By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Watching the career of former President Donald Trump is like watching A Nightmare on Elm Street or the Halloween series of movies. Like the fictional Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers boogeymen, in sequel after sequel—Trump keeps coming back.
On Nov. 15, one week after the most prominent Trump-backed MAGA candidates went down to defeat in the midterm election, Trump announced his 2024 candidacy for president. At Mar-a-Lago, Trump spewed his standard lies and hate to his assembled collection of sycophants. Among other things, like dictators in China and Singapore, he said that he would call for the execution of drug dealers, and would send federal forces in to fight crime, unrest, and protests regardless of whether a state wants it or not: “If they don’t want our help, we’re going to insist that they take our help this time.”
So much for the Posse Comitatus Act, which protects democracy and personal liberty by generally barring the federal military from participating in civilian law enforcement.
Trump also called for onerous election restrictions, including an end to early voting and voting by mail.
And according to the New York Times, Trump’s henchmen “have a plan for staffing not only his administration but also much of the federal civil service with political loyalists,” under a new federal classification that Trump originally created by executive order in 2020. President Biden rescinded that order. But if Trump captures the White House in 2024, he plans to reinstate it, converting thousands of civil service positions into political appointments. Trump has said he would thereby make “every executive branch employee fireable by the president of the United States.” Absolute one-man rule, here we come.
Following the Republican failure to gain the Senate and only an extremely narrow win in the House, many Republican leaders, even some right-wing extremists are--at least for the moment-- blaming Trump.
But as Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, told the Washington Post, “We’ve heard this song before. The question is: will this time be different?”
Conservative Washington Post columnist George Will greeted Trump’s decision to run with a quote from Robert Penn Warren’s novel All the King’s Men,” based on the life and career of the Louisiana demagogue Huey Long. In the novel, the Long character, Willie Stark, is advised: “Make ‘em cry, or make ‘em laugh…Or make ‘em mad. Even mad at you. Just stir ‘em up…and they’ll love you and come back for more.”
Whether Republican politicians or their constituents have gotten tired of Trump’s Huey Long-like show is yet to be seen. Republican leaders have the constancy of a weather vane in a high wind. The aspersions they cast on Trump today could change to boot-licking in a second. They are only speaking against him now because of concern that in 2024, he’ll lose and will drag their prospects down with him. Few are disowning what Trump stands for.
Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson told CNN, “Let’s see who runs. Personally, I don’t think it’s good for the party. … I think [Trump’s] policies were good. I just don’t need all the drama with it.”
Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley—he of the raised fist in support of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists—tweeted: “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new.” Hawley did not suggest what that “something new” should be, but I doubt that he has abandoned his support of might-makes-right violence.
As reported by the Washington Post, Republican Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, who has strongly supported Trump in the past, said that the fact that the former President’s endorsed candidates did not do well gives us “a clue that the voters want to move on. And a true leader knows when they have become a liability to the mission.” But move on to what? Sears did not specify what the “mission” is—perhaps she sees Trump as now a liability to the mission of Trumpism.
Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu easily won re-election while his state’s Trump-endorsed Senate candidate, Don Bolduc, lost by a large margin. Accordingly, Sununu warned against Trump’s Nov. 15 announcement of his candidacy. Sununu told SiriusXM that Trump could “muck up” the opportunity for GOP Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker to win if Trump announced his run before a Georgia December runoff. Sununu clearly didn’t care what kind of senator the uniquely unqualified Walker will be if he wins.
Iowa Sen. Charles E. Grassley tweeted tersely: “Let’s look to the next election. Quit talking about 2020.”
And Utah Sen. Mitt Romney told CNN, “I think that President Trump and election denying was an albatross around Republican necks.” Moreover, said Romney, “We’ve lost three races with him.”
Perhaps more telling than the likely mercurial reactions of Republican office holders is that Rupert Murdoch and his Trump-promoting media outlets like the New York Post and Wall Street Journal—smelling blood—have begun criticizing Trump, and promoting as their new star, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But most indicative of a possible lasting decline in Trump’s fortunes is that some GOP megadonors are deserting him.
After Trump’s announcement of his 2024 candidacy, Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman, CEO and co-founder of private-equity giant Blackstone, said in a statement to Axios: "It is time for the Republican Party to turn to a new generation of leaders and I intend to support one of them in the presidential primaries."
Ken Griffin, billionaire founder of the Citadel hedge fund, who had praised Trump’s policies, endorsed Ron DeSantis, and told Bloomberg that Trump is a “three-time loser.”
Among Trump’s competitors, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is the GOP flavor of the week because, unlike the Trump-backed MAGAs, he won his election by a landslide. Of course, DeSantis rigged the system with his gerrymandering—something he would not necessarily be able to do nationwide.
Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, former Vice President “Hang him” Mike Pence, and Trump’s CIA director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are also expected to be primary competitors.
In addition, if Trump gets the nomination, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney might run as a spoiler to make good on her vow to prevent Trump from ever gaining the White House again.
Trump’s candidacy could also be scuttled by indictments in the numerous ongoing criminal investigations (by DOJ for his actions surrounding Jan. 6 and his mishandling of classified documents, as well as by an Atlanta-area prosecutor for Trump’s pressuring Georgia officials to overturn that state’s election results). Moreover, Trump’s company is in the midst of a trial for criminal tax fraud.
The bottom line is that the conservative politicos and business magnates are not turning on Trump because he is a criminal with Nazi-like authoritarian aspirations, but only because they now see him as a loser.
In the end, it makes no difference to democracy’s survival whether Trump is on the 2024 ticket, or the next Trump is—be that DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo, Haley, or some other cynical Republican. As the New York Times so aptly put it: “fixating on the salesman misses the point. The problem is, and always has been, the size of the audience rushing to buy what he’s been selling.”
Most Democrats won their midterm elections by the skin of their teeth. And although several election deniers in battleground states lost, according to The Bulwark, nationwide, 10 election deniers succeeded in being elected to the Senate, more than a dozen were elected to the House, eight have won governorships, and four have won elections to become secretaries of state. The Republican autocratic agenda has not changed. That movement is just getting started. And the danger to democracy will not go away even if Trump does.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.