Donald Trump Once Annihilated his Opponents: Today He is a One-Man Circular Firing Squad: With the midterm elections over, all political eyes are now moving to the 2024 presidential election. President Joe Biden remains under pressure to eschew another run, but the pressure has eased since his party avoided a red blowout and kept the Senate in Democratic hands.
The situation is not so simple on the Republican side. Determined to remain the center of political universe, Donald Trump announced before the November poll that he would make his presidential announcement afterward. However, instead of being able to surf a vast red wave, he ended up watching most of his major league endorsements lose after running minor league campaigns. Not only were their qualifications suspect and views extreme, but he expected them to talk about little other than the alleged theft of his 2020 reelection.
The shock for him and the rest of the GOP was palpable. After beginning election day debating how large its new Senate majority would be, the Republican Party failed to knock off any vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Worse, after a bizarre Trump endorsement that narrowly delivered the Pennsylvania Senate nomination to a New Jersey resident, TV doc, and snake oil salesman who was chummy with Turkish dictator wannabe Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the GOP lost an open seat in Pennsylvania against a dubious candidate disabled by a stroke that left him ill fit to hold office.
The House of Representatives, which was supposed to deliver a big, perhaps record, margin, instead gave the GOP a wafer-thin majority that wasn’t certain until days after the polls closed. Trump endorsed multiple losing state-level candidates, who campaigned on his 2020 loss rather than the 2022 economy and helped turn state legislatures over to Democrats.
Republicans found themselves being asked: Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
Suddenly Republican officials with backbones of jelly, previously scared to mention Trump as anything less than entitled to fill the first vacancy in the Trinity, publicly scorned his reverse Midas touch. Shocked by an election debacle that could not be excused despite his staff’s best efforts, and unhappy at the abuse from his own party, whose leaders previously fulfilled their role as dutiful factotums and obsequious lackeys, the 45th president gave a flat announcement speech. Under pressure, he left out discredited claims of election fraud but offered no other convincing reason for his candidacy. In 2016 he was the righteous scourge of both political establishments. Today he is a discordant voice from the past.
Then Trump committed multiple owned goals by having dinner with the bizarrely disturbed anti-Semitic rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West), who later expressed his admiration of Adolf Hitler, and white nationalist activist Nick Fuentes. Trump’s four years of servility toward Israel’s government could not prevent gasps of horror from even its supporters in America. For the first time in years the backbone-challenged Republican legislative leadership felt the need to criticize Donald Trump.
In fact, appearing to ripple across the until now dutiful GOP apparatus was the horrified recognition that Trump really has not learned anything. Worse, he is incapable of doing so. He has no filter. No common sense. No interest in anyone other than himself. No criteria for acting other than self-aggrandizement. Even those inclined to set aside his personal lapses in the belief that his messes could always be cleaned up had to acknowledge that reckless disregard and contempt for even the most fundamental social, political, and moral norms respected by others was at his core.
Next came Trump’s attack on the Constitution, released on his social media site: “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
Of course, massive and widespread fraud would represent a serious challenge to the American constitutional system. However, even his attorney general, Bill Barr—who got his political start in the Reagan administration (we were on the White House staff together early on)—found no evidence of fraud. Nor did scores of judges, many appointed by him, who uniformly rejected Trump’s election challenges. Indeed, a group of conservative leaders published their conclusion of the obvious: Trump lost, and Joe Biden won the election.
Trump’s call to terminate the Constitution allowed Democrats to pose as dedicated defenders of the nation’s founding document. Trump also undermined what long had been the strongest argument to back Trump for many on the Right: appointing as judges advocates of a more restrained reading of the Constitution, focused on the actual meaning of those who drafted and enacted the provision or legislation then rather than the desired meaning of those doing the judging now.
Indeed, it is difficult to overstate the importance of this issue. In 2016 many on the Right reluctantly backed Trump, believing that he would be guided by the Federalist Society and others with similar views in his judicial choices. The same concern animated some otherwise reluctant Trump supporters in 2020, after he had proven his judicial bona fides.
However, the inner-Trump always peaked through. It long was evident that the president believed the main qualification for judges was to rule as he wished. He reportedly considered nominating Rudy Giuliani instead of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Donald Trump later was upset when Gorsuch criticized his attacks on the judiciary, even contemplating withdrawing the latter. And with his losing record in election cases, Trump discovered that his nominees consistently put the law before him. Those who backed him to ensure a better judiciary now must worry that if returned to the presidency he would nominate judges in his image, pliant candidates devoted to personal rather than constitutional rule.
Moreover, his unexpected constitutional exegesis on social media gave new meaning to his grotesque misbehavior on January 6. Maybe he wasn’t just clueless and careless, as his backers suggested. Maybe he really was acting based on his determination to terminate “all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”
All this and the presidential campaign hasn’t yet started! Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential candidacy is looking a bit like the Hindenburg, which went down in flames in 1937. It isn’t likely to be too long before his campaign officials start jumping from the burning airship like in real life.
Of course, he could still triumph in the primaries. Trump’s hold over the Republican Party base has been underestimated before. In 2016 desperate party officials were forced to abandon attempts to block his nomination. However, the key to his success then was never the minority made up of QAnon believers, Jewish space laser worriers, and tool of God anointers. What got him over the line was an amalgam of enthusiastic advocates and reluctant converts who saw him as the balm for past electoral disappointments and weapon for future political victories.
That meant dispersing a gaggle of Republican political hacks and compromisers, headlined by Jeb Bush, and defeating Hillary Clinton, whose dubious record went back to her time as First Lady of Arkansas. Trump emerged at precisely the right moment, proving to be the existential threat to the political establishment of both parties.
He no longer fulfills that role. First, he has remade the GOP. One-time critics have turned into shameless suck-ups, such as Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, ritualistically abasing themselves to retain voters’ favor. Those who refused to kiss his ring—Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Larry Hogan, Mark Sanford—are out of office and even politics. In many recent races, GOP primary voters appeared to make their choice on the theory, the loonier the better. At least one, Arizona’s defeated gubernatorial candidate, Kari Lake, is following Trump to the letter, falsely claiming that her race was stolen.
Second, because he has transformed the Republican Party, he no longer is the only potential MAGA candidate. Florida’s Ron DeSantis has leaped to the fore with blow-out reelection, but several Trump toadies, such as Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, also are crisscrossing the country. As well as former Vice President Mike Pence, who still maintains a respectful mien when discussing the man who cheered on protesters chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
Third, many MAGA believers who revere Trump for his past role have come to believe that he is, ironically, a loser, the most hurtful epithet that he commonly throws at others. As a result, there is increased muttering among rank-and-file Republicans that it is time for him to step aside and them to move on. They want someone who will talk about the future, not the past.
Although the upcoming campaign is likely to be unpredictable, one certainty is that Trump will make it all about himself, in every way at every moment. He inevitably will assert that he was robbed, demand that the system be dismantled as recompense, and celebrate his persistent greatness. Republicans, alongside many independents and a good number of blue-collar Democrats, put up with his talk six and then two years ago. That is not likely in 2024, however, when they will have far more choices.
The political road ahead is not certain. However, as Winston Churchill noted at a critical point in World War II, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” So it likely is with Donald Trump’s political career.
It’s not over. And the Donald Trump political circus is set to go on for another two years. However, its end can finally be glimpsed. The forces that he set in motion will continue. But with new leaders determined to be Moses rather than Samson, taking America to the promised future rather than bringing down the system.
About the Author: Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author of several books, including The Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington, The Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology, and Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire. He is a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.