The biggest, most-discussed and arguably, most important national political question for the next couple of years is: Will Donald Trump run to regain the White House in 2024?
He likes it that way.
So, there is no real incentive for No. 45 to announce a decision about seeking to become No. 47 before, say, early 2023. In fact, he can avoid certain fundraising rules and protocols by leaving the issue open. And then there’s the uncertainty of legal actions against him.
Long campaigns have become the modern norm. John Kennedy announced his candidacy just 10 months before the election. Bill Clinton started 13 months before. George W. Bush, 16 months. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, 21 months. Elizabeth Warren, 23.
Trump is reportedly chafing at what seems to him to have become his media disappearance, after five years of minute-by-minute coverage. He is, however, capable of demanding attention at will with his released statements, sometimes several a day, commenting on news, Joe Biden, or endorsing a primary candidate.
This weekend, he issued his own 9/11 commentary:
The former president also visited a police precinct in New York City and made remarks.
Trump is also able to pick and choose interview opportunities, most often on Sean Hannity’s evening show.
He has two rallies scheduled soon, one in Georgia and another in – oh, look! – Iowa, where the first primary will occur, using some of the millions donated to his political fund,
Trump has also hired two political operatives in Iowa, who could be doing early organizational work. More likely, they’re tracking other prominent Republicans who just happen to be passing through — not campaigning, mind you, just helping the party and its local candidates.
Mitt Romney spent four years building up local credits in cross-country appearances leading to his 2012 nomination. For now, next year’s midterm elections, which will be viewed as a bellwether for the GOP’s 2024 outlook, give them cover for not challenging Trump.
The field of GOP wannabes is, for the moment, frozen by Trump’s strategic indecision and his ongoing dominance of the party, which is a synergistic benefit for Trump, because it prevents the emergence of any realistic Republican alternatives for the 2024 nomination. Why rush to change that?
Unlike Democrats, who are stuck — for now anyway — with an incumbent president or an underwhelming vice president, the Republican field could be large without Trump. It includes Nikki Haley, who’s said she will not run if Trump does, and Ron DeSantis, who faces a gubernatorial reelection next year. So, he’s required politically to profess that he’s paying attention only to Florida affairs.
Mike Pompeo is another possibility and, of course, the other Mike, Pence. Some senators such as Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton might be tempted. And South Dakota’s refreshing Gov. Kristi Noem is a possibility.
Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter were exceptions, but senators are the most popular Democrat presidential nominees (Biden, Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore, George McGovern, Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy). Hillary Clinton had been a senator, but would have been the first Cabinet member to become president since Herbert Hoover (Secretary of Commerce) in 1928.
And that party’s vice presidential nominees have always been senators or representatives for more than 90 years now.
The GOP historically prefers executives—businessmen like Trump and Wendell Willkie, generals such as Dwight Eisenhower, vice presidents (Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush) and governors (Romney, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush).
Only one president has lost reelection, then run again successfully — Grover Cleveland. He and Woodrow Wilson were the only two Democrats to interrupt Republicans’ seven-decade White House dominance from 1861 to 1933.
If any candidate is built to do that again, however, it would be Trump. He’d be 78 in 2024, the same age as Biden when he took office. But unlike Biden, who took much of the 2020 campaign off, Trump has appeared indefatigable, sometimes last fall doing three major rallies in as many states on five hours of sleep.
Ceding the media spotlight to Biden or anyone goes against Trump’s grain. But it is a smart move. Allowing the Democrat to flop and flounder in the public’s eye day after day is working well.
The virus tables are turned, and Biden’s stuck now with his own pandemic predicament now, despite the effectiveness of Trump’s vaccine.
The predicaments seem to be drawing out an angry authoritarian side of President Empathy, who’s now issued the vaccine mask mandate he said he’d never issue, and threatening vax-deniers:
“We’ve been patient,” he said in one coherent moment last week, “but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.” So, now it’s ‘Your Body, My Choice.’
Biden didn’t say what he would do. And there’s a large question of what he could do except mumble grumbles. But it does reveal another unattractive side to the occasional Oval Office occupant, who’s wallowing in some serious troubles all of his own making.
Perhaps you heard a little about the recent, deadly debacle Biden engineered while withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. That should have been a moment of supreme celebration. Finally, the fourth commander in chief of the nation’s longest war wrapping it up and bringing the boys and girls home.
But inexplicably, Biden pulled out the last troops before the remaining Americans and Afghan allies, creating a potential, massive hostage crisis. Then, he sent another 6,000 troops back in, to attempt a chaotic evacuation, and a homicide bomber killed 13 of them, plus nearly 200 fleeing Afghans.
The Saigon evacuation of 1975 was chaotic, too. But very few there had their own little video cameras to capture the heartbreaking moments of panic, terror, and deaths for millions at home to wince over. And President Gerald Ford, a World War II naval commander, was wise enough to leave the grim end to speak for itself.
Joe Biden, on the other hand, attempted to portray the ignominious conclusion as a grand success.
Biden is also stuck with a fractious party, plus rising inflation that continues despite his phony assurances it would diminish. And his attempt to claim that puny August job-creation numbers show economic progress. Yet, he continues to seek trillions more spending plus new taxes.
Politically, this is encouraging news for Republicans, the “out party” that almost always scores substantial congressional gains in a new president’s first midterm elections. Retaking control of the House or Senate, or both, would enable the GOP to block Biden’s leftist agenda through 2024.
Despite his vows, it’s hard to envision now an even older Biden at 81 seeking reelection, not necessarily because of his serial blunders, as catastrophic as they are. For one thing, no one recovers from dementia. Or from the widespread impression of dementia. Less than eight months in, the image of a weak, confused, often angry, dissembling old man who claims he’s being told what to do is already embedded in American minds.
You can tell it’s there, because one-time, jubilant Biden supporters don’t even try to defend him anymore. “Well, OK, he doesn’t know what year it is. But he’s a really good guy.”
Instead, they’ve reverted to trite tropes about Trump turmoil and behaviors. Which have faded somewhat in the public mind, because the former president is out of sight mostly and, to his unexpected benefit, barred from social media.
Trump allies, perhaps reflecting their own agendas or one fed to them, say they get the impression the former president will run again.
Out of his base’s sight, Trump’s standing has slipped only slightly among Republicans. He remains by far their overwhelming favorite.
Trump has teased he is near a decision. Or has already made it.
But that’s not the issue. The issue is when Trump reveals that decision. He’d be silly to do that soon, to throw Biden a lifeline by distracting from the Democrat’s serial disasters, and make himself the target for the next three years.
Already, Biden’s job approval has plummeted from the mid-fifties down into the old Trump range, the mid-forties, with the worst drops on handling the economy and pandemic.
For comparison, at this same point of his presidency the job approval of Jimmy Carter, widely considered the worst modern president until now, was 54 percent. He ended at 34 percent, the same as Trump did.
Carter quit politics after that defeat. Trump probably won’t.