As expected, President Donald Trump announced his run to regain the Oval Office. In a speech that many considered toned-down from his usual rally rhetoric, Trump spoke about the problems facing the country, his accomplishments while in office, and the failures of the Biden administration. This was the re-emergence of Candidate Trump, who is at times hilarious and infuriating.
Candidate Trump has not been seen since he won in 2016. Candidate Trump is an outsider, a buck against the establishment Republicans, the Democrats, and – most importantly – the media. Even when he was running in 2020, he was President Trump, which meant he was in defense of his own policies – especially around Covid. President Trump could not be as effective as Candidate Trump.
Candidate Trump speaks to the problems that middle America cares about, and does it in such extreme rhetoric that it forces his opposition to have conniptions, leading to far more coverage on a topic than the topic would have normally received. The 2015 version of this was about the southern border. “I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
Now Trump brought the same linguistic style to the fentanyl problem in this country, calling for the death penalty for drug traffickers. “I will ask congress for legislation ensuring that drug dealers and human traffickers, these are terrible, terrible horrible, people who are responsible for death, carnage, and crime all over our country. Every drug dealer, during his or her life, on average, will kill 500 people with the drugs they sell, not to mention the destruction of families. But we’re going to be asking everyone who sells drugs, gets caught selling drugs, to receive the death penalty for their heinous acts. Because it’s the only way.”
This is the good side of Candidate Trump, the 4-D chess side. Take a topic that the media wants to ignore, talk about it in extreme rhetoric, and get everyone talking about it. They’re going to say that he’s talking about the high school student with an ounce of weed when he’s clearly talking about the major dealers that kill thousands of Americans each year. By sheer force of will, he’ll blow life into these stories and earn himself some positive points among the voters.
Candidate Trump has plenty of negatives, as has been seen in the past few weeks. Trump loves to go after any threat to his success, and he makes lists and takes names. Even though there hasn’t even been a declaration of intentions to run, Ron DeSantis is getting hit by Trump on social media and in speeches as a chief political rival to the nomination. His supporters do the same thing. Hardcore Trump fans are already badmouthing DeSantis to clear the field for Trump. Scott Greer links DeSantis to Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, and other “RINO” Republicans. Other accounts like Dr. Darrell Scott call people like Candace Owens, who supported Trump for years, a traitor because she had some gripes about her interview with him.
Yet there are far more pragmatic leaders of grassroots Republicans groups, like Gavin Wax, the President of the New York Young Republican Club President. Wax, who has been the most successful person to draw in Young Republicans in New York City since Teddy Roosevelt, had his organization endorse Trump even before the announcement. But Wax also refuses to pit Trump and DeSantis against each other. “I hate the false dichotomy that you either have to love DeSantis and hate Trump or hate DeSantis and love Trump,” he tweeted.” I like both and think they both bring a great deal to the table for the GOP, far more than the spinless losers in Congress and the RNC. Reject divide and conquer.”
This is a good approach, and one that Trump himself would be wise to heed. He’s the only one in the field right now, but he won’t be for long. Whether it’s a joke challenger like Liz Cheney, who couldn’t even get past her own primary, or a serious contender like DeSantis, the field will have more than one person by the 2024 primaries. Trump should do what he did in 2015 and 2016 – wait for someone to get in the mud with him. When Jeb Bush went after him, Trump clobbered him. Ted Cruz eventually realized that he would have to go after Trump directly, and once he did he was toast. Trump is a mud monster, no one can beat him down there. Don’t attack Republicans unless they attack you. Keep the focus on the Dems, the media, and the issues.
Candidate Trump could also be the most infuriating person in the world, someone who you can’t imagine voting for. He says dumb things repeatedly. He attacks the wrong people. He has more baggage than an airliner. You can hate him and think you’ll never support him in a million years one day, then love him and pledge your undying support the next. Its a roller coaster.
The question is: do enough people in key states have enough buyer’s remorse that they either will change to Trump or won’t show up for the Dem nominee (assuming it’s Biden). He would need to flip at least 38 electoral college seats to his cause. From 2016 to 2020, he lost Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin. He would need at least three of those; four if he loses Pennsylvania. It will be a hard road for him to traverse, as all of those states have been turning bluer in the last few election cycles.
Candidate Trump also brings out the worst in the media, who have been falling over themselves to be more and more deranged over Trump’s announcements. Here are some of the headlines that arose. NPR: “Donald Trump, who tried to overturn Biden’s legitimate election, launches 2024 bid.” NBC News: “Trump, whose lies about the 2020 election inspired an insurrection, announces third White House bid.” The Washington Post: “Trump, who as president fomented an insurrection,says he is running again.” The Guardian: “Trump announces 2024 run nearly two years after inspiring deadly Capitol riot.” Hilariously, when CNN didn’t follow suit, Ilhan Omar was flabbergasted. Titling their push notification to her phone with a simple, “Donald Trump announces another run for the White House, aiming to become only the second president ever elected to two nonconsecutive terms,” Omar replied, “CNN needs to switch their progressive Dem headline writes to the Trump headline writers. This is embarrassing.”
So who is the Trump voter for Candidate Trump? They aren’t always the same people who voted against President Trump. They could be people who are voting against the media, or against Joe Biden. But they will only flip back to Trump if he doesn’t give them a reason not to. There’s little to no evidence that Trump will be a more disciplined candidate this time around, but if miracles can happen once, maybe they can happen again.