TRUMP DARES AGAIN
Mr. Donald Trump, aged 76, ex-U.S. President, who was impeached twice and is being investigated by FBI for criminal charges, who presumably for four years led a historically divisive American Presidency, and who has mounted attacks on the integrity of the U.S. voting system after a 2020 defeat, on Tuesday, November 15, launched a bid to reclaim the Presidency in 2024 by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and declaring himself to be a candidate for the 2024 President’s election surrounded by hundreds of allies, advisers, conservative influencers, and supporters flanked by massive American flags, at his Mar-a-Lago club and home in Palm Beach, Florida.
By announcing his bid within a week of the dream of a Republican red wave in the midterm elections petering out, Mr. Trump rejected the counsel of many current and former advisors not to declare candidacy so soon after a not-so-impressive Republican run in the midterm elections. In doing so, he also has possibly muzzled the voice of a few Republicans in whose view the continued influence of Mr. Trump has been detrimental to the party’s health and is “largely to blame for the G.O.P.’s weaker-than-expected showing at the hustings in the midterm elections.”
Mr. Trump’s bid comes amid the less-than-desired success of President Biden’s administration to cancel out forces unleashed during four years of Mr. Trump’s reign.
But the truth beckons. Mr. Trump the campaigner is back on the campaign trail and his invectives from now on will match every possible action of President Biden.
The candidacy of Mr. Trump is unsurprising because ever since he left the White House, he has been openly planning a comeback.
THE THIRD RUN
Nonetheless, this will be Mr. Trump’s third run to be U.S. President, but his first since his refusal to accept the 2020 election loss, which led to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Susan B. Glasser writes in The New Yorker, “Unrepentant and determined to stay his course, results be damned, Mr. Trump has repeated his lies about 2020 over and over again. It is likely that, as he promised, he always will.”
BID SO EARLY
Mr. Trump is the first to announce a bid to be President, to reclaim the Oval Office in 2024, which he asserts was stolen from him in 2020. His unusually early entry, for the election scheduled on 5 November 2024, as per Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board Opinion piece ‘Donald Trump’s Presidential Rerun’, is owing to twin reasons.
First, by announcing the 2024 bid, long before Mr. Trump needs to, this is an attempt to clear the Republican field of likely competitors, especially Governors Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin, who have shown they can win in competitive states.
Two, it enables Mr. Trump to get ahead of a possible Justice Department indictment. If he is already announced as a candidate seeking President Biden’s job, he can portray an indictment by Attorney General Merrick Garland as political and rally Republicans to his side. (https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-presidential-rerun-2024-ron-desantis-glenn-youngkin-gop-11668454286?mod=article_inline)
THE BAD OMEN
Mr. Trump’s 2024 bid begins with a bad omen.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, his competitor for the G.O.P. Presidential nomination, after reelection by an extraordinary 19-point margin, in post-election polling by YouGov has taken the lead over Mr. Trump. The YouGov Poll taken after midterm elections shows Mr. DeSantis narrowly defeating Mr. Trump 41% to 39% among Republican voters in a hypothetical primary.
Also interestingly ‘The Club for Growth’, an influential conservative organisation that often backed Mr. Trump, recently weighed in against the former President’s reboot, releasing a poll showing Gov. Ron DeSantis defeating Mr. Trump in several early primary states.
MR. TRUMP: POST-2016 ELECTORAL RECORD
Ever since the 2016 election, when the “underdog outsider businessman” Mr. Trump with the refreshing advantage of surprise and the excitement of novelty, defeated “supposedly not so well-liked” Ms. Hillary Clinton to become U.S. President, the Republican Party has faced a series of electoral losses.
The G.O.P was pounded in the 2018 midterm election owing to Mr. Trump’s low approval ratings. Mr. Trump himself got trounced in the 2020 Presidential election. His deliberate Georgia 2021 runoff debacle gave Democrats control of the Senate and the Republican red wave petered out in the 2022 midterms when Mr. Trump endorsed many high-profile candidates who ended up losing.
The latest midterm elections provide proof to Mr. Trump and the G.O.P that clinging to a 2020 election denial has been a loser’s game. And those Republican candidates who took this line to win Mr. Trump’s endorsement in elections nearly all lost, with the country asserting that it wants to move beyond 2020. Mr. Trump indubitably is not the darling of the electorate any longer and has led Republicans into one political fiasco after another.
LITANY OF WOES OF BEING DONALD TRUMP
The litany of woes of being Donald Trump is legion.
Firstly, he is only the third President in American history to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson (1868) and Bill Clinton (1998). Worse, Mr. Trump is the first President to be impeached twice: in 2019 for pressurising Ukraine to investigate political rival Mr. Biden, and in 2021, in the final days of office, for inciting insurrection leading to a deadly Capitol mob siege.
Secondly, Federal and state authorities are investigating Mr. Trump’s personal, political and financial conduct, and his business empire. It can be a big drag on his dream of winning the 2024 race.
Thirdly, though the House committee investigating, January 6, 2021, Capitol attack, has not yet issued its final report, it has laid out in detail Mr. Trump’s conduct after election day and around the assault on Congress and served him with a subpoena. As Republicans retake the House Control after midterms the possibility of the Committee going down under is high but Justice Department January 6 investigations (that have already resulted in charging, convicting and sentencing those who took part in the attack) continue and trials point the needle of suspicion to links to the White House
Fourthly, Mr. Trump is the first President facing unprecedented charges for mishandling the nation’s most sensitive secrets and is under investigation by the FBI for removal or destruction of records, obstruction of justice, and violating the Espionage Act — a conviction can result in imprisonment or fines.
Fifthly, mounting legal problems including a sweeping fraud lawsuit in New York state facing his family real estate and hotel empire could cripple his business empire and slash personal wealth. The danger to Mr. Trump’s business empire is huge because on October 31 while opening the criminal case, Susan Hoffinger of the Manhattan district attorney’s office said: “The case is about greed and cheating – cheating on taxes.” Worse, to Mr. Trump’s discomfiture, the key witness, Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump organisation, has already pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of tax fraud.
Sixthly, he faces a probe in Georgia of his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state. Further, the Justice Department is investigating Mr. Trump’s legal and political scheming to overturn results in many key states or to block certification.
MR. TRUMP IS A LIKELY G.O.P 2024 NOMINEE
Though the Wall Street Journal considers Mr. Trump as “the man most likely to produce a G.O.P loss and total power for the progressive left,” my memory is vivid of the 2016 Republican primaries when in the splintered G.O.P, Mr. Trump defeated sixteen opponents, who could not unite. Despite the likelihood that the Republican Party and America will possibly be served best if Mr. Trump vacates his candidature in favour of a next-generation G.O.P leader for a 2024 run-off, Republicans are so disjointed and splintered, and Mr. Trump’s support base of millions of core followers so ultra-loyal that he may win the G.O.P 2024 nomination handsomely.
Herein lies G.O.P’s woes. Some call it “Trump fatigue”.
And most Democrats are elated with Mr. Trump’s 2024 candidature which he began with the invective “Biden and the radical-left lunatics running our government right into the ground”.
The democratic socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, echoed, Democratic sentiment: “As an American, the idea of another Trump campaign and all of his lies and divisiveness and his efforts to undermine American democracy is an absolute horror show…On the other hand, I got to say that as a politician who wants to see that no Republican is elected to the White House in 2024, from that perspective, his candidacy is probably a good thing.”
And make no mistake, despite Mr. Trump having dragged down Republican candidates to defeat in the 2018 midterms, his own Waterloo moments in 2020, and now in the 2022 midterms candidates backed by him losing, it is the splintered Republican Party that keeps his 2024 dream alive. While announcing his 2024 bid, Mr. Trump thundered, “In order to make America great and glorious again, I am tonight announcing my candidacy for president…I am running because I believe the world has not yet seen the truth and glory of what this nation can be.”
And in his hour-long discourse, he further added, “We were a strong nation, and importantly, we were a free nation…But now we are a nation in decline. We are a failing nation. For millions of Americans, the past two years under Joe Biden had been a time of pain, hardship, anxiety, and despair.”
His assertions of America being in darkness under two years of President Biden’s rule, remind me of President Trump’s 2016 inauguration speech where he talked of the USA suffering “American carnage” and was in need of him to fix it.
It leads me to the big question, “Can Mr. Trump defy the gravity of history?”, because, till 2022, Grover Cleveland has been the only American President who ever served two non-consecutive terms, “1885 to 1889 and from 1893 to 1897”, as 22nd and 24th President.
This question assumes significance because Mr. Trump, after supposedly inspiring an angry mob to storm the Capitol after the 2020 loss, continues to remind those who are ready to listen, that he won the election. He did so again for the November 8 midterm even though voters rejected Mr. Trump-endorsed high-profile candidates in key swing states in stunning setbacks for Republicans. Democrats had the best midterm performance for a sitting President in the last two decades despite inflation at a 40-year high, crime deteriorating in many big cities, the immigration problem continuing with porous borders, and approval ratings of President Biden being low.
IF TRUMP WINS G.O.P PRIMARIES BUT LOSES 2024
The question what if Mr. Trump wins the G.O.P primaries of the splintered Republican Party is timely despite a high probability of Mr. Trump winning the G.O.P primaries. This raises the question, is there reason to believe that Mr. Trump has learned the 2020 lesson and would concede in 2024 if he suffers a loss to a Democrat? The answer that comes readily to mind is, “most probably not”, and therein lies the danger to US democracy. And this is to be seen in Mr. Trump’s continued assertion that in four years of his Presidency, America was at the pinnacle of power, prosperity, and prestige, and that two years ago when he left office, the country stood ready for its golden age.
SELLING ‘GOLDEN AGE OF AMERICA’ DREAM
Mr. Trump is at it again, selling his past four years of Presidency and future four years as US President, as the golden age for America. But for his diehard baiters, one Mr. Trump term was one too many. They believe his first four years in office marked an existential threat to democracy in the U.S.A and another four could break it altogether.
What if Mr. Trump loses the primaries? His penchant for not accepting defeat runs so high, if Ron DeSantis or someone else wins the Republican Party’s presidential nomination for 2024, one suspects Mr. Trump may not bow out silently and gracefully, given his contempt for Mr. DeSantis.
A BIDEN-TRUMP REMATCH
Though one cannot predict today to what extent Mr. Trump shall retain his ironclad grip on the G.O.P and the electorate, I believe, with the continued support of millions of G.O.P rank and file and that of voters, it is highly probable Mr. Trump may yet turn out to be the Republican 2024 Presidential candidate.
And according to Civiqs on 20th November, 7% of Republican voters held a favourable view of Mr. Trump with a low 15% having an unfavourable view and 13% unsure.
And if Democrats develop amnesia and pretend that Mr. Trump is irrelevant, it will be a costly mistake that may prove disastrous.
Baiters of Mr. Trump may consider the prospects of his becoming President again scary, but it is way more likely than what people may think.
It is very likely the 2024 Presidential election may be a rematch between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump, which will be more raucous and cacophonic than in 2020. President Biden has publicly acknowledged “he would ‘not be disappointed’ to face Mr. Trump in a rematch”. Mr. Biden reiterated a few days ago that he “intends to run in 2024” but would talk with his family before announcing a decision early next year.
Quoting officials, The New York Times adds, “Mr. Trump’s presence in the race would motivate Mr. Biden to run again. President Biden views his predecessor as a danger to be stopped and regularly notes he is the only person who has ever defeated Mr. Trump, implying that he would have the best chance of doing it again.”
TRUMP RETURNS AS PRESIDENT: IMPLICATIONS FOR AMERICA
With Trump back with his candidacy and Republicans winning back control of the House of Representatives after midterm elections, America is set on a collision course of a divided, disruptive governance leading to the 2024 general elections.
And, if Mr. Trump succeeds in precisely articulating his reasons to be President again, and if the electorate reaffirms faith in his “MAGA dream”, and if on January 20, Inauguration Day, raising his right hand if President-elect Trump, reciting, “I, Donald John Trump, do solemnly swear…”, takes oath as the 47th President of America, it will be a moment of reckoning for the country.
This unfolding saga might be an anti-Trumper’s nightmare, but as The Washington Post reports, it is a distinct possibility. “47% Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want Mr. Trump to be nominee in 2024, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. And if Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are contenders, Trump narrowly edges Biden, 48 to 46%, among registered voters.”
Mr. Trump’s early promises to America include rebooting the economy, stamping out the curse of corruption, taming immigration by significantly tightening border security, death penalty to drug dealers, moving the homeless to tent cities on the outskirts of metropolitan areas, abolishing the education department altogether, restricting voting to one day using paper ballots, deploying federal and military force against civil unrest and protests, and profound shifts in military and foreign policy.
As the nomination and the eventual election date nears, many more will be added.
If his first term is a pointer, if Mr. Trump returns triumphant, it will surely be advantageous for loyalists returning to top posts and the ascension of his “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) brigade in the governance rank and file. A natural corollary will be the swift closing of cases against Mr. Trump and also possibly simultaneously opening cases against those in governance now if one believes Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama, author of “The End of History and the Last Man” and, most recently, “Liberalism and Its Discontents”.
This does not augur well for America, but it is what it is.
A likely win for Mr. Trump may also restore a patronage system that has been absent in the USA since the late 19th century reforms. America already has far more politically appointed civil servants — some 4,000 — than most, if not all, liberal democracies.
As we move along the election trail, Mr. Trump would decidedly trumpet historic drops in the unemployment rate, soaring stock-market returns, increases in median incomes, and declines in poverty during his first term till the Covid-19 pandemic annulled gains.
WHAT TRUMP AGAIN WILL MEAN TO THE WORLD
American University’s distinguished professor of history, Alan Lichtman, shocked the world when he accurately predicted in 2016 that Donald Trump would defeat Hillary Clinton. His prediction calling Biden to win in 2020 also proved accurate. The professor, who since 1982, has correctly predicted US presidential contests (when he tipped Ronald Reagan to win in 1984) and who details his strategy for predicting the White House winner in his book, “Predicting the Next President: The Keys to the White House”, saying, although it is very early, the 2024 election would strongly be to Democratic party’s advantage if Mr. Biden runs for re-election, but if he does not, Prof Lichtman says, it will be a tougher journey for Democrats.
President Biden has indicated he will be up for a rerun in 2024 but it will be known only next year. If Mr. Biden enters the ring and, despite Prof Litchman’s prediction, Mr. Trump is elected President, he would be the first President in more than 130 years to move back into the White House to a non-consecutive second term after losing a bid for re-election after his first term.
And if Donald Trump, defying the odds, wins a second non-consecutive term, his second four years will likely be more disruptive to U.S. foreign policy and world affairs than what his four years were, more particularly with the new confusions added to the international scene with the combatant Russia waging a never-ending war with Ukraine that has brought NATO nations together, an emboldened Chinese President Xi Jinping, having secured an unprecedented third term, raring to rewrite rules of a new world order and outstrip USA as the reigning superpower. And as the first term showed, the second Trump term will be detrimental to multilateralism, and the climate goals amid faster than warranted global warming and to the new consensus being achieved at COP27.
Truth beckons any predictions of the world during the second term of Donald Trump are fraught.
TRUMP AGAIN: IMPLICATIONS FOR INDIA
On October 29, a fortnight before announcing his 2024 candidature, Mr. Trump in a Diwali speech organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition at his Mar-a-Lago resort promised “next high level of Indo-US relationship” if he won the 2024 Presidential election.
It augurs well for India, not so lucky in his first term.
Notwithstanding the high-profile visits of Prime Minister Modi to America and Mr. Trump’s triumphant India visit in February 2020, Indo-US ties that had painstakingly been improved over two decades, often were tested during Trump’s first term due to his frequent India bashing, with June 2019 marking the lowest point in bilateral ties when the Trump administration terminated India’s preferential trade status, that was part of a programme dating back to the 1970s amid the blame game “India had not provided equitable and reasonable access to its own market”. The Trump move led to India slapping retaliatory tariffs on twenty-eight U.S. products in response to U.S. duties on steel and aluminium imposed in 2018. Given the highs and lows of the first Trump Presidency which included sharp disagreements with India over trade, climate change, and H-1B visas, one can only pray for healthier, more harmonious and equitable Indo-US relationships if Mr. Trump wins the second term.
Akhileshwar Sahay is a Multidisciplinary Thought Leader and Impact Consultant. He is a keen watcher of the changing international scenario. Sahay works as President, Advisory Services of consulting firm BARSYL. Views in the article are of the author, and do not represent the views of this publication or the organisation where he works.
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