Arguably, the most unexpected political achievement of the modern presidential era occurred when New York businessman Donald Trump won the White House in 2016.
Many on the left, in the mainstream media, the Republican establishment, and the Republican “Never Trump” world will forever refuse to admit it; most figuratively laughed in Trump’s face and adamantly predicted time and again that he would, first, never win the Republican nomination and, then, would never win the presidency. Yet, what Trump accomplished with his against-all-odds victory over a wide and deep Republican primary field, and then against a guaranteed-to-win Hillary Clinton, was beyond remarkable. It was the political equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle on a sky-blue day with not a cloud in sight.
With just a skeleton of a campaign, Trump pulled off the impossible. To be sure, at least in 2016, he had that all-elusive “it factor” and a cult-of-personality magnetism that drew some people toward him.
That said, with his shocking win, he seemingly fell into a trap constructed in his own mind — the belief that he won because of … him.
Early in the Trump presidency, I spoke with several high-level administration officials in person — by invitation — and cautioned them that those who voted for Trump did not see him as a political savior but, rather, as a non-political, non-establishment empty vessel into which they could pour all of their built-up angst and dwindling hopes.
Millions of Republican, independent and even Democratic voters had felt utterly betrayed in the last few election cycles by career politicians who seem to be in it for themselves and their respective parties. And so, they decided they had absolutely nothing to lose by firing a Hail Mary pass 50 yards into the end zone toward the orange-haired guy being blanket-covered by both teams, which needed him to fail. To everyone’s amazement, Trump made an Odell Beckham Jr. circus catch and won the election with no time on the clock.
Then Trump began to govern in a way those millions of voters had hoped for. He openly defied the usual special interests, the entrenched elites and the status quo, to pull off what many truly saw as early successes.
He helped to solidify America’s “energy independence,” making the U.S. the top crude oil producer in 2018. The nation enjoyed lower inflation and the lowest unemployment rate in a half-century, sustained corporate growth, and slashed regulations that handcuffed American businesses. Trump signed an executive order making it government policy to “Buy American and Hire American” while cutting the outsourcing of jobs overseas; he forced NATO nations to pay more for their own defense, advanced peace in the Middle East, withdrew from the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, held a historic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He reshaped the Supreme Court, strengthened the U.S. military, and exposed biases and corruption in the mainstream media and our three-letter intelligence agencies.
These were truly amazing accomplishments in a short amount of time.
But then Trump’s “Jekyll & Hyde” personality sabotaged those achievements. Because of his schoolyard bullying and sophomoric insults, he became his own worst enemy.
With his announcement that he will be running again for president in 2024 — something I truly did not believe would happen, because I hoped Trump would see it as better for the nation if he did not run and instead allowed his policies to go forth under the banner of another nominee — some observers thought they saw a “kinder, gentler” candidate, a 2.0 version of his previously bullying, insult-comic self.
I still am not convinced Trump will go through with a full campaign, but we have to take him at his word that he is running. In anticipation of that, I have spoken with more than 15 Republicans who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020 — including several who were at Mar-a-Lago for his announcement on Tuesday — and not one of them wants Trump to run again in 2024. Literally, not one.
Each said that while they deeply appreciate Trump’s accomplishments, they will switch their allegiances to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), should he choose to run.
If Trump does decide to change his spots and roll out a more statesman-like version of himself, he may quickly discover that he evolved much too late, after sowing too many lingering doubts, and that much of his previous base has moved on to a newer, dramatically younger, more advanced version of himself.
Trump 2.0 may have been obsolete before it even hit the market.
Douglas MacKinnon, a political and communications consultant, was a writer in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and former special assistant for policy and communications at the Pentagon during the last three years of the Bush administration.