The first time around, it was all so new and exciting, so ripe with possibility. The second time, Trump campaign version 2.0, it was an ugly, grinding slog, with only the hope that a remarkable record of accomplishment could offset a devastating pandemic on top of a relentless four-year assault by his enemies, which continues unabated. So, what exactly can we expect this time around as Donald Trump version 3.0 begins to unfold – other than stepping back onto the exhausting carousel of high drama that has defined the Trump era?
There is an already familiar case to be made that Trump is either exactly the right guy for such a time as this, again – or that his was a one-act play which has worn out its welcome. Most conservatives agree that he has already changed politics to a degree no one thought possible. But it seems, particularly since the Republicans’ near-death experience known as the midterm elections, there are also many who believe the opposite. That latter school of thought says he should rest on the historic legacy of his presidency and let the many younger Trump apostles he has spawned – DeSantis et al., who can serve two terms in the White House while Trump can only serve one more – secure the future direction of the GOP.
Donald Trump 3.0
There was a common theme among conservatives as they reacted to the long-rumored announcement by Donald Trump that he will seek to regain his seat in the Oval Office. If he can stay as focused during his campaign as he was during his speech, the thinking goes, he might just reach the promised land one more time. Indeed, for all the productive bluster associated with his seven years on the political stage, the Donald presented as serious and sober this time around. This was not a repeat of that trip down the golden escalator. Gone, at least for the evening, was his trademark braggadocio, the insults, the nicknames – and the sense that he is brimming with overconfidence. Grim determination might best describe his mood.
But there is, of course, a case to be made that his time has passed, that he will only further damage his legacy with another run for the top job. To prevail, he needs to answer several questions: Can he stop himself from reverting to the temperament that fueled his rise to power, but then contributed mightily to his downfall? Can he stop punching down? Can he resist returning to an unplugged stream of consciousness on social media? Can he let a few controversy-stirring thoughts go unexpressed? Can he live with Ronald Reagan’s “11th commandment,” to not speak ill of fellow Republicans? That stuff won’t fly this time around, even with many folks who will always be grateful for the populist-nationalist uprising he stoked but have grown weary of the circus of non-stop drama that has always surrounded him.
The issue of whether Trump should run once more is not, and never has been, a matter of whether most on the right would like to see Donald Trump serve a full eight years in the White House. They certainly would. It is simply a matter of whether he remains electable at a time which should be ripe for a Republican to win the presidency.
Joe Biden and his fellow leftists are on their high horse after a dismal performance by the GOP in the midterms, certain the Trump brand is irretrievably poisoned. But what if they are making the same mistake they made six long years ago by underestimating the power and force of Trump’s anti-establishment message? What if even voters wary of Trump’s persona nevertheless conclude that he has proven uniquely capable of effectively tackling the economy, crime, and other issues that Democrats have been unable or unwilling to fix? What if the forces Trump has unleashed can no longer be silenced as they were before he entered the political arena?
Sure, just like when Trump shocked the world with his ascension to the highest office in the land and marched into Washington intent on shaking the existing order to its core, the uni-party establishment will do all in its power to take him down – again. Heck, they even admitted to a broad anti-Trump conspiracy during the 2020 election campaign. But no matter. Trump is again putting himself – and his winning brand – out there at the risk of being labeled a two-time loser. We should consequently be asking the same question we did in 2016 when he put his already secure fame, fortune, and family on the line for what? Whatever motive one cares to attribute to him, the former president has put at great risk a life that anyone could envy in service to his country. Perhaps his many bitter enemies realize that – and hate him for it, knowing they would never do the same.
There are so many “if-only” laments about Donald Trump. A common refrain among conservatives is that he would go down as one of the great presidents if only he could temper the personality. But we should have learned by now that you can’t have one without the other. His persona ironically both empowers and threatens his ambitious agenda. The skeptics say he should rest on his many ground-breaking accomplishments and his claims of a stolen election in 2020 and settle for the role of Republican kingmaker for which he is well suited. But that just wasn’t enough for a man who believes his work is but half-done and that only he can finish it.
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