The United States Senate, in its infinite wisdom, says Donald Trump is not guilty of inciting a riot in January on the grounds that although he absolutely did do that and should be convicted he is no longer in office and therefore, apparently, cannot be. This result, though not unexpected, is going down poorly, in part because the legal consensus is that Trump absolutely could have been convicted. But perhaps sitting politicians are loathe to set the precedent that they could face consequences for their actions when they’re out of office.
No matter. Trump is acquitted and therefore free to run again in 2024. He is currently the frontrunner for the nomination, as this publication has acknowledged before, and continues to be popular with likely Republican voters. But the question remains: will he run again?
Politico recently ran an extensive piece on Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Trump critic who joined his cabinet as the U.N. Ambassador only to bail after two years and return to the role of critic. Haley has been very clear that she’s not a fan of Trump, and she likely represents the party’s best chance of a post-Trump future. Haley is the daughter of immigrants, a woman of color, and has experience both in governing and foreign policy. She, essentially, crafted the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
But while it’s clear that Haley is running in 2024, she and other hopefuls – like Marco Rubio (who Haley endorsed in 2016), Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley (who says he isn’t running but it sure seems like he is), and former vice president Mike Pence – remain on the benches, raising money and tying down campaign staff but unable to move too close to the spotlight. There’s a fear that Trump is going to run again and he’s going to take them all down in his bid for a second term.
Back in December, Politico reported that Trump might tease a 2024 bid to garner attention but that he seems uninterested in actually mounting a campaign. “Formally running for president would mean a lot of things aides say Trump doesn’t want to deal with: financial disclosure forms, building campaign infrastructure, the possibility of losing again. But simply teasing a presidential run — without actually filing the paperwork or erecting a campaign — gets Trump the attention he needs for the next two years. Attention will help sustain his business, parts of which lost millions of dollars while he was in office. Attention will help pay off his debts, which will need to be paid off in the coming years. Attention will help discredit his investigators, who are examining whether Trump illegally inflated his assets.” In other words, Trump might genuinely not want to be president again, but he knows that if the public thinks he’s going to run it makes any effort to investigate him seem politically-motivated and it maintains the need for foreign dignitaries and wealthy benefactors to remain connected to Trump’s businesses in some way.
His niece, Mary Trump, seems to agree. “There are several reasons Donald won’t run,” she told The View in December. “… I don’t see that happening.”
Perhaps the biggest reason why Trump might not run is his age. The former president is 74 and will be 78 in 2021. President Biden, who is currently 78, is rumored to be considering just a single term as president (although maybe not) due to his age. Trump will spend the next four years in Florida, a state that became his home away from home during his presidency, and there’s something to be said for the allure of staying in the sunshine state rather than being confined to D.C. for another four years.
If he won. Whether Trump truly believes he won the 2020 election or not, the fact remains that Trump is 0-2 on the popular vote. He knows that winning in 2024 would be a longshot (whether he knows that because it’s true or because he’d have to overcome his imagined election fraud is irrelevant). Gazing down 2024, he knows that he is unlikely to secure a second term, and that the effort of doing so could be painful while the result of losing again would be permanently damaging to his brand and image.
It’s better for him to feign interest in a bid and hold sway over the party while he does so. Eventually, he will likely anoint a successor – maybe his own son, though it isn’t clear Don Jr. has the necessary appeal without his father in the picture – and try to position himself as the kingmaker of the Republican Party.
What the Senate Republicans failed to do Saturday was break from Donald Trump’s grasp. Conviction could have disqualified him from 2024 and opened the field. Instead, they remain at his beck and call. Fools all.