Trump is in a vulnerable position
VERY few people can compete with him in attracting the headlines perpetually. For some good and some not-so-good reasons, Donald Trump is again grabbing the headlines across the globe. He has eventually hit the trail in New Hampshire and South Carolina for his next venture. Ever since he officially announced his bid to recapture the seat in the Oval Office in 2024, he has been putting all efforts to generate a massive momentum for his campaign. But, this time, things don’t seem to be conforming to his calculations.
The political landscape is much different from 2016 and 2020. Being a typical populist leader, he is overlooking his lacunas and is not trying to unlearn the damaging traits of his egoistic personality. His incessant dramas and excessive bullying of his opponents have started pushing away his supporters. A kind of “Trump fatigue” is gradually swathing his traditional support bases.
Exhaustion in the Trump camp is quite visible. Trump has always tried to use controversies to remain in the limelight, but the same tactics are now backfiring. There is no doubt that Trump is a very powerful brand and it will be difficult for Republicans to find a better replacement – in terms of brand recognition at home as well as globally. All the potential contenders among Republicans for the presidential nomination, including De Santis, Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, are no match to the brand power of Trump. Same is the case with the Democratic camp, where voices are being raised to revisit the list of the presidential nominees after President Biden’s untimely entanglement with the controversy over the classified documents.
Will Trump be able to elbow out his opponents to win the Republican nomination? The answer is quite a tricky one. Yes, some of the recent surveys show that Trump is leading the race at the moment. But these surveys are being questioned by his opponents who allege that data was technically massaged to show Trump in the lead. Without going into the mechanics of these surveys, feelers are emanating from the lower ranks of Republicans who are quite unhappy with the disappointing performance of the party in the mid-term polls. They are not ready to forget the fact that the Trump factor miserably failed to bolster the Republican candidates in November – majority of the candidates endorsed by Trump failed to win the place in the Congress.
Skepticism about the credibility of Trump as the catalyst for the revival of the fortunes of the Republican Party is creeping into the ranks and files of the party that is desperate to retake the presidency – and the Congress. In fact, Trump is slowly assuming the role of a distraction for the Republican Party. His detractors within the party assert that Trump has gradually lost his reliability as an “electable” commodity. Despite his fabulous name recognition, Trump’s arrogance and egotism, once considered to be hallmark of his popularity, have now turned into baggage for the Republican Party. His signature politics of extreme polarization and divisiveness, which helped enormously in building the brand Trump, is now facing a fatigue.
We must not forget that Trump is not a career politician or a chronic Republican – he did not climb the ladder of leadership from the grassroots level within the party. He was an outsider, and he is still an outsider. He hijacked the party through his populist theme and presented himself as Messiah who would transform the outlook of the party. But nothing of the sort happened.
His politics of instability and collision has left the party wounded and directionless. And the old guards within the caucus of the Republican Party are feeling that he will not be able to maintain his relevance till the 2024 elections. The barrage of controversies and innumerable legal scuffles is taking its toll on the popularity of Trump within the party.
The “stolen elections” narrative has lost steam. Trump has started his campaign from New Hampshire and South Carolina to gather support to become the official GOP nominee, but he is finding much sourness in the air, unlike 2020. This time, the list of his rivals within the Republican Party is getting longer – DeSantis and MiKe Pence, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and emerging Republicans like Glenn Youngkin are nurturing the White House ambitions of their own.
There is a clear tug of war between the pro-Trump camp and the advocates of a new face. And both sides are not ready to relent. Trump, a formidable crowd-puller, is certainly the most established brand that has the capability to give a tough fight to Democratic candidate – be it Biden or someone else – in the presidential duel. In his first direct speech to the Republican activists in New Hampshire, the first-in-the-nation primary state, on Saturday, Trump displayed his typical over-confident aggression by dismissing any threat to his re-nomination as: “I don’t think we have competition this time, to be honest.
We are so far ahead in the polls.” This is certainly a very exaggerated claim by him. This is trademark bullying style to demoralize his rivals and it is not likely to work anymore with more confident DeSantis and others. But, at the same time, pressure is mounting on the party elders to bring forward someone younger and more aligned with the political ideology of the GOP. The problem with Republican elders is that, in case Trump fails to out-compete his rivals in the 2024 Repubnomination, there is every likelihood that a big chunk of die-hard Trumpers may cause disruption to the whole process — a repetition of the “stolen elections” mantra, but this time within party. This will be certainly a dreadful scenario for supporters of the GOP.
—The writer is political analyst, based in Karachi.