On Monday, the Washington Post’s Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey reported that Donald Trump has been so itching to become a candidate for president in 2024 that he almost announced in August, two and a half years before the start of the Republican primaries. What stopped him?
According to the Post, he was told that his unpopularity might help Democrats and cost Republicans in the 2022 midterms, thus harming his candidacy down the line:
Some of his advisers were concerned that Democrats might use his announcement in their effort to frame the midterm elections around his candidacy, potentially boosting their own turnout and hampering his plans if Republicans fall short next year. Advisers also argued that he could be more effective electing like-minded Republicans next year if he was not an official candidate himself.
“The biggest point we drove home was that he doesn’t want to own the midterms if we don’t win back the House or Senate,” said one person familiar with the conversations.
Or, to put it another way, the 2020 loser was told that he could cause his party to lose in 2022, thus potentially setting him up to be a big sad loser again in 2024. Apparently, that case worked on Trump. From the Post:
The arguments won Trump over, for the time being at least. Instead of a presidential campaign announcement, Trump, 75, has settled on a strategy of winks and nods.
Trump seeming to understand and accept that he could do more harm than good to his party’s chances in 2022 if he makes the midterms about himself might seem like a shocking level of self-awareness from a man who has spent the past 11 months spreading the lie that he won the last election and demanding that all Republican candidates for future elected office vindicate that claim or be purged from the GOP. However, according to the Post’s reporting, it seems that deep down Trump may know how deeply unpopular he is:
Trump is aware of his challenges, advisers say. In a meeting just before the November election, he was shown polling that suggested his policies were popular—even as he was trailing. Trump, in a surprisingly self-deprecating move, people familiar with the meeting said, jokingly conceded the problem was him.
Indeed, part of Trump must surely know that he wouldn’t have had to go to such great lengths to try to nullify and overturn the 2020 election—and continue to this day to try to convince his followers that the election was stolen from him—if he wasn’t so loathed by such a large plurality of the American people.
While the Post reports that Trump has used his 2024 shadow campaign to bolster fundraising from small donors and large donors alike in recent months and to intimidate potential rivals from moving forward with their own potential campaign plans, it also reports that the Republican donor class would prefer the insurrectionist in chief not make a third run because of how big of a loser he has been:
Many of the party’s top donors have privately told strategists and party leaders they want a nominee other than Trump, according to four strategists and officials. Part of the discussion inside the party has focused not on Trump’s overall popularity, but on whether he might have trouble convincing Republicans in 2024 that he is best suited to be the party’s nominee for the third time. Joe Biden received 7 million more votes in the last election than Trump, who also earned 2.9 million votes less than Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Still, Trump’s apparent acknowledgment for the moment that making the 2022 elections a referendum on a potential 2024 Trump candidacy can only hurt the Republican Party and his odds of returning to power is not stopping him from taking every practical step to keep a lock on the GOP nomination the next time around. Indeed, the Post reports that Trump has hired a pair of Republican strategists who have deep ties to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus. Trump has also reportedly been pushing behind the scenes for “no changes to the nomination calendar in 2024, leaving Iowa, where he came in second in 2016, as the first-in-the-nation caucus for Republicans even if Democrats decide to go a different route.”
Trump apparently sees Iowa as the likely site of his political comeback: He is actually planning a rally there this Saturday in the wake of a new poll showing that 53 percent of Iowans now have a favorable opinion of the former president, his strongest showing in the state ever.
Indeed, just because Trump can, for the moment and in his own self-interest, restrain himself from announcing a candidacy that will inevitably backfire if it comes too early, doesn’t mean he’s not planning on subjecting the country to another round of Trump campaign psychodrama—and another outright attack on democracy—in 2024.
As the Post notes, he is “constantly” telling people, “I’m running.”