Former US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday that he will run in the 2024 presidential polls, only a week after his fiasco in the United States midterm elections, smacks of desperation and hypocrisy. But it will have key implications for his party and country.
The long, “low energy” announcement was full of lies, half-truths and distortions about his record and that of President Joe Biden, especially on climate change, energy reserves and America’s standing in the world. While it is true that Trump did not embark on big new wars, an accomplishment for an American president, international security, peace and stability suffered because of his abrupt hyper-nationalism.
In typically Trumpian fashion, it was all vanity and venom. The former president took credit for Republicans likely taking back the House of Representatives following last week’s elections, albeit with the slimmest of majorities.
The midterms elections were a referendum on Biden’s management of the economy, as much as on Trump’s menace to democracy. What historically and politically could have been an easy win for Republicans, especially with high inflation and Biden’s low approval ratings, turned out to be a disappointing outcome for them.
Once again, Trump, the de facto party leader, proved more of a liability than an asset.
In 2016, candidate Trump promised that if he became president, the country would enjoy so much winning that people would get tired of it. Instead, President Trump led his party and country from one failure to another, until they got sick of losing.
In 2018, Republicans lost the House. In 2020, they lost the Senate and the White House too. And last week, many of Trump’s handpicked candidates lost the midterm elections and delivered a great deal of humiliation to their party, which, instead of a predicted “red wave”, had to settle for a ripple. The party failed to retake the Senate, and might even end up with fewer numbers than in the outgoing chamber.
The crushing defeat suffered by Trump’s candidates is a testimony to America’s rejection of his unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 elections were rigged, merely because he lost. In the process, tornado Trump ravaged the country’s international reputation and shook the foundations of its democracy. And if that was not enough, he cheered as his supporters came to Washington to block the Congressional certification of the 2020 presidential elections.
The defeated, delusional and twice-impeached former president, who is facing many legal woes, has pledged to go on – despite growing opposition within the Republican party, as more and more of its leaders speak out against him. Referring to the last three election setbacks for the party, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan emphasised the need for Trump to step aside, using a popular baseball metaphor, “three strikes and you’re out”.
Indeed, like baseball, US elections are competitive, expensive and long zero-sum games, producing net winners and losers, who are expected to accept the outcome.
Not any more, alas. Not since Trump appeared on the field.
Lacking all sportsmanship in life as in politics, Trump has rejected the most basic of rules of democracy and its basic pillars, such as a free media and an independent judiciary. Since he entered politics in 2015, Trump first changed the rules of the game to suit his interests, and soon enough changed the game altogether.
Instead of baseball, Trump switched to tougher, more confrontational and violent American football tactics, where he has been mounting aggressive offensives, fierce defence, and brutal sackings. Indeed, Trump has embraced less democratic, more combative and confrontational means in campaigning and governing.
If he had won the 2020 elections, or if his minions had won the recent midterms elections, US democracy may have not been able to recover for some time — if at all. Thankfully, the country has pulled back from the edge, not once but twice, denying populist Trump the opportunity to demolish their liberal democracy.
In fact, it is easy to see the feeling of schadenfreude among many of his detractors within the Republican Party: elated by his defeat, they might have been hoping for good riddance before he causes even more damage to the conservative movement.
But Trump’s determination to run again for president may well take the Republican Party to the brink. Enjoying the strong and unwavering loyalty of some 40 percent of Republican voters, Trump is sure to present the GOP with an “after me, the flood”-type ultimatum: Nominate me or risk devastation.
Although it is too early to tell, Trump may in fact get his way against a number of less committed and less-known candidates. And if an ageing President Biden insists on running again at the age of 82, well, Trump may have a real chance of bulldozing him come 2024.
The ramifications of a vengeful Trump returning to the White House for the country and the world may be too hard to fathom at this stage. But some things are clear: It would be a victory for the anti-democratic insurrectionist ultra-right faction that stormed Congress on January 6, 2021. It would be a victory for racism and hate.
For too long Trump has managed to fail successfully. It is high time he fails miserably, once and for all.