Donald Trump is running for president … again. The announcement landed with a thud.
He is losing the moment. His sizzle is dying. Presidential politics is a business of alignment — a person meets a moment for which they are singularly suited and positioned. Trump had such a moment in 2016 — with outside assistance, of course — but six years on, the country has changed. And so has he.
He is no longer new to the political space. He is no longer the underdog and outsider. The narrative is stale. He is a twice-impeached president who lost re-election, cost his party in the last three elections and is wading through an ocean of legal troubles. The arc of the story is one of descent and desperation, fading light and dimming prospects.
The scent of loss lingers on a candidate. That’s why Trump has tried so hard to convince the world he didn’t lose. But he did. And now, Trumpism is losing.
Then there is the fickle nature or Republican fanaticism. Conservatives, broadly speaking, are addicted to the political equivalent of the tent revival: wanting to believe, wanting affirmation, exalting the traveling preacher until that person moves on and the next one arrives.
They are adrenaline junkies forming serial attachments to the evangelists of their anger. Their devotion to one appears complete until it collapses or is supplanted by another. They are addicted to the feeling of falling in love.
Trump is just the latest love affair, but it will inevitably end. The seasons always change, the bloom on the rose always fades.
In 1994, Newt Gingrich rolled out his Contract with America, a slate of conservative principles and policies. Republicans were able to push many of them through the legislative process, but their undoing came when they focused on personally attacking Bill Clinton rather than running on their successes. The 1998 midterms delivered stinging losses for the party.
The year before, Gingrich had been reprimanded for ethics violations. After the disappointing 1998 results, he resigned from the House speakership, and a few months later he would resign from the House altogether.
In November 1994, according to Gallup, slightly more Americans had a favorable view of Gingrich than had a negative one. By the time he resigned, his approval rating was under water, and more than a decade later, when he ran for president in 2012, The Washington Post called him “the most disliked politician in America.”
In 2010, the Tea Party movement enjoyed the support of 52 percent of Republicans, according to Gallup. Five years later, that support among Republicans had fallen by about half. Now, pollsters rarely even ask about the Tea Party.
In 2008, John McCain inflicted Sarah Palin on the country when he chose the Republican governor as his vice-presidential running mate. Palin was divisive and incendiary and prone to straying from the truth. But, in the beginning, she was popular among Republicans.
In 2010, among Republicans, she was the most liked possible Republican presidential contender for the 2012 contest. And yet, this year Palin lost a special election for a House seat to a Democrat in Alaska, a red state that Trump won in 2016 and in 2020.
At the height of their popularity in the party, it would have been hard to imagine the fall of any of these figures. But it happened. And it will likely happen to Trump.
For decades, conservatives have been a mass of angst and anger ready to hitch themselves to the next flaming chariot. They convince themselves, in the moment, that some principle is propelling their attachments — economic restraint, safe borders, anti-wokeness — but it is, in fact, just a perpetual rebellion against inclusion and enlightenment.
For them, change, growth and evolution are the enemy.
I will admit that change and growth can be messy; there can be missteps, which conservatives will inevitably seize upon as an indictment of change. But change is irrepressible and inevitable.
So, too many Republicans latch on to people who represent resistance and regression, people who claim the ability and desire to freeze time and reverse it.
They want to be seduced by the siren song.
Trump offered them what they wanted, but it cannot last. It was never meant to last. The pattern must repeat. A new message and messenger must be anointed.
I’m not saying that Trump has lost his hold on his party entirely. I’m stating a fact — that his support is falling — and observing a precedent — that charismatic conservative leaders always wane.
Trump isn’t running because he has a vision for the country or because he has a policy agenda. Trump is running because he has no other options. He is running to shield himself from legal trouble (he hopes). He is running to exact revenge. He is running because the Trump family business now is political exploitation.“