Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump

Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE is emerging from semi-hibernation and making his moves toward running in 2024. In doing so, Trump is showing that he is the same candidate who defeated the fumbling Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE and also the same candidate who threw his re-election away to President BidenJoe BidenGOP report on COVID-19 origins homes in on lab leak theory READ: The .2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Senators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session MORE. As in 2016 and 2020 — and now for 2024 — Trump’s biggest obstacle to success is Trump.

While Trump’s always-attack politics and relentless self-promotion are unquestionably effective, he remains completely undisciplined, driven by personal animus and prone to overreach.

Add to that an unwillingness to take advice that does not reinforce his own instincts, crippling attention-deficit disorder and susceptibility to flattery, and you have enough fatal flaws to counteract the Democrats’ own lengthy list of problems, pathologies and pratfalls.

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For experienced GOP political professionals and observers, Trump’s inability to address his faults is not just a fascinating train wreck, it’s a case study in lost opportunities. We have seen this movie during the Trump administration.

Trump was in a great position to tie the Democrats up in knots over impeachment (Part I). Almost from day one of the Trump administration, a loud, angry segment of the Democratic Party was calling for Trump to be impeached — in spite of not being able to articulate real charges. Trump could have taunted Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiManchin on reported boos at Democratic luncheon: 'I heard a lot of nos' Kinzinger supports Jan. 6 panel subpoenas for Republicans, including McCarthy Ocasio-Cortez: Democrats can't blame GOP for end of eviction moratorium MORE (D-Calif.) over her inaction, flaming the internal Democratic conflicts. Instead, he (stupidly) called the Ukrainian prime minister looking for dirt on Joe Biden, thus bailing Pelosi out. It was Trump being Trump: following his own instincts, ignoring professional advice — and shooting himself in the foot.

While Biden has a net favorable approval rating, there are significant storm clouds. Inflation may have returned, and, despite many economists’ sanguine attitudes, the public is concerned. Biden is having as much trouble with his own party as he is with Republicans in passing his ambitious agenda. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE may have checked all the political boxes for a running mate, but in the role of vice president she has been a mess.

In short, there are plenty of opportunities for the GOP — if the party can take advantage. But Trump is doing his best to interfere. After all, it always has to be about him, all the time.

Three particular problems are currently manifesting themselves and look to create a long-term drag on Trump’s candidacy.

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First, Trump is immersing himself in the midterm elections in politically dangerous ways. Initially, Trump made a bunch of safe endorsements of popular incumbents with no serious primary opposition. Lately, he has stopped picking winners and started picking favorites or targeting his enemies.

Trump’s North Carolina Senate endorsement was reportedly out of the blue. He picked a super-loyalist, Rep. Ted BuddTheodore (Ted) Paul BuddPeter Thiel flexes financial muscle ahead of 2022 Trump takes two punches from GOP Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up MORE, instead of fairly popular former Gov. Pat McCrory. Neither McCrory nor the other GOP hopeful, Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerFirst hearing set for lawsuit over Florida's new anti-riot bill NRA appealing Florida ban on gun sales to people under 21 Trump's biggest political obstacle is Trump MORE, are getting out — and Budd’s own polling shows him lagging McCrory by 26 points. Only a clean sweep with Budd winning the primary and general election helps Trump. Anything less is bad news for Trump.

North Carolina is indicative of the trouble Trump faces by jumping into Republican primaries. Republicans who put together campaigns, raised funds and committed their lives to a difficult electoral slog are not inclined to get out — especially if they feel Trump was bamboozled into a bad endorsement. Any Trump-endorsed candidate who loses dents a major part of the Trump appeal: the idea that he’s a winner. In addition, if Democrats get an actual majority in the Senate (probably) and retain control of the House (not as likely), every bit of leftist legislation can — and likely will — be hung around Trump’s neck.

The second problem for Trump is that he cannot and will not get over losing in 2020. More than obsessing about the loss, which plenty of losing candidates do, Trump cannot and will not stop talking about it. Practically every one of his major appearance features a litany of complaints about being cheated out of the presidency. 

While this may be a useful strategy with Republican voters, it fails with the wider electorate. A recent Monmouth poll shows 32 percent of those polled believing Biden won via fraud — a large number, but not even close to a majority. Additionally, as the 2020 election gets more distant, voters will more and more move on to issues directly affecting their lives. Even for those who believe fraud happened, the issue is likely to fade.

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But stolen election claims are not likely to ever fade for Trump. The idea that he would be perceived as a loser is so anathema, he cannot move on — even if it is to his advantage. Whining about his victimhood may well salve his ego and excite his truest loyalists, but it is a drag on his undeclared candidacy. Given how close the last three presidential elections were, throwing away just a couple percent of the vote is likely to be fatal.

Lastly, Trump is incapable of pursuing any positive messaging. Attack politics works, but it works best when you combine it with a positive vision. Trump did that in 2016 and he won. But in 2020 he offered nothing new. To return to the White House, Trump takes a big risk only betting on rejection of Biden.

Newt GingrichNewton (Newt) Leroy GingrichMORE and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham, Cuellar press Biden to name border czar Trump takes two punches from GOP The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands MORE (R-S.C.) reportedly are working with Trumpworld on just such a platform. But Trump does not seem to be too interested — and recent history suggests that he’d likely discard any new platform in favor of pursuing his various vendettas and grievances. He cannot even send out a Father’s Day message that is not saturated with rage.

There is little doubt Trump wants to get back to the White House. But he is not able to fix the problems that bedeviled his re-election.

A grievance-filled campaign of rage will make a Trump return completely dependent on the Biden administration imploding — and even that might not be enough. It’s little wonder that Republican voters, with whom Trump is still popular, are eyeing other possible GOP hopefuls.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.