The most popular parlor game in Washington, D.C., today — aside from trying to determine if the Secret Service sought to abduct then Vice President Mike Pence on January 6 to seal the attempted coup, and then destroyed text messages to cover up those intentions — is trying to guess what former President Donald Trump is going to do with his ceaseless presidential ambitions, and when he is going to do it. A great deal hangs on the answers to those questions.
The world knows Trump wants to run again; the man has made no bones about it, to be sure. Lately, however, the idea of running has been swelling like a blister in his mind, and may burst sooner than even his most devoted advocates expect. “The former president is now eyeing a September announcement, according to two Trump advisers, who like some others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations,” reports The Washington Post. “One confidant put the odds at ‘70-30 he announces before the midterms.’ And others said he may still decide to announce sooner than September.”
At present, virtually all the political winds are blowing favorably for the Republicans. A country battered by COVID-19 and price-shocked by inflation appears poised to hand power to a party represented by officials who think Jesus wants 10-year-old rape victims to be forced to remain pregnant. I’m not here to peer through the murky veil of that psychology, other than to note that here is what happens when settled law and established rights are blown up by an extremist, activist Supreme Court majority. The fall of Roe v. Wade has Democratic voters in an uproar which may even the contest in November… but the United States is still the United States, and similar predictions have erred before.
A pre-midterms entry by Trump into the presidential fray will, simply put, blow all that political calculus straight to hell. Politico reports:
Democrats aren’t just eager for Donald Trump to cannonball into the 2024 presidential race before the fall midterms. Across the country, they are actively plotting ways to immediately capitalize on a pre-November announcement. Campaigns and officials at major Democratic outfits are planning to capture the anticipated cash windfall that would come their way should Trump announce he’s making another run at the White House. Candidates also are exploring ways to exploit Trump’s premature entry to energize despondent base voters and coalesce independents and suburb-dwellers who have soured on the party over stubbornly high inflation.
Since leaving office, Trump’s lies about a stolen election and grievance-filled tirades against disloyal “RINOS” have continued unabated. While he’s never fully receded from the national stage, a formal declaration that he’s running would dominate the media landscape and — many Democrats expect — serve as a major distraction for down-ballot Republicans.
A man of sense might see his opponents waiting in a gleeful crouch for his next move, and reconsider that move. No one has ever referred to Trump as a “man of sense,” and in any event, he has some singular pressures upon him to move sooner rather than later. First of all, and despite all protests to the contrary, the man’s finances are drowning in red ink.
“Trump is $100 million in debt for Trump Tower,” I wrote in September of 2020, “with the loan coming due in less than two years. He owes $139 million for his 40 Wall Street property, debt coming due in 2025. His stake in the 1290 Avenue of the Americas property has him $285 million in the hole, and comes due in 2022. His stake in the 555 California Street property is $163 million, and comes due this time next year. This list goes on and on, ultimately coming out to approximately $1.1 billion in debt.”
That hasn’t changed, but the absence of an active campaign money spigot has put a crimp in the eternal grifting he requires to keep the financial wolf at bay. Running for president will light that machine back up again, allowing him quite possibly to continue his lifelong practice of always failing upward.
Beyond the financial pressures are the rivals who, by the day, appear to be shedding their fear of Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis polls well against him, and perhaps more importantly, is a fan favorite on Fox News. Pence and Nikki Haley are lurking. Trump apparently believes an early announcement will clear the field. That may have been true a year ago, but the numbers have changed, and not in an encouraging way.
“By focusing on political payback inside his party instead of tending to wounds opened by his alarming attempts to cling to power after his 2020 defeat, Mr. Trump appears to have only deepened fault lines among Republicans during his yearlong revenge tour,” reports The New York Times. “A clear majority of primary voters under 35 years old, 64 percent, as well as 65 percent of those with at least a college degree — a leading indicator of political preferences inside the donor class — told pollsters they would vote against Mr. Trump in a presidential primary.”
Finally, there is the notion that a run for president will derange, and ultimately undo, all the legal challenges Trump currently faces. Such a development would be a complicating factor, to be sure, but not everyone agrees it would spare Trump the legal consequences he is facing.
“One thing the Democrats know for certain is that Trump’s uncontrolled ego is his own worst enemy,” notes former Trump White House attorney Ty Cobb. “They are praying they are able to goad him into an announcement for a 2024 presidential run. A 2024 declaration of his candidacy serves no interest but his self-defeating and overwhelming need for relevance, attention and money. Such an announcement also does not inoculate him from criminal investigation.”
The preponderance of evidence arrayed against Trump — from the January 6 committee, from Georgia, and ever so lugubriously from the Department of Justice — is overwhelming, and demands action. “But I’m running for president!” doesn’t seem like a big enough stick to beat back the onslaught, no matter when he chooses to announce.
But who knows? Former FBI Director James Comey helped Trump in 2016 with his preposterous wingding over Hillary Clinton’s emails 10 days before the election. It would be just about right for this timeline if Attorney General Merrick Garland chooses to help Trump by doing nothing because, well, he’s a candidate for president you guys. Failing upward indeed.
One thing seems clear: If Trump jumps into the 2024 presidential race before the 2022 midterms, all the pundits can take their carefully crafted predictions and set them on fire.