Only Donald Trump knows whether he will mount a run for the White House in 2024. But it’s already clear what such a campaign would look like. It would be built on a lie that he was cheated out of office and would relentlessly politicize and monetize America’s ideological, social and racial divides.
As a political neophyte in 2016, Trump tapped into a seam of discontent with the economy and a sense that the Washington establishment was ignoring millions of people. His victimization of Mexican and Muslim immigrants in that campaign played on a fear of outsiders. Some Democrats believe his win was also born from a racist backlash to the country’s first Black commander-in-chief that benefited from his racist and false accusations about ex-President Barack Obama’s birthplace.
Already, what looks like a new attempt by Trump to reclaim the White House is shaping up as an even more sinister affair, not least because a twice-impeached President who already incited an insurrection and tried to subvert US democracy to stay in office would be seeking to regain the awesome powers of the presidency.
In recent days, Trump has appeared to sense an opening, with President Joe Biden heavily criticized over his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and with the pandemic resurgent, to accelerate his own political aspirations. The former President hasn’t offered any political plans or useful suggestions, for example, of how to tackle the country’s greatest crisis — the Covid-19 emergency that he so badly botched while in office. Rather his statements and attacks most often suggest that a new presidential campaign would be a vehicle for personal vengeance and the wounded vanity of being rejected by voters after a single term. That was clear this weekend when the country solemnly marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks and the former President unleashed a string of political assaults on his successor.
There was something rather sad that the most recent ex-President felt unable to join Biden and ex-Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama at official commemorations of the attacks. Trump has never been interested in being a member of the ex-President’s club. And his political brand as an outsider often relies on attacking pillars of the establishment like former Presidents. But his absence underscored gaping divides in a nation that is now unable to even join as one to mark the most unifying event in modern history: the national response to the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.