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Donald Trump 3.0: Can He Do It Again? Will He Try?

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Trump Ultra MAGA Membership Seal, from fundraising materials.

Recent published reports predict Donald Trump will announce a 2024 presidential campaign sometime in the next six or eight weeks. Though, summer vacation time is not a peak time for political launches.

No one except Trump himself and perhaps Melania knows for sure if he’s going for a third GOP nomination.

Which is exactly how the showman likes it, a cliffhanger on this week’s show to ensure you tune in for the next episode.

While pretty much everyone says they expect the 76-year-old Trump will run again, announcing this early – it’s only 543 days since he left office and fully 845 until the next election — would be a big mistake in the country’s larger political picture for a number of reasons we’ll explore.

But then, don’t forget, on his 2015 birthday everyone knew it was a big mistake for Donald Trump to launch a hopeless White House campaign in a crowded GOP field. That was 513 days before the historic election upset that emotionally shattered Hillary Clinton and her overconfident expectation of inheriting the Oval Office.

That unexpected victory of a New York billionaire, a longtime Democratic donor and political neophyte who adopted the GOP for convenience, was built on his uncanny mining of the unreported, seething anger and frustrations of millions in just the right places across the Heartland to assemble an Electoral College victory of 304-227, despite receiving fewer popular votes than what’s-her-name.

Sixteen other Republican wannabes, many of them professional pols, missed that voter unrest.

Trump’s presidential tenure thrust U.S. politics into four unpredictable years of deregulation, job creation, energy independence, foreign policy successes, unpredictability, acrimony, and conservative judicial appointments.

And, to my eyes, he simultaneously instigated disruptive and refreshing political tumult for the self-satisfied, stagnant establishments of both parties, too long too comfortably ensconced on their D.C. thrones of power.

Then, in a 2020 script that could have been written by some ancient Greek dramatist, the same promised tumult and hubris that enthralled his millions of loyalists and brought victory in 2015-16 came back to defeat Trump and augurs real trouble for any new campaign.

Trump’s staunchly loyal base that ferried him through numerous typhoons of controversy–any one of which would have capsized the career of a conventional politician–has ominously withered somewhat in his absence from much social media, media focus, and the public stage, according to polls hypothetically pitting him against possible opponents.

Which is one of the reasons Trump might feel compelled to re-enter the daily media fray early to restore that support, perhaps expand it, and deter party challenges.

For now, he’d be up against no other Republican. That’s not likely to last into the GOP primary season, however. Our political system is based on competition and ambition driving others to challenge each other, likely along the lines of “It’s time to move on.”

And Trump’s obsessive re-litigation of the 2020 election won’t help him.

Confronting Trump now is the pathetic and prickly political persona of a Washington denizen who’ll turn 82 in 2024 and dodders through a few short days of work each week, shaking hands with invisible people, mumbling incoherently almost daily, and dodging accountability for his numerous failures.

Biden’s also falsely claiming to address inflation by vowing to spend trillions more in newly-printed money and handle outrageous gas prices by draining the nation’s strategic oil reserve and blaming Russia’s leader. Vladimir Putin is now raking in billions in increased revenues thanks to Biden’s tardy and inept oil embargo.

Given Biden’s chronically low job approval and the glaring incompetence of his vice-presidential partner, it seems most likely that Democrat power brokers and donors will concoct a new ticket for 2024 and send Joe honorably off to play with his dog on the beach.

Which brings us to this fall’s looming midterm elections. Of the 27 midterms since 1912, an incumbent president’s party has gained seats in only three.

Each had special circumstances – 1933 (Depression), 1998 (GOP overreach on the Lewinsky scandal), and 2002 (9/11 aftermath).

First midterms become de facto verdicts on an incumbent president’s initial two years, overlaid onto his party. Outcomes are even worse if a president’s job approval is low like Biden’s, now sunken into the 30s in some polls.

In 1946, Harry Truman, who inherited the presidency the previous year, had a job approval of 33 percent. Democrats lost 56 House seats. Even presidents with modest disapproval can lose House members badly, like Barack Obama, who had a 45 percent job approval in 2010 but still lost 64 seats.

Such damage this year would be important for two main reasons: First, Republican control of the House would paralyze Biden’s far left agenda for his last two years. GOP control of the Senate could make rough going for Biden’s liberal judicial nominees and stall his Supreme Court nominations, as happened to Merrick Garland in 2016.

Second, midterm results will be scrutinized for the influence of Trump, who is risking endorsements of dozens of House and Senate candidates. A long string of successes could bolster Trump’s party control and could give pause to GOP presidential challengers, some of whom are taking initial organizational steps.

An early Trump 2024 announcement would give him a head-start. But it would also hand Democrats an immense gift to spur midterm turnout among dedicated anti-Trumpers who formed a large chunk of Biden voters in 2020, and otherwise are discouraged by Biden’s ineffective leadership and the gloomy media drumbeat about this November.

Some Republican leaders have been openly concerned about Trump making himself such an early target, which seems unlikely to deter Trump’s pursuit of political redemption and the spotlight that he so relishes.

Puzzling aspects of Trump’s out-of-office activities are his prodigious and aggressive PAC fundraising by a handful of fundraising committees, contrasted with his persistently penurious PAC spending. He seems to be amassing a large fund, though none of it could legally be used for his own campaign.

Trump began this year with an immense war chest of $122 million acquired mostly in small donations from loyalists throughout 2021 — $62 million in the first six months, dropping to $51 million in the second half.

Sometimes, these Trump committee send out two dozen or more “Urgent” donation pleas in a single day, many with midnight deadlines. “We can’t save America from Joe Biden without You!”

For donations, they’re selling Trump rally shirts, MAGA caps, signed MAGA caps, Let’s Go Brandon caps, official Trump cards, Trump golf balls, books, signed photos, all-expense-paid trips to a Trump rally (“President Trump Wants to Meet You”), Ultra MAGA memberships, chances to dine with Trump, “Priority Access” to get a name engraved on the Official Trump Donor Wall. Elevation to Great MAGA King Status. Membership in a Trump MVP Club. and another exclusive club whose select members receive text messages from the 45th president.

In one alleged text exchange with his son Donald, who shared it in an email plea, the former president wrote:

“I have an EPIC idea for our SAVE AMERICA movement. I will need help from my Ultra MAGA Members. Have all my top supporters accepted their invitation yet?”

Don Jr. replied:

“I just looked at the roster and a few key players are missing.”

“Will you reach out? I need their help now more than ever. This is URGENT.”

Don Jr. replied with a thumbs up. Then he offered me the Exclusive chance to give a minimum $45 by 11:59pm that night, though larger sums were also acceptable.

A fundraising email message, allegedly including texts between Donald Trump and his son Trump Jr.

What’s unusual is that while Trump seeks to influence races across the country with publicized endorsements, his main PAC (Save America) has contributed under $1.5 million of that $122 million to various groups and causes.

This includes $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute and a total of $350,000 to 69 scattered state and federal candidates. Several hundred thousand went to Trump properties for rent and various services.

Should Trump announce his presidential candidacy, none of that war chest could be used on his own campaign under Federal Election Commission rules. And he would then come under a whole new array of federal campaign regulations.

Already facing a number of legal and congressional investigations, would Trump really want to incur all those legal obligations and strictures, and set himself up as the primary political target for Democrats and fellow Republicans 28 months before an election?

Or perhaps are these leaked murmurs about an imminent candidacy merely a trademark Trump feint to gin up donations and garner publicity as the leading Republican alternative to a feeble White House incumbent?

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