The Memo: Trump battles to stay relevant
Former President Trump is trying to stay center stage but he faces several challenges in doing so, including his ban from Twitter, the taint of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the plain fact that the country is moving on.
The question for Trump is how he maintains his relevance as his presidency fades in the rearview mirror.
On Monday, Trump backed a primary challenger to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. A presidential intervention in such a mid-level race is without obvious precedent but Trump is seeking vengeance after Raffensperger refused to overturn the state’s election results at his behest.
Trump, in endorsing loyalist Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) for the post, said: “Unlike the current Georgia Secretary of State, Jody leads out front with integrity…Jody will stop the Fraud and get honesty into our Elections!”
The Hice endorsement was just the latest sign that Trump is upping the tempo of his public pronouncements, ending a brief period of relative quiet after leaving office.
Trump lamented that he doesn’t get more credit for the development of COVID-19 vaccines in a March 10 statement, and he has repeatedly criticized President Biden’s immigration policy amid a surge in migrants at the southern border.
On Sunday, he blasted Biden for having created a “disaster” at the border, and also lambasted Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas for what he deemed a “pathetic, clueless performance” on the Sunday political talk shows.
Mayorkas was in Trump’s sights once again during an interview with Harris Faulkner of Fox News on Monday. Faulkner at one point mistakenly announced Mayorkas’s resignation. She quickly corrected herself, but not before Trump had welcomed the idea of the secretary’s departure.
Trump even appeared on a podcast Monday, telling the eponymous host of “The Truth with Lisa Boothe” that the Republican Party needed “better” and “stronger” leadership than is being provided by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Trump also took aim at Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, dismissing him as “a promoter more than anything else.”
Trump publicized the podcast with Boothe via yet another statement from his office.
But it is hard for those emailed statements to get the traction of Trump’s old tweets, where he would mock opponents and inflame controversy on a daily — and sometimes hourly — basis.
The former president has been banned from the social media platform since shortly after the Capitol riot. Trump’s rhetoric during that period made him the first president in history to be impeached twice.
Trump adviser Jason Miller told Fox News on Sunday that Trump was considering launching his own social media network. There is a market for such a platform among the former president’s fan base — but the fact that he is contemplating it shows how much the ban from social media is hurting his standing.
Out of power and off his favorite platform, Trump cuts an already-diminished figure.
“He is going to stay who he is. But can he be who he is without the power of the presidency? That remains to be seen,” said GOP consultant Dan Judy.
Judy acknowledged that Trump remains a relevant figure for now, and noted that many GOP elected officials seem to frame their positions with at least one eye on what Trump and his battalions of supporters think.
But he questioned how long that would remain the case as time passes, midterm elections start to loom and new stars in the party potentially emerge.
The GOP is in the middle of internal ructions, largely based on how different factions view the former president. The question in the near-future is whether the GOP wishes to be the Party of Trump, or to return to a more traditional, and less turbulent, form of conservatism.
“I think, as evidenced by the frequency of press releases and statements from the Office of the 45th President, he clearly seeks to maintain relevance and be in the public eye. What does that mean for us as a party trying to move past the previous election, and how do we move forward?” asked Ron Christie, who served as a special assistant to then-President George W. Bush.
Noting that polling shows Trump continuing to command the loyalty of roughly three-quarters of all GOP voters, Christie added: “What does this mean for the future of the Republican Party? Does this mean one individual represents all of the Party of Lincoln?”
Trump cannot be dismissed, even if his political heft looks likely to diminish over time. People on each wing of the party are watching closely to see whether his endorsement in primaries results in victories or defeats.
Believers in his form of populism insist he is far more in tune with the average GOP voter than the party’s traditional leadership in Washington has ever been.
“The former president is certainly the standard-bearer, currently, of the Republican Party,” said Sam Nunberg, who worked on Trump’s original 2016 campaign.
“When it comes to immigration, the former president knows that, if it was left up to any and all of the people in leadership including [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy [Calif.], Republicans would go back to their old Bushie-Karl Rove ways,” Nunberg added.
Trump’s political muscle is likely to atrophy over time, unless he becomes a real candidate for the 2024 GOP nomination.
If he does fade, however, even his old foes in the media may have some mixed feelings.
The Washington Post reported on Monday afternoon that audiences for cable news and online news sites had plunged since Trump left the presidency.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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