DAmerican democracy could have been spared the big Trump show. A Republican may have recalled the dark days of January 2021 on Tuesday night when the former president announced his 2024 candidacy in Florida. At that time Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, had it in his hands to end Donald Trump’s political career once and for all. Had he had the courage to impeach Trump, whom he blamed for the storming of the Capitol, the Senate would have disqualified him from public office.
McConnell decided against it – out of concern for the “Grand Old Party”. He trusted Trump to found his own party and split the conservative camp. Trump did the same: he founded a cult within the GOP. Although it is currently unable to win a majority, 30 percent of Republican voters state that they primarily support Trump – a factor that the party cannot ignore. The democratic institutions have withstood the four years of his presidency. But he razed one institution: the GOP. Opposing candidates in the 2024 primaries may get past Trump, but not Trumpism.
The base loves the original
Will Trump crush every rival like he did in 2016? The majority of the Trump base loves the original. Some, however, can certainly gain something from the idea of Trumpism without Trump. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, would have the best chance of hijacking the movement: he is just as populist as Trump, but not as erratic. This makes him attractive to ideologues within the movement, who have despaired of Trump’s lack of coherence.
The former president feels that he is in danger of losing control of his movement. He spoiled the election victory that the Republicans believed to be certain. Its extremist candidates, who had to rally behind the denial of the election results as a declaration of loyalty to their leader, were not eligible for independent swing voters. With his triumphant success, DeSantis has shown what potential right-wing populism still has if it gets by without conspiracy theories. Things are slipping for Trump: MPs and Senators are turning their backs. Daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner have let him know they don’t want to be part of his campaign again. And the media of the Murdoch group, long an important pillar of Trump, are dropping him. His appearance in Mar-a-Lago lacked any momentum. However, it cannot be ruled out that Trump will once again succeed in developing momentum.
The decisive battle is now under way, in which not only the future of the GOP is at stake. A second term for Trump would present a very different challenge to the constitutional order: a man who has shown his willingness to disregard democratic rules would be elected. And who openly says that he would do it again.