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Trump's choice: Build a 2024 campaign or become 2020 bore?

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 10/8/2021 Byron York
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie smiling and looking at the camera © Provided by Washington Examiner

Former President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold a rally Saturday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. As usual for those not physically present, it won't be easy to find a way to watch.

Much of social media has de-platformed Trump. The major news networks don't cover his rallies live. While Trump still dominates much discussion on cable news, especially on CNN and MSNBC, it is often in the context of the threat many on those networks believe he presents to the future of U.S. democracy.

What's missing from the conversation is a look at how Trump is performing as a one-time president obviously contemplating another run for the White House. What is his message?

Is he adapting to new political conditions? Is he getting into campaign shape? The answer to the last question appears to be yes, but only if — and it's a very big if — he can avoid becoming a 2020 bore.

Putting aside the question of whether Trump should or should not run again, the greatest threat to his chances is his own obsession with the processes of the 2020 election and his apparently irresistible urge to bombard audiences — anyone, actually — with long diatribes about the results. To be more than a grievance candidate, Trump needs to move beyond that.

But, of course, moving on is not in his nature. The campaign will tell whether he is able to make himself do it.

The Message: Biden Opens the Door

Trump is putting an early version of his 2024 message together. He could not do it without the assistance of the man who defeated him in 2020: President Joe Biden.

Biden is not just screwing up. He's screwing up dramatically on issues that were particularly associated with Trump.

Biden's handling of the U.S.-Mexico border, exemplified by the surge of 30,000 migrants across the border in Del Rio, Texas, has been a disaster and will likely continue to be, given the open-border pressures he faces from the Left wing of the Democratic base.

"Our country is being turned into a migrant camp," Trump said at his Sept. 25 rally in Perry, Georgia.

Biden's performance has led Trump to claim that he had made the border "perfect," which of course is not true. But he made it a lot better than Biden has.

And guess what the crowd was chanting at that Georgia rally? "Build the wall! Build the wall!"

It is Trump's fault that more wall hasn't been built — there was a deal to be had in 2017, but he passed on it — but the fact is, after Biden, "Build the wall!" could be a more potent campaign theme in 2024 than it was in 2016.

Biden's handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is another disaster tailor-made for the Trump campaign message. Of course, Trump negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. But Trump will argue, with some justification, that he never would have conducted the U.S. departure like Biden did, and he never would have left the public in the dark about who the United States left behind in Afghanistan.

And he certainly would not have brought thousands of Afghans to the U.S. without rigorous vetting. The political value of the Afghan withdrawal is that it allows Trump to argue, convincingly, that Biden is not just a hopeless screw-up, but a hopeless screw-up doing enormous damage to U.S. national security.

"In Afghanistan, he humiliated our nation with the most appalling display of incompetence by an American president in history," Trump said in Georgia.

Meanwhile, the Biden economy has growing concerns about inflation, employee shortages that persist despite more job seekers than openings, and the continuing weirdness of the supply chain crisis. This has led to declining public approval of the president's handling of the issue.

In the coming months, Trump will beat Biden mercilessly on it.

"Inflation is skyrocketing," Trump said at the Georgia rally. "When gas prices go up ... that's like a massive tax increase. That's bigger than a tax increase. Inflation is rampant and shortages are becoming widespread for all products."

In a new Quinnipiac poll, just 39% of those surveyed said they approve of Biden's handling of the economy, versus 55% who disapprove.

Even the issue that probably got Biden elected, the COVID-19 pandemic, looks much different today than during the 2020 campaign. During that campaign, Biden presented himself as the able, experienced leader who would listen to the experts, and the science, to bring the virus under control.

But once in office, even when bequeathed with the vaccines developed under Trump's Operation Warp Speed, Biden has proved unsure of himself. His handling of the delta variant and the question of booster shots have been particularly inept. When Trump left office, there had been about 395,000 deaths attributed to COVID in the U.S. Now, the figure is about 700,000.

Is that what electing the adult in the room and listening to the science has wrought? Biden's COVID advantage, whatever it once was, is declining.

Of course, there will be other issues. But those are four big ones Biden is doing a genuinely bad job — just as Trump, in 2020, said he would.

In 2024, Trump, if he runs, will never for one moment let any voter forget that.

The Jan. 6 argument

Trump left office amid an impeachment — his second. He was accused by House Democrats (and 10 Republicans) of inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Acquitted in the Senate, where all Democrats and seven GOP senators voted to convict him, Trump has spent this year downplaying the violence and ugliness of the riot and attempting to justify his attempts to undo election results in key states. It is an appalling post-election record, which could turn out to be Trump's main liability as he mounts a comeback.

But Trump, facing a House Jan. 6 investigation, is employing a counterargument that seems likely to satisfy his supporters. The argument goes beyond claiming the riot wasn't really that bad. Instead, Trump points out, correctly, that some of his most vocal accusers in the Jan. 6 investigation are the very same people who leveled false allegations against him in the Russia investigation and at other times throughout his presidency. Who's to say they're not doing it again?

Trump's case is this: Collusion was BS. The dossier was BS. Alfa Bank was BS. The pee tape was BS. The whole Russia contretemps was BS.

"They made up a hoax, and we had to live with it for three years," Trump said in Georgia. "Now they're doing it again with Jan. 6. They're doing it again."

And what about the cast of characters, then and now?

"You see this guy, shifty Schiff," Trump said, referring to Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, perhaps the leading proponent of the collusion theory. "Adam shifty Schiff. 'President Trump is a paid worker for Russia.' I said, 'What the hell do I have to do with Russia?' Adam shifty Schiff. And now he's doing it again. The same guy..."

The fact is, Democrats did highlight and pursue false allegations against Trump even before he took office. Now, they have no credibility with Trump supporters, and even with some Republicans who are cool toward Trump but nevertheless believe he received unfair treatment from the Washington scandal machine.

So now, even though the Capitol riot was a serious event that warrants investigation, Trump will be helped by the way some of his main investigators discredited themselves before it even happened.

A 2020 bore?

In the 2016 campaign, Trump time after time made clear that in his view, the greatest sin a politician could commit was boring the audience. How many times did he refer to a rival as "putting people to sleep"? Trump's own speeches wandered all over the place as he tried to keep the crowd entertained. His staff's efforts to get him to read a prepared text from a teleprompter almost always ended in failure.

Trump always said reading from a teleprompter was the kind of thing boring politicians do, in part because it is easier than the high-wire act that he puts on.

"That would be so much better," he said in a speech in Dallas in September 2015. "We read a speech for 45 minutes. Everybody falls asleep, listening to the same old stuff, the same old lies. So much easier."

At another point in the Dallas speech, Trump began to go into the details of the case against Hillary Clinton.

"There are many," he said, "I just don't want to bore you with too many of these things."

The worst thing a candidate could do is bore the audience.

But now Trump is in danger of doing just that, because of his obsession with the 2020 race. He can't stop talking about it. Yes, his supporters think the election was stolen from him. But it is clear that crowds react more enthusiastically to Trump's bashing of Biden, the new villain in the story, than to his 2020 stories.

An extraordinary moment happened during the Georgia speech. Trump was going on about the newly released results of the Arizona audit, and he ventured deep into the weeds of the report's footnotes. Soon, he was reciting figures and losing listeners left and right.

"There were 17,322 duplicate ballots ... 2,382 voters who voted in person even though they had moved out of the county ... 2,081 voters had moved out of the state ... 5,047 people voted in more than one county, resulting in up to 5,295 what they call overvotes ... At least 282 dead people who happened to vote ... 3,432 more ballots cast than people ... At least 1,551 excess votes, 9,041 mail-in votes and voters..."

And more.

"Biden supposedly won the state of Arizona by 10,457 votes," Trump continued. "Yet, the report shows 173,104 lost votes and 96,389 ghost votes. You know what a ghost vote is, right? Where is it? Where is it? [Arizona activist Liz] Harris stated that a conservative estimate of votes impacted was 299,493. It is estimated that 173,104 voters had their votes stolen — "

At just that instant, Trump stopped and looked out at the crowd.

"Look at those lights going out over there," he said. "Oh, my God. The lights, I'm telling you, the television lights are going out."

It was a compelling visual reminder that Trump had lost everyone's attention. He couldn't believe it.

"This is the most interesting part of the speech," he insisted. "The rest of my speech, you've sort of heard before, right?"

Now, it was not the most interesting part of his speech. Now imagine, if Trump's 2020 obsession lost an audience of his most ardent supporters, what would happen with an audience of independent voters whose support he will need to win again in 2024?

Trump knows he talks too much about his election loss. Or, at least, he has been told so by people whom he respects.

"Some people say, and I understand this, and I have great friends that really want what's best for us," he said in Georgia. "They say, 'Sir, you're leading in every poll by numbers like nobody's ever seen before. Think to the future, not to the past.' And I say, 'If we don't think about the past you'll never win again in the future because it's all rigged.' It's all rigged. I understand what they're saying, but it's all rigged."

So in the end, Trump can't help himself. Even as Joe Biden lays the groundwork for his own defeat, even as the conditions for a Trump comeback come into view, the 2020 defeat looms so large in Trump's vision that he can't stop talking about it, even if it distracts from the issues of 2024.

For Donald Trump, there's only one question: Can he move on?


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Tags: Byron York, Donald Trump, 2024 Elections

Original Author: Byron York

Original Location: Trump's choice: Build a 2024 campaign or become 2020 bore?


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