Trump, CPAC, and The Elephant In The Room
Trump and his CPAC speech will allow a return to the headlines. Just step back for a moment and let’s ask the questions that matter
“Hello CPAC. Do you miss me yet? Do you miss me?”
So went the opening of the hour and half speech former President Trump gave in Orlando to a crowd who had waited that long past the scheduled time to welcome the main event for CPAC 2021. “We went through a journey like nobody else, there’s never been a journey like it, there’s never been a journey so successful, we began it together four years ago and it is far from being over.”
Which is true. Trump as the dominating force of the Republican Party is far from over. The 45th president will be the overbearing force in the Republican party for the next few years, and as he has been the last four will be the singularity pulling all the political and media light towards him, bending it, and refusing to let any of it escape. The Donald J. Trump of CPAC2021 and of the hard-sold DonaldJTrump.com was clearly the same one we saw for four years as president.
Trump ran through his greatest hits — since he only really ever gives one kind of speech right down to ending with “YMCA” — touching on the wall, on his accomplishments as presidents, on the fake news media, on the Washington establishment that opposed him, and especially and by name all the GOP congress critters that had opposed him in either word or vote or both since he left office. The former president even broke some news, declaring there would be no 3rd party, that he was the titular head of the GOP, and — rightly — decrying that any such third party split would just hinder the Republicans plans to participate in the traditional first midterm switching of congressional power.
Its a speech that other than the long section on the stolen and illegitimate election could have been given at any point in his presidency. Other than rattling off the list of impeachment offenders in congress and the new fundraising pitch for DonaldJTrump.com and the Save America PAC, it could have been anytime between the November election and January 6th, or anytime after January 6th to the present.
Which is the problem. All the rhetoric, all the “74 million voters”, all the accomplishments of four years, all the stats, all the warm fuzzy feelings, all the nostalgia of Trump rallies of old, all the excitement of the CPAC faithful to once again have their beloved before them, all the “we really won and we won big” against all available evidence…all that requires one thing to make it all work. Or rather, it requires one thing to not be so that actually is.
January 6th didn’t happen, and whatever did happen had nothing to do with any of them.
The event organizers of CPAC and the cadre of Team Trump were all wise to steer well clear of what happened at the Capitol and January 6th. There is absolutely, positively no way any of it is beneficial to them or their cause of keeping the Trump money train going. There is no amount of applause lines that will cleanse the images of a Trump crowd before him giving a speech that could have large sections cut and pasted from the CPAC one, and then marching to the capitol where all hell broke lose. Time will no doubt do that for some, but only six weeks removed that time has not come for anyone not already a hardcore supporter of President Trump.
Just step back for a moment and let’s ask the questions that matter:
Would Donald Trump get 74 million votes today, post January 6th, post Georgia run-off, and post everything else that has happened since November 3rd, 2020?
Has Donald Trump done anything at all to convince any of the 81 million voters who voted for Joe Biden that they made a horrible mistake and should run to vote Trump when/if the opportunity presents itself?
Has Donald Trump done anything to convince the 84 million registered voters that took a look at the 2020 election and went “nah, I’m good” and didn’t vote at all to come out next time?
Does his behavior since January 6th up to and including this CPAC speech indicate he learned anything at all from his electoral failure, in which he propelled Joe Biden to the highest vote total in American electoral history?
Has Donald Trump done anything differently than the rhetoric and political moves that lost both Georgia Senate run-offs, the US Senate to Democratic control, and his own approval rating plummeting to end his presidency?
Anyone who wants to sell the general population on “yes” to any of those questions is going to have to show their work. The 2020 election was a loss for former President Trump and his supporters. Everything that happened between that loss and January 20th when Donald J. Trump ceased to be president was an unmitigated disaster for a political brand unseen in modern American history. Rhetoric to the faithful that ignores January 6th, blames Georgia on others, and mostly focuses on angering the crowd about a stolen election enough to keep sending in the money just doesn’t square with reality.
Will Trump run again in 2024? No one knows, probably including Trump. He would be 78 by then, there is a midterm yet to hash out that Trump’s CPAC speech made very clear that at least the Republican primary portion of would be a referendum on Trump loyalty, and a host of other things that might happen. If you think 20 months isn’t that far off, do consider only 15 months ago no one reading this had any idea what Covid-19 was. Two months ago no living American knew what an assault by a mob on the United States Capitol looked like. It hasn’t sunk in yet to the Trump faithful the assault on the Capitol was the high water mark of MAGA. That 74 million didn’t contain just the hardcore Trump faithful, and that cohort of folks who for various reasons voted for Trump while not fully supporting him recoiled at what they saw on January 6th, and are not coming back. The underlying ideology and desires that fueled the rise and election of the 45th president in 2016 existed long before Trump, and will after, but this particular branding of MAGA, Trumpism, and the like is for the foreseeable future relegated to only the true believers. And having just the true believers isn’t enough to win national elections.
Besides that, we have enough book on former-president Donald Trump to know a few things. He isn’t going to hand over the GOP anytime soon. He expects all things Republican to revolve around him. He and his team know the money is in the fundraising and keeping passions stoked and directed at the usual suspects to keep the cash flowing in. So, whether he actually runs in 2024 or not, Trump will make sure it looks that way in the meantime for the control of the party, the power that brings, and the refilling of coffers he needs.
However, his CPAC audience would be wise to take his “I might” and wink-wink nudge-nudge applause lines about a third campaign with a large grain of salt. No doubt some of the CPAC crowd was there at another Trump speech, when he declared “Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you.” Which meant he was going to hole up at the White House and go MIA for the better part of 4 hours while those who did go wrought havoc. So the CPAC and Trump faithful who take up the call to continue the movement, or the journey, or the fight, or however the fundraising and campaigning to come is going to be framed should keep in mind recent history. Just because he hints at going with you, or even tells you he will, doesn’t mean he is.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on March 1, 2021.