Since announcing his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has been blamed for his party’s poor midterm performance, faced tidal waves of backlash for dining with antisemites and calling for the Constitution to be terminated, and endured a number of legal setbacks, including the criminal conviction of his family business on fraud and conspiracy charges. For anyone else, that would all make for an all-time bad year. But for Trump, this has all gone down in a single month, which he capped off Thursday with the painfully embarrassing roll-out of a line of NFTs, months after the bubble on that scam burst. Perhaps more than at any point of his political career — even more than after the time he actually lost election — the guy just looks like a loser.
Fortunately for him, the brains at Trump campaign headquarters have a plan to reverse his fortunes: According to the Wall Street Journal, advisers to the former president are preparing to send him out early next year on a tour of “policy events” across the country in order to “remind voters of the ideas Mr. Trump advanced during his time in office.”
“If he runs on his record,” Republican Representative Randy Weber told the paper, “he’s got a lot to run on.”
Included in this tour: more media appearances, self-released videos discussing what he would do with a second term as president, and speaking engagements before the Log Cabin Republicans, the conservative LGBTQ organization, and a group of Jewish leaders, where he’ll presumably try to explain away his dinner date last month with antisemite rapper Ye and white nationalist Nick Fuentes. By this time next year, advisers suggested to the Journal, he’ll be back on the rally stage. But to start, they said, he’ll hit the campaign trail for events focused on “crime, border security, foreign policy, big tech, and the economy.” Trump should “engage with urgency now on the massive policy fights on Capitol Hill,” former adviser Steve Bannon, who was convicted of criminal contempt of Congress and sentenced in October to four months in prison, which he’s appealing, told the paper. “These are central to Trumpism and must be fought for — now.”
There are, of course, a couple big problems with this policy-centric campaign strategy.
The most obvious is he doesn’t have any real policy ideas. Oh, sure, he has opinions — let’s buy Greenland, let’s build a big beautiful wall, let’s re-run the election from two years ago, and so on. But none of that is really policy, and unless he’s spent his month in Mar-a-Lago exile doing a hell of a lot of cramming, it’s hard to imagine him suddenly changing. Susie Wiles, his incoming campaign manager, is just the latest to indulge in the delusion of a more disciplined Trump — and, like the others who have sought to keep him focused, it’s only a matter of time before she collides head-first with the reality of who he is.
That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, politically. While he proved a useful means to an end for other Republicans’ agendas — mostly related to tax cuts, the judiciary, and the border — Trump’s appeal on the right has never actually been about policy, but about his unique ability to inflict pain on the people they don’t like. The trouble is, he even seems to be losing his knack for that. Yes, the demagoguery is still there. But none of it, in the early-going here, has seemed to burn with the same intensity it once did. His act has gotten old, the far-right has found new vessels for its cruelty, and the reek of his desperation is becoming intolerable — even, it seems, to some in his base. “i can’t believe i’m going to jail for an nft salesman,” white nationalist internet personality Baked Alaska, who is facing six months of prison time for his role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, tweeted after Trump’s pathetic “major announcement” Thursday.
This isn’t to say Trump can’t once again capture the Republican nomination — or, for that matter, the White House; he is still likely the Republican front-runner right now, and he still commands too big a base in this deeply-polarized country to be shrugged off. (Hell, enough chumps were willing to pay 99 bucks for his idiotic NFTs that his collection sold out in 12 hours.) But if he did manage to pull off some kind of comeback, it would be because of the sorry state of the GOP, whose next best option so far appears to be a cardboard cutout of Ron DeSantis, and of our broader culture, which has yet to fully cast off Trumpism — not him or some political magic he wields, and certainly not about “policy.”