May 6, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump thinks he’s going to win by running the same campaign he ran in 2016 and 2020

A strong candidate would look at his past successes and failures, and modulate his current campaign to reflect lessons learned. Not Trump.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Editor’s note: I’m sending this one out to everyone. Thanks! –JS

I know it doesn’t look this way, but Donald Trump is weak. It doesn’t look this way, because he keeps saying scary things. That gives the impression of strength. He’s weak, though. My evidence? All those scary things he keeps saying. 

No presidential candidate in his right mind would say out loud for everyone to hear that he wants to establish for himself, in the words of Time magazine reporter Eric Cortellessa, “an imperial presidency.” 

But that’s what he did. Over and over, in two long interviews with Cortellessa, published last week, the former president said he would turn the office of the president into something no one alive has seen. 

It’s almost like he’s willing to say such things, because, for him, there’s no downside to saying them. Trump is like the rich man’s son who knows that Daddy will bail him out, no matter how much he fails. 

Trump said, for instance, he would withhold funding for things he doesn’t like even if funding for those things had been approved by an act of Congress. To spell out its essence, this is what he’s saying: 

“I would do the same thing I was impeached for the first time, and I would do it, as you can see from my saying this out loud for everyone to hear, with absolute impunity, not only for the rule of law and the Constitution but for the democratic institution that impeached me.”

In our lifetimes, no candidate has pitched himself as a lawbreaker. No candidate has pitched himself as a lawbreaker after being held accountable for breaking the law. (In 2019, he withheld congressionally approved military funding to Ukraine in order to involve that country’s leader in a conspiracy to smear Joe Biden. For that, he was impeached.) 

It’s almost like he’s willing to say such things, because, for him, there’s no downside to saying them. Trump is like the rich man’s son who knows that Daddy will bail him out, no matter how much he fails. 

Which is what he is. 

Not only did his actual dad come to the rescue throughout much of his profligate life, so have many other very obscenely rich men, who are these days ponying up millions in anonymous contributions, as well as the whole of the Republican Party and the rightwing media apparatus. They will bail him out no matter what. They must. Trump is weak. 

The more they bail him out, the worse he gets. It should come as no surprise that what started as bad (his 2016 campaign) has since then decomposed into something no one alive had thought was thinkable. 

In addition to saying he’d “withhold funds appropriated by Congress,” according to his interviews with Cortellessa, Trump said he would: 

  • “build migrant detention camps and deploy the US military, both at the border and inland.”
  • “let red states monitor women’s pregnancies and prosecute those who violate abortion bans.”
  • “withhold funds appropriated by Congress.”
  • “fire a US Attorney who doesn’t carry out his order to prosecute someone.” 
  • “[give] pardons for every one of his supporters accused of attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, more than 800 of whom have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury. 
  • “might not come to the aid of an attacked ally in Europe or Asia if he felt that country wasn’t paying enough for its own defense. 
  • “gut the US civil service.”
  • “deploy the National Guard to American cities as he sees fit.”
  • “close the White House pandemic-preparedness office.”
  • “Staff his administration with acolytes who back his false assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.”

Again, I know these things sound scary, and they are. Very scary. But these are also things no candidate in his right might would say. You’ll notice no one else is saying them quite like this. There’s a reason other Republicans are more circumspect. The consequence for saying such things is too high and they aren’t going to get bailed out like Trump. 

Let me put this another way. 

A strong presidential candidate would look at his successes (in Trump’s case, 2016) and his failures (2020), and try to modulate so that his current campaign, at the very least, does more of the latter and less of the former. A strong candidate would fear losing. He would learn from his past mistakes, recognize his liabilities and build on his assets. 

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A weak candidate, on the other hand, would have no such fear. He would refuse to learn from his mistakes, because what’s there to learn when he never did anything wrong? On his third try, Trump is doing the same thing, over and over, oblivious to the consequences, and he’s oblivious, because he’s constantly shielded from those consequences. 

He offered a shit sandwich in 2016 and got lucky. Just enough people in just enough places thought a shit sandwich was better than a female president. He offered it again, in 2020, and he lost. Most people didn’t want a shit sandwich because it’s a shit sandwich. But because he’s surrounded by people – billionaires, Republicans, Fox – who tell him Americans love eating shit, here he is, in 2024, with more of the same. 

That’s the most striking thing about his interviews with Time magazine. Not the scary things he said, though they are very scary indeed. The most striking thing is that he’s running the same campaign that he ran the last two times. That’s what happens when you’re prevented from feeling the consequences of your actions. History doesn’t matter.  

History never happened.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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