumpism’s inability to scale, as a slew of mini-Trumps failed to be elected in battleground states. Sure, some MAGA candidates won in ruby red states, where a jar of peanut butter would have triumphed if it had an R next to its name. 

Somber from his recent midterm shellacking, Teleprompter Trump stuck largely to his blander and less incendiary talking points. While Teleprompter Trump is less scary, and perhaps less racist, he is also much less engaging, which became clear as some of the audience reportedly tried to leave midway through the speech. According to The Washington Post, the only current member of Congress to show up was primary-losing, “Dark MAGA” proponent Madison Cawthorn, who is about to have a very empty calendar come January. 

Trump’s announcement was met with exhaustion from fact-checkers like the Post’s Glenn Kessler, who summed up the announcement as such: “New Trump campaign, same old falsehoods.” (Kessler knows past Trump falsehoods, having chronicled more than 30,000 false or misleading claims from Trump while he was in office). News outlets, like NPR, didn’t mince words with this excellent, and very factual, lede: “Donald Trump, who tried to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election and inspired a deadly riot at the Capitol in a desperate attempt to keep himself in power, announced he is running again for president in 2024.” The former president’s early entrance into the next presidential race comes also amid speculation that he is trying to get ahead of potential criminal charges by announcing before he’s indicted. Indeed, as James Carville put it to me in a text: “Hard to win when the picture on your campaign poster is a mug shot.” 

Following last week’s lackluster speech, the chorus of Trump critics on the right is getting louder. “Maybe there’s a little blood in the water and the sharks are circling,” outgoing Maryland governor Larry Hogan told the Associated Press on Friday. “I don’t think we’ve ever gotten to this point before.” Hogan spoke critically of Trump when he appeared that night in Las Vegas at the Republican Jewish Coalition, an event that drew other potential presidential contenders, including former vice president Mike Pence, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, New Hampshire governor Chris Sununu, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley. “Let’s stop supporting crazy, unelectable candidates in our primaries,” said Sununu, “and start supporting winners who can close the deal in November. Holy cow!”

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post is pummeling the former president, while National Review ran an editorial entitled “No.” Billionaire donors like Stephen Schwarzman and Ken Griffin are similarly saying “no” to another Trump run. Never Trump and Trump-skeptical Republicans have finally realized, or are at least admitting, that Trumpism is poison in general elections in competitive states and congressional districts. Much of the commentariat is ready to dismiss Trump’s viability in 2024—yet unfortunately, for them, and for us, columnists and pundits are not the base of the Republican Party.

Here’s the problem with this particular moment in history: We’ve been here before. We’ve counted Trump out before, multiple times. In July 2015, a Gallup poll found most Republicans didn’t see Trump as a serious candidate. Then even after Trump defied the odds, and became the Republican nominee, there was a moment where it looked like the Access Hollywood tape would derail him. Then, as president, he mused about the “very fine people on both sides” following violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. And who could forget Trump’s suggesting in a 2020 debate against Joe Biden that the Proud boys should “stand back and stand by.”

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