In the US, there is no such thing as an election season. General elections nominally occur every even year but that is only mostly true for races for national office. State and local elections often occur in odd years as well. Campaigning for the next election begins immediately after one election has ended but that is only open campaigning. Preparations for the subsequent election are usually being laid before any election ends.
So it is unsurprising that there are already many discussions about the 2024 presidential election, even though the predictions that are made just after a mid-term election are usually completely off the mark as to who will actually make it to the finish line two years later. But that does not stop the punditocracy from engaging in endless speculations. This time though, there is actually something concrete to talk about because Donald Trump has already announced that he will run and that has to be taken seriously because he did win in 2016.
There are at least two schools of thought as to what will happen with his candidacy. There are those who think that this could well be a repetition of 2016 where his candidacy was initally dismissed as implausible since there seemed to be so many other Republican candidates with much stronger political backgrounds seeking the job, while he was dismissed as a reality TV personality. But Trump, showing a canny political instinct of going for the jugular, confounded those who underestimated him, targeting each primary rival in turn and, using a combination of individualized ridicule and name calling and slogans that substituted appeals to anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment instead of policy, picked off his challengers one by one, until he was the last person left standing. Those whom he had mercilessly taunted and humiliated during the primary process then contributed even more to their ignominy by groveling before him.
In this scenario, pundits say that although at this point in time there seem to be serious challengers in Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Trump’s own vice-president Mike Pence and other possible people like Mike Pompeo waiting in the wings, that once the race starts in earnest, Trump will use the same tactics as in 2016 to wipe out his competitors. After all, recall that his most serious challenger in 2016 was another popular governor of Florida Jeb Bush, who had the backing of the party establishment, was the brother and son of presidents, and was shameless in his appeals to the religious nutters (remember the Terri Schiavo case) and had been expected to win the nomination. Trump has already targeted his fire at DeSantis, giving him the nickname of ‘DeSanctimonious’. It is a bit clumsy compared to the ones he came up with 2016 and 2020 (‘Low energy Jeb’ Bush, ‘Lyin Ted’ Cruz, ‘Liddle Marco’ Rubio, ‘Crooked Hillary’ Clinton, ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden, etc.) but no doubt he is working to improve on it, since that is his main talent.
An interesting question is how any of his primary challengers will deal with him. Do they fear that attacking Trump the way he will attack them will alienate the Republican base? Do they fear that ignoring Trump will make them unattractive to that base? Will they decide that this time around they need viciously counter-attack him early and hard, risking alienating his fanatical supporters, but that they will eventually come round and vote for them because they have no choice?
The above scenario sees 2024 as largely a rerun of 2016, with Trump again confounding those in the media and political establishment who underestimate the appeal of his personality to large numbers of people, winning the Republican nomination and going on to win the presidency.
Then there is an alternative scenario, taking its inspiration from the saying of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” In this view, Trump will lose because Trump the man in 2024 is quite different from Trump the man in 2016 and the conditions are also different now, making the idea of a repetition untenable.
When it comes to Trump the man, in 2016, he was a novelty act, a source of amusement and entertainment. He seemed to many to be vain and shallow and that his run was merely an ego trip to improve his brand recognition so that he could make more money on TV and elsewhere. People seemed to feel that he was too implausible a candidate to have a majority voting for him. Even he was reportedly stunned when the election results showed that he had beaten Hillary Clinton. Few recognized then what an outright venal sociopath he was, the full depths of which were revealed only after Trump assumed the office and started using the machinery of government to serve his own ego and business interests and lash out at perceived enemies.
This leads to another difference, and that is that Trump is no longer largely unknown and that we now have a much better picture of what kind of person he really is and that picture is ugly. It is true that this does not seem to bother a large swathe of the Republican party base. Trump is a cult leader who knows that his followers will do pretty much anything he asks them to and find excuses for pretty much anything he says and does, even when he makes the preposterous claim that his 2020 election loss was such that “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” and that the official verdict must be rejected and he should be installed as president immediately. His acolytes have rallied behind him yet again, even as a few prominent Republicans have condemned it. The difference between him and other cult leaders is that he became the head of one of the two major political parties in the US before people fully appreciated that he had all the qualities of a cult leader.
Another difference is that in the 2016 campaign, Trump seemed to be enjoying himself, delighting in breaking norms, taking low-blow potshots at his rivals, and ‘owning the libs’, as the right-wingers like to say. Now he comes across as sour, peevish, and whiny, full of grievances and always complaining about the way he is being treated. His rally speeches are just the same old complaints repeated ad nauseam and lack energy, even when he is repeating his great hits.
But as per Heraclitus, the river has also flowed and Trump now finds himself in a very different environment. The revelations about Trump in the last six years have shaken those who have not drunk as deeply of the Kool Aid and for some of them, their desire to vote in a Republican president may not be sufficient for them to vote for someone who is clearly a delusional, repulsive, and vindictive human being who seems to have absolutely no regard for the laws that govern the country, let alone the norms that smooth the running of the government.
A key constituency are the evangelical leaders that propelled Trump in 2016. How will they respond this time? Then Jerry Falwell Jr signed on with Trump early on and that led to other evangelicals also getting behind him, despite the fact that Trump’s life and words were negations of many of the values that evangelicals claim to value. Their rationale was that their god sometimes chooses ‘flawed vessels’ as his agents to do his work and that Trump was such a person. This is a loophole big enough to drive a truck through that allows them to support anyone, however odious, as long as that person might get into power and advance all their political and religious agendas. But so far they have not committed themselves to Trump. Falwell has himself been disgraced in a sex scandal and forced to leave the presidency of Liberty University, so he is not a major force anymore.
There is also a big change is how Trump is generally perceived. His 2016 campaign had an upbeat tone and was full of how he was a winner and that the country would win so much that people would get tired of winning. That clearly resonated with many people who felt that they were losers. But now Trump is seen as a three-time loser by all but his most die-hard fans. The 2018 mid-term elections was a blue wave that saw the Democrats capture the House of Representatives and the Senate. Trump then decisively lost the presidency in 2020, and the 2022 mid-terms were a major disappointment for Republicans who had been hoping for a ‘red wave’ because historically the part that occupies the White House suffers substantial losses. But the Democrats retained every one of the 14 senate seats they were defending, something that had not happened since 1934. Many of the candidates that Trump had personally backed failing to win and the Democrats actually increased their Senate seats by one. While Republicans did gain a majority in the House of Representatives, the margin is 222-213, much smaller than they anticipated.
And finally, his release NFT trading cards of himself stamps him not only as a grifter but a grifter who is both pathetic and with a bad sense of timing. Imagine releasing them just when the cryptoworld is being described as one big scam. Even conservatives are cringing.
“So Trump’s ‘MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT’ was actually just a grift to promote a bunch of worthless trading cards,” tweeted conservative Ben Kew, editor-at-large for Human Events. “Even my grandmother knows NFTs are a scam.”
“The funniest part of the post-crypto crash Trump NFT drop may just be that there are sweepstakes involved,” posted blogger Emily Colucci. “Look what you could win for just $99!”
“I think we might be underrating the odds that the 2024 Trump campaign will be what everyone initially assumed the 2016 Trump campaign would be,” tweeted Atlantic staff writer McKay Coppins.
“When he announced in 2015, Trump was on a mission to ridicule the establishment,” said EpochTV host Hans Mahncke. “Now he’s just ridiculing himself.”
“Sure, inflation is wrecking the economy, Russia and China are on the move, the culture war wages at home, but at least presidential candidate Donald Trump is offering voters Trump Digital Trading Cards they can buy for $99 each,” wrote Fox News breaking news editor Chris Pandolfo. “Get your NFT today!”
To make matters worse, reverse image searches reveal that NFTS may have been photoshopped based on images found on the internet. They could not even be bothered, or more likely were too cheap, to hire an artist to create them
The man truly has no shame.
The next election will be critical. That is what is always said about presidential elections but this time such a warning might actually mean something, since Trump getting back in office would like letting loose a tiger with a mean streak who has been wounded. He will attack any and all whom he feels has mistreated him and the list is long, and he will use all the powers that he has at his disposal to do so. And the Republican party will, as usual, subserviently go along.