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Trump 2024 demands the GOP's submission
The political right decided they hated Democrats more than they disliked Trump twice before. There's no reason to believe, if he wins the GOP primary, they won’t submit to his will once again.
Donald Trump announced his third campaign for president on Tuesday, and almost no one is excited about the way he did it. The speech was dull. The energy was low. The promises have been made before, and for all of Trump’s talk over the years, he’s followed through with only a scant few of them. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, this announcement coming as it did only days after midterm elections which saw Trump’s handpicked candidates do quite poorly in toss-up races around the country. Kari Lake’s loss and Arizona’s GOP results in general were a sign that where election denial was on the ballot, it was a loser. That’s probably why, for once, Trump chose not to relitigate the 2020 election—much to the chagrin of the QAnon followers who remain loyal to him—in his announcement speech. We know losing to, as Trump put it, “that f**king corpse” Joe Biden will personally eat at him as long as he walks this earth, but Don is a survivor. Perhaps the message to let 2020 go finally got through to him because his freedom may depend on his winning in 2024.
There have been a lot of well written pieces about Trump’s speech and the reaction of MAGA influencers, white nationalists, the GOP establishment and the donor class to Trump’s upcoming presidential run. The responses to Trump’s announcement from the political right can be broken down into three broad groups—diehard support, tepid not-not-support and those who say they refuse to back Don this time around.
Where are the battle lines drawn? Should we believe those denouncing him today will stand firm in their positions? Let’s make as much sense of the state of play as we can today.
We’re off the Trump train for good
We’ve heard this all before, haven’t we? Trump’s donors were hesitant to spend large amounts of money on him in 2016. First, they liked Jeb! After he tanked, they settled on Ted Cruz. Then came the silence. Then they helped Trump. After he won in 2016, Trump’s most loyal backers got cushy jobs in the administration. The hesitators, if their groveling was sufficient, were allowed to come into the fold eventually, usually after Trump had dismissed another round of loyalists in favor of something different. That’s how his administration ended up with guys like who didn’t really fit his supposed agenda all that well. Trump started with a loyalist like Mike Flynn. Once he got fired, he found a compromise candidate in H.R. McMaster. After he quit, Trump chose the same National Security Adviser president Ted Cruz would’ve picked, John Bolton. Eventually you run out of alternatives.
Such may be the case once again. Take the negative coverage we’ve seen in the New York Post, Wall Street Journal or on Fox News. Rupert Murdoch has stated his intentions quite clearly—no more Trump. I have no problem believing Murdoch doesn’t like Donald. I believe he would prefer Ron DeSantis or most anyone else in the Republican Party, but do we really think he won’t come back around in Trump wins the nomination? After all, Fox did broadcast Trump’s announcement speech on Tuesday, and when they finally shut off the broadcast as Trump dragged on and on, the network cut away to a panel praising Trump.
Look, I get it. Everyone is sick of Trump. Remember when Alex Jones, of all people, was caught on a hot mic in 2019 saying so himself? Nevertheless, the pro-Trump coverage on Infowars didn’t stop. In fact, Jones was a big pusher of the “Stop the Steal” election denial movement prior to the January 6 insurrection. His audience wanted what they wanted, and even if Jones was personally sick of his own pro-Trump coverage, continuing to air that coverage made him a lot of money. Most everyone on the political right decided they hated Democrats more than they disliked Trump in 2016 and 2020. I see no reason to believe, if he wins the GOP primary, they won’t make the same decision one last time. While I would love to believe the support is really gone, we’ve heard this one before.
Keep this in mind: there will be ways around directly supporting Trump’s 2024 run. Lots of donors who didn’t support Trump in 2016 gave more substantially to PACs the Senate and House leadership funds. Trump’s longtime friend and a billionaire GOP donor Ron Lauder—who this week said he won’t support Trump in 2024—hid his support for Trump in 2016 too. Lauder gave $1.1 million to Secure America Now, a non-profit which was not required to disclose its donors but nevertheless aired anti-immigration ads in battleground states in the weeks prior to the 2016 election. This obviously helped Trump, but it stayed under the radar until it was reported on in 2018. If you’re a member of the billionaire class who doesn’t want the Alan Dershowitz treatment, you’re smart enough to know that publicly supporting #MAGAGA will get you disinvited from the fancy dinner parties. To Ron Lauder, Stephen Schwarzman, Rupert Murdoch, Mike Pompeo, the National Review and even the right-wing trolls claiming they’re a no this time, I say, “we’ll see.”
The bet-hedging fence sitters
A large swath of right-wing influencers, media personalities and politicians aren’t exactly endorsing another Trump run, but they’re not really ruling it out either. Remember, Don Jr, Ivanka and even Matt Gaetz were among a long list of no-shows to the announcement speech at Mar-a-Lago. Instead we got “headliners” like Mike Lindell, Roger Stone, Ali Alexander and even more fringe figures you’ve probably never heard of. Speaking of extremists, the real hard-right types (as in the actual white nationalists and neo-Nazis), like Nick Fuentes, or the fascist “National Justice Party” leaders thought Trump’s speech was boring, pathetic and uninspiring. Most of these guys were hardcore pro-Trump MAGA meme warriors in 2016. They feel like Trump betrayed them, and really, he did. He promised them a wall and strict anti-immigration policies, and he didn’t even come close to delivering. Was Trump 2020 any different? Not really. It leaned more heavily on the QAnon cult than it did the white nationalist crowd, but the far-right folks who didn’t sit out the 2020 election sometimes grudgingly ended up supporting Trump anyway. Where else were they going to go? Some of them even stormed the Capitol Building on January 6. I suspect the same will happen in 2024. As much as these guys don’t like Trump, they like DeSantis even less and the alternatives to DeSantis even less than him.
Besides the white nationalists, there are a significant number of previously MAGA folks who aren’t willing to pick a side in the potential Trump vs. DeSantis primary fight. I suspect each of these groups have their own personal feelings, but they know they’ll end up supporting whomever the nominee is. Part of this goes back to why right-wing media shifted so hard to Trump after 2016. Once he was president, the article clicks and therefore ad revenue all split very heavily in favor of pro-Trump coverage. The Never Trump groups who genuinely tried to go on being Republicans who didn’t support Trump realized their audience for that principled stance shrank month by month. All the energy was moving in Trump’s direction. They all either gave up and went in for MAGA (looking at you once again, Erick Erickson), or they became vocal anti-Trump Republicans or independents (Joe Walsh and George Conway, for instance). Whomever the current fence sitters personally prefer in the GOP’s 2024 candidate, their careers depend on them continuing to support the GOP nominee to be named later. So, they’re going to play the wait and see game for now and avoid making too many enemies. This list includes Charlie Kirk, Kevin McCarthy, Ben Shapiro, Dinesh D’Souza, Dan Bongino and Cassandra Fairbanks. It’s the most common position I’ve observed since Trump’s announcement.
Riding the rocket
There remain those who—while they’ll probably support DeSantis if Trump somehow, some way exits the race entirely—have made it clear they’re prepared to ride the proverbial MAGA rocket as it crashes down to earth. Who’s taking the ride? Matt Gaetz, Nick Adams, Roger Stone, Mike Lindell, MTG, Elise Stefanik, Tommy Tuberville and many more. Their relative influence over voters is debatable (is Nick Adams a real person? No one knows), but Roger Stone probably summed up this group best when he said, on Telegram, “I am for DeSantis for Governor and Trump for President !” Roger is forever tied to Donald Trump (presidential pardons for seven felonies have a way of keeping you close). He’s never been a fan of DeSantis either. Stone even supported his opponent, Adam Putnam, in the 2018 primary for the Florida governor’s race. Nevertheless, the message to DeSantis from this crowd seems to be, “great job in Florida. Stay there until 2028. Or else.”
There are a not insignificant number of people who have careers in MAGA media circles because their loyalty to Trump was paid off with a visit to the White House or jobs at partisan shops like TPUSA. If Trump magically goes away as a candidate, they’ll support DeSantis or anyone else who gets the nomination, but they remain MAGA at heart. Nobody owns the libs like him. Nobody excites the base like he does. Nobody is hated the way Donald Trump is, and they feed off that resentment.
What the future holds
Let’s not forget, Trump has roughly $93 million saved up for his upcoming presidential run. He’s been on tour and campaigning since he left office. Legal experts have pointed out that Trump can’t legally use that money on his campaign, but he’s already searching for loopholes that allow him to access it anyway. Is anyone surprised? After all, when have silly little things like laws stopped Trump before?
We’re in the very early days right now. It’s over a year until the first 2024 primary. A lot can change, and it will. For now, Donald Trump is the favorite to win the GOP nomination but anything can happen. He knows he's got a fight on his hands no matter what, and there will be plenty of big money poured into DeSantis if he chooses to run. Still, money can’t buy votes, and Trump has beaten the odds many times before.