The release of the Twitter files showing the platform’s process for suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story could have been a time for the former president to claim vindication. Trump could have said he had been proven right on Hunter Biden, the deep state, or any number of things.
Instead, Trump is still contesting the 2020 election, demanding either reinstatement or a do-over without any constitutional process for either. And most of the commentary is understandably focused on Trump’s call for “terminating” the Constitution to make these outcomes possible, leading to rebukes from Republicans as well as Democrats.
None of this makes it any easier for Trump to take the oath of office — which includes vowing to defend the Constitution — a second time.
That’s probably why the 2020 talk was missing from Trump’s 2024 announcement speech. But he couldn’t be restrained for long.
This whole episode is a microcosm of the self-imposed challenges of Trump’s third presidential campaign.
Trump’s 2024 argument could be the ultimate “I told you so” on President Joe Biden. But that would require using the arguments and events of 2020 in a forward-looking way. Trump appears capable of only looking backwards.
Fixating on the last election reminds people of the worst things that happened while Trump was in office, as well as the fact that he lost (even if he disputes it). It makes him appear divorced from reality and the rule of law. And it keeps the conversation from being about Biden’s record as president, which is where a Republican who wants to win the next presidential election would like the focus to be.
Trump’s election protests probably cost Republicans the Senate in 2020. His endorsements arguably did the same thing this year. And Republicans are worried he will cost them the White House for the second time in as many elections, with only about a third of the electorate believing his repeated claims to be the rightful winner.
In 2015-16, Trump was new and fresh. His campaign rallies were ratings gold. His jokes and jibes were unconventional but entertaining. That’s how he was able to dominate the Republican primary debates.
Now Trump is just rehashing things he has said a million times before. He appears to have no second act and no new material. Judging from his Mar-a-Lago announcement speech, with its subdued delivery, he is at risk of even boring himself.
Trump’s greatest skill was commanding attention, with his worst critics having to admit privately that he is entertaining. Now he has gotten stale, which is not what any entertainer wants to have said about them.
That doesn’t mean Trump can’t win. If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t run or ends up falling flat — think former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s turn as the too-early 2016 frontrunner — it’s not clear the rest of the Republican field is up to beating him. That’s especially true if the candidates end up being explicit Never Trumpers.
While Trump would not be favored in the general election, if he proved anything in 2016, it is that in a polarized country any major party nominee has a chance to become president.
But Trump would be in a much stronger position if he could somehow recapture his 2016 mojo — which does not necessarily mean simply repeating everything he said and did back then.
Trump feels very much like someone who is running because he is not sure what else to do. His business empire is being threatened, he could be indicted, his legacy as a president, businessman and even reality TV star are under assault, he is at risk of being replaced as party leader by a Florida protege.
The third Trump presidential campaign is more about all of those things than it is about becoming the first president to serve nonconsecutive terms since Grover Cleveland.
Ted Kennedy showed in 1980 that running for president just because you think you should isn’t the best way to reach the White House.
The Trump show hasn’t been canceled yet. But the writers have seemingly lost the plot. If they can’t get things back on track, it’s possible that even Republicans will begin to tune it out.
Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, James Antle III is the Washington Examiner’s politics editor. He was previously managing editor of the Daily Caller, associate editor of the American Spectator, and Editor of the American Conservative. He is the author of Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped?