Blame it on a normalcy bias, but many of my friends and colleagues still smugly tell me (off the record, of course) that Donald Trump can’t beat Joe Biden in 2024. But this isn’t merely anecdotal; establishment Republicans who want to move past Trump (yet are not willing to make the moral case that he is unfit to be president) keep publicly saying Trump isn’t electable.
The trouble for them is, he is—and saying otherwise won’t make it so. It seems very likely that Trump will be the Republican nominee for president. And as we’ve learned, once a major party nominates you, it’s a jump ball (in part because Trump can win the presidency and still lose the popular vote).
Trump’s miraculous 2016 victory isn’t the only data point to suggest Trump could do it again.
He lost the 2018 midterms, and then in 2020, Trump’s already historically low popularity tanked even further, largely because he grossly mishandled the COVID-19 crisis. He was also the first president impeached since Bill Clinton. Before that you had to go all the way back to Andrew Johnson. And he still (almost) won fair and square in 2020—according to the electoral college rules.
Why is it that many Never Trump folks don’t fully appreciate this data? I can think of a million reasons (including the aforementioned normalcy bias), but here’s one theory: Focusing on the close 2020 election might aid Trump’s argument that the election was stolen. As such, the narrowness of Biden’s electoral victory was memory holed.
Regardless, the fact remains that a) Trump won in 2016 (against all odds), and b) Trump almost won in 2020.
But things are different now, right? Trump is now a twice impeached, twice indicted clown (with more indictments likely on the horizon). He was just found liable for sexual assault, and he will likely skip some (or maybe all) of the Republican primary debates.
Don’t be so sure.
Trump’s 2016 message that resonated the most was “Drain the swamp.” In 2020, it was, “Keep America Great.” At this rate, his 2024 slogan could be: “They’re after me!”
After all, he’s running as the victim of a witch hunt. He’s running as a persecuted savior. Being indicted is his brand.
Any future arraignments and indictments will be a feature, not a bug, to reinforce this brand.
How is this possible? Of all his amazing political gifts, Trump’s lack of shame may be his superpower. Trump always “hangs a lantern on his problems,” as an old political saying advises.
Now, I think the maxim meant something like this: If your weakness is that you’re young and inexperienced, talk about how you “don’t have any experience raising the federal debt”—unlike your opponent, who does.
Trump’s big weakness is his character, so hanging a lantern on that took even more chutzpah. But it still worked.
Case in point: In 2016, when Hillary Clinton alleged that he paid nothing in federal income taxes, Trump responded, “That makes me smart.” As comedian Dave Chappelle summed it up, Trump essentially said, “I know the system is rigged… because I use it.”
Trump didn’t try to hide from being a rich guy who doesn’t pay his fair share. Instead, he took what should have been a disqualifying trait, and he turned it into a feature that worked to his advantage.
Which is exactly what he’s doing right now when it comes to the indictments.
He’s not trying to get past the indictments so he can change the subject to “entitlement reform” or “ethanol subsidies.”
This 2024 campaign (let’s call it Trump III) will have even less to say about ideas, ideology, or policy than the previous two campaigns—if that’s even possible.
And unlike Ron DeSantis, Trump isn’t even really focused on fighting the culture war.
Instead, he’s a one-man wrecking crew out for revenge. But who is his target? The left? The deep state? The RINOs? It’s not terribly clear, though he is the victim and the hero in this scenario.
There’s a reason popcorn blockbusters sell significantly more tickets than arthouse films. And once you grasp that, you understand what Trump is selling, and why it just might work.
I can almost hear the trailer: “In a world where the deep state has turned against the public, one man is out for justice.”
This film is not yet rated, but it’s coming to a voting booth near you.