Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he would seek a third bid for the presidency showed how far he and the nation have come since that first run in 2015. He’s gone from descending on an escalator at Trump Tower in New York to trudging atop a riser at his Florida beach club, contrasting scenes that capture the dilemma for Trump, the Republican Party and American voters going into 2024.
For Trump. As the first major candidate to formally announce for president, Trump seized the opportunity to garner early media coverage and to dissuade other Republicans from mounting a primary challenge. With a 30-point lead on potential Republican rivals in recent polls, this was wise strategy for Trump’s standing among his base, and it enables Trump to recast himself from a twice-impeached former president facing serious legal battles into a tested nominee positioned to beat President Joe Biden in 2024. But how does Trump sustain the excitement of a movie we’ve already seen, especially one that ended so badly on the bloodied Capitol grounds? His speech Tuesday had the usual litany of falsehoods — about sea level rise, the border wall, even the price of next week’s Thanksgiving turkey. But there was no passion along with the usual doom-and-gloom. Trump desires reclaiming the presidency, but is he willing to work for it? And can he freshen up his routine or will it be golden-oldies about Hunter’s laptop and Hillary’s emails?
For the party. Among Republicans, the question for Trump should be simple: What have you done for me lately? The answer: Not much. Election deniers who hitched their wagons to Trump lost key senate and gubernatorial races in key battleground states on Nov. 8, thwarting the highly expected Republican midterm wave, keeping the Senate in Democratic hands and leaving House Republicans on the bare brink of a majority. Where does this leave the GOP in setting an agenda between now and 2024? Do Republican leaders risk the ire of Trump voters by seeking a stronger nominee behind the scenes? Or do they succumb to Trump (as they always have) when the time of reckoning finally arrives? Do younger Republicans, evangelicals and mainstream conservatives soured on the MAGA movement coalesce around a less polarizing figure who still channels their energy? What would Trump’s nomination mean for control of Congress and statehouse races? And how would it position the party as America diversifies in years to come?
For Americans. This country’s elected officials from the White House down to local school boards are still fighting the wildfires that Trump’s culture war unleashed. The disproven claims of election fraud that Trump and his acolytes have hyped have also diminished America’s standing as a beacon of democracy and emboldened our foreign enemies. What’s the impact to our national fabric by piling on now with another Trump term, especially in this period of global economic pain, when disparities are growing, cynicism is spreading and Americans cannot agree on simple truths or the rule of law? Trump’s four years in office demonstrated how the presidency is unique in shaping public faith in government and civic institutions. Do Americans feel safer, stronger, more united since Trump came onto the scene? Were the victories on tax policy or court appointments unattainable for other Republicans? What would stop him from further politicizing the military or Justice Department? Or from invalidating elections he loses?
Trump’s announcement Tuesday is just the first step on a long road of America choosing its next president. But it should get people — not least the candidate himself — thinking about what another season of this reality show means, for we’re still a long way from paying the price of the first disastrous episodes.
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