TRUMP PROMISES RESTORATION — AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM. Former President Donald Trump wanted to announce his 2024 candidacy at a rally in Ohio on the evening of Nov. 7, the night before millions of people voted in the midterm elections. A lot of advisers in Trump’s large, informal circle strongly opposed the idea. It was too early, they said, and nobody knows how the elections will turn out. Better to wait. But a few in Trump’s orbit argued a glorious red wave was on the way and that Trump should be out in front, taking credit for it.
There was a spirited argument going on throughout the day of Nov. 7, with the cautious voices finally prevailing. Trump did not announce. And then, the next day, several Trump-endorsed candidates, some of them candidates for whom he traveled and campaigned, lost. There were Dr. Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania; Blake Masters, Kari Lake, and Mark Finchem in Arizona; Adam Laxalt in Nevada; Tudor Dixon in Michigan; Don Bolduc in New Hampshire; and more. Yes, there were victories by J.D. Vance in Ohio, Joe Lombardo in Nevada, and some others, with Herschel Walker facing a runoff in Georgia. But no one other than Trump and his team members would call it a winning record. It was a good thing for Trump that he did not try to get in front of the glorious red wave that wasn’t.
But on that night in Ohio, Trump did promise he would make a “big announcement” on Nov. 15 at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. This time, he would not be talked out of declaring his candidacy. And so last night he did, in a speech that ran to more than an hour before a ballroom of supporters. And it turned out that Trump’s timing was still bad.
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The speech came at the precise moment many Republicans, some longtime supporters, are distancing themselves from him after the midterm losses. Politicians who in the past might have endorsed Trump are now staying quiet, saying it’s too early to decide, noting the impressive reelection victory of Trump’s rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and in general staying way off the Trump Train. Did you notice any big Republicans in the audience at the Mar-a-Lago event? Did you notice any rushing to Trump’s support afterward? It didn’t happen.
Trump has a history of course corrections that don’t turn out to be course corrections, and the announcement speech amounted to one large course correction. For one thing, Trump did not mention the 2020 presidential election. Just didn’t talk about it. In the recently concluded campaign, he pressured many Republican candidates to say the 2020 election was rigged and stolen — and then he didn’t even mention it in his own announcement. Now, Trump appearing to move on certainly makes sense for him — there is no doubt that Republican voters and officials had become bored by his obsession with 2020. On the other hand, we’ll see how long Trump refrains from dwelling on 2020. It would be surprising if he did not return to it in the future.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has taken varying stances toward Trump over the years, tweeted of the Mar-a-Lago speech, “If President Trump continues this tone and delivers this message on a consistent basis, he will be hard to beat.” You don’t have to be a Graham mind reader to see that as a way of pleading with the former president to continue to stay away from 2020 talk.
Another course correction: Trump did not attack DeSantis. Trump’s swipes at DeSantis, especially when DeSantis was winning big and many of Trump’s candidates were losing, did not sit well with many, many Republicans. Trump at first tried calling DeSantis “Ron DeSanctimonious” and then pulled back. Then he did it again. Several days after the election, DeSantis swatted away Trump’s attacks, saying, “When you’re leading, when you’re getting things done, you take incoming fire. … All that’s just noise. … At the end of the day, I would just tell people to go check out the scoreboard from last Tuesday night.” The whole brouhaha made DeSantis look big and Trump look small. So Trump stayed away from it Tuesday night.
Instead, Trump focused on his accomplishments as president — on the economy, national security, immigration, and more — while slamming the record of President Joe Biden. If elected once again, Trump promised, he would restore his style of leadership to the White House. The problem with that, of course, is that it is a double-edged sword. Yes, Trump unquestionably accomplished a lot as president. But it is also true that everything he did after Nov. 3, 2020, Election Day, was a disaster, both for himself and for the country. Trump’s core supporters, of course, do not view his efforts to remain in office, after Biden’s election was fully decided and certified, as disqualifying. They do not view his efforts to whip up supporters to believe the election was stolen, and to come to Washington to protest on Jan. 6, as disqualifying. They do not view his efforts to impede the certification of electoral votes as disqualifying. But millions of Democrats, independents, and some Republicans do. And even some of those who don’t view Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election, his accusations that it was stolen, as a backward-looking bore. They want to move forward.
There were all sorts of tensions in reporting and commentary on Trump’s announcement. National Review, which opposed Trump’s first run for president, answered with a one-word headline: “No.” The publication’s editors wrote: “To his credit, Trump killed off the Clinton dynasty in 2016, nominated and got confirmed three constitutionalist justices, reformed taxes, pushed deregulation, got control of the border, significantly degraded ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and cinched normalization deals between Israel and the Gulf states, among other things. These are achievements that even his conservative doubters and critics — including NR — can acknowledge and applaud.”
Nevertheless, and despite a Biden record many conservatives view as appalling, National Review strongly opposes another Trump run. The same for Marc Thiessen, the former George W. Bush administration aide who now writes a column for the Washington Post. But Thiessen also wrote, “Based on his record in office, Trump should be considered one of the greatest conservative presidents in modern times. The Abraham Accords are worthy of a Nobel Prize. Operation Warp Speed is the greatest public health achievement in human history. Trump made the United States an energy superpower and drove the Islamic State from its caliphate. He has a perfect record in appointing judicial conservatives to the Supreme Court.”
The problem, of course, is that Trump did more than that. National Review noted his “erratic nature and lack of seriousness,” his “disastrous ideas,” his “limited understanding of our constitutional system,” his “shameful attempt to overturn the results of the  election,” his “grotesque abuse of his powers, trying to bully Vice President Pence into unilaterally delaying or changing the count of electoral votes on January 6,” and his indifference to the Capitol riot. And then, Trump helped lose two Republican Senate seats in Georgia. Thiessen focused on some of the same things but also noted Trump’s failure to increase his support during four years in the White House. “Instead of expanding his coalition by winning over Americans who had not voted for him the first time, he alienated millions who approved of his policies but not of him,” Thiessen wrote.
Put it all together, and there is a fundamental problem with Trump’s campaign theme of restoration. Trump can tout his accomplishments, but millions of voters remember the bad parts, too. And perhaps most importantly, the experience of four years of Trump left many tired and ready to move on. They appreciate the good things Trump did but just don’t want to return to the daily experience of a Trump presidency. Trump says: Elect me and we’ll go back. Many voters say: Thanks, but no thanks.
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