COMMENTARY

Trump 2024 is almost here: King of the long con looks to play his final trick

The master showman of politics wants another turn on center stage. Mock him if you want — but don't bet against him

Published July 20, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Save America" rally at Alaska Airlines Center on July 09, 2022 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Save America" rally at Alaska Airlines Center on July 09, 2022 in Anchorage, Alaska. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Will he or won't he? Whether Donald Trump will run for president again in 2024 is the question now hovering over America. Trump loves it that way, of course. The Washington Post reports that Trump is "now eyeing a September announcement," according to two of his advisers, with one Trump confidant putting the odds at "70-30 he announces before the midterms" and others saying he may announce sooner than September:

Trump has begun talking with advisers about who should run a campaign, and his team has instructed others to have an online apparatus ready for a campaign should he announce soon, two people familiar with the matter said. He also has begun meeting with top donors to talk about the 2024 race, one of these people said, while on trips to various places across the country.

At New York magazine, Olivia Nuzzi reported on her recent conversations with Trump about his supposedly imminent decision: 

"Well, in my own mind, I've already made that decision, so nothing factors in anymore. In my own mind, I've already made that decision," he said.

He wouldn't disclose what he'd decided. Not at first. But then he couldn't help himself. "I would say my big decision will be whether I go before or after," he said. "You understand what that means?" His tone was conspiratorial. Was he referring to the midterm elections? He repeated after me: "Midterms." Suddenly, he relaxed, as though my speaking the word had somehow set it free for discussion. "Do I go before or after? That will be my big decision," he said.

He was thinking aloud now. "I just think that there are certain assets to before," he said. "Let people know. I think a lot of people would not even run if I did that because, if you look at the polls, they don't even register. Most of these people. And I think that you would actually have a backlash against them if they ran. People want me to run."

Love him or hate him — or, just as likely, love to hate him — Trump's announcement will again change America's political landscape. No one should have that much power; he still does.

Donald Trump is a master showman, a carnie, a professional wrestling heel. He is a gifted storyteller who understands the power of a surprise and the cliffhanger. He is also a con artist and grifter who has defrauded his followers of at least $250 million with his Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was "stolen." In reality, Donald Trump has utter contempt for his followers. As the saying goes, he wouldn't piss on them if they were on fire.

Trump has shown himself to be a malignant narcissist and a sociopath who sees other people only as a means to an end. Nonetheless, he needs his political cultists — to fuel his greed and narcissism with money and attention. 

Donald Trump is also a criminal mastermind. As president, he attempted to overthrow American democracy on Jan. 6 and incited a terrorist attack on the Capitol with the goal of establishing himself as a tyrant. Despite all that, he has a good chance of being president of the United States for a second time.

Too many liberals, progressives and others outside TrumpWorld are eager to mock Donald Trump and his followers. When and if Trump formally announces another presidential campaign such voices will predictably respond with disdain and disbelief. They will demand: How can anyone still support Trump after Jan. 6? He is a criminal! 

Republicans and Trump followers, of course, have no problem with Donald Trump's coup attempt and the Big Lie. They also believe that Trump, his confederates and the followers who attacked the Capitol are "patriots" who were "defending democracy." While liberals protest that they cannot imagine what kind of person would ever vote for him again, Republicans believe that President Trump did great things and that the Democrats are evil, "woke" "socialists." Public opinion polls and other research show that Republican voters may not approve of Trump's style and manner, but they see him as a "fighter" for "people like them."


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Liberals, of course, will tediously insist that Trump and his followers are stupid, especially those who will vote for him again. Here's a reality check: Donald Trump's followers don't care about the approval of those outside their tribe. The more that Democrats and liberals and others mock and belittle them, the more spirited and empowered they become.

This dynamic causes a type of narcissistic injury to many members of the mainstream American news media, the commentariat and the professional smart people, with their obsessive commitment to "balance" and "bipartisanship" and supposedly shared "American values." Defensive contempt, schadenfreude and name-calling is all they have left. That will not be enough to stop Trumpism and the rising fascist tide.

Trump knows how to work the marks. He makes them feel like part of a community, something larger than themselves. He makes them feel special and seen and acknowledged.

Donald Trump, the king of the con, knows how to work the marks. He makes them feel like part of a community, something larger than themselves. He makes them feel special and seen and acknowledged. Trumpism feeds on their loneliness, social atomization and despair caused by a toxic combination of future shock, death anxiety, radicalized religion, anti-intellectualism, bigotry and hatred.

In a series of recent "fundraising" emails Donald Trump and his confederates have been offering the faithful "exclusive" new T-shirts, super MAGA hats, signed pictures and promises of secret messages for his "special," "favorite" and "most trusted" supporters. Some of the T-shirts depict Trump as a superhero:

Did you hear what Joe Biden called us?

He said we were an EXTREME POLITICAL ORGANIZATION. He said we were ULTRA MAGA.

Well… If loving your Country and wanting to put AMERICA FIRST makes you ULTRA MAGA, then yes. WE ARE ULTRA MAGA.

We just released our BRAND NEW TRUMP ULTRA MAGA shirts, and we want to give you PRIORITY ACCESS so you can get YOURS before ANYONE ELSE.

These shirts are the PERFECT way to show your unwavering support for President Trump AND prove to the Left that our movement is STRONGER than ever before.

Continuing with his pattern of stochastic terrorism, Trump signals that he wants to build his own paramilitary force. Here is one recent recruitment email:

The Radical Democrats are out of control. 

Our nation is SUFFERING. Our economy is in the gutter. Inflation is rampant. Gas prices have reached an all-time high. Ships are unable to unload cargo. Families cannot get needed baby formula. 

We are an embarrassment around the world. 

It's time to send a message: this is OUR Country, NOT THEIRS. We need to fight back, Friend.

I have just launched a new elite group, the America First Freedom Defenders, and I need YOU to join us as we get on the frontlines and take our country back. 

In another email, the group is called the "2022 American Defense Task Force." Trump warns that "Democrats won't stop until AMERICA IS UNRECOGNIZABLE" and urges: "It's time we fight back like never before, Friend."

In this email, Trump's language gets darker still: 

At this very moment, Joe Biden and the socialist Left are wreaking havoc on our nation at record speed. Inflation is through the roof, gas prices are at their highest in history, our border has been demolished, cold-blooded criminals are taking over our Democrat-run cities, our heroes and our heritage are under assault, and the world has descended into chaos and mayhem and Biden isn't even halfway through his term.

As the Jan. 6 hearings have further confirmed with ever more damning details, Trump has evidently committed a number of serious crimes. Donald Trump, as a master criminal and king of the con, understands that running for president again may give him protection from prosecution. Rolling Stone reports:

When Donald Trump formally declares his 2024 candidacy, he won't just be running for another term in the White House. He'll be running away from legal troubles, possible criminal charges, and even the specter of prison time.

In recent months, Trump has made clear to associates that the legal protections of occupying the Oval Office are front-of-mind for him, four people with knowledge of the situation tell Rolling Stone.

Trump has "spoken about how when you are the president of the United States, it is tough for politically motivated prosecutors to get to you," says one of the sources, who has discussed the issue with Trump this summer. "He says when [not if] he is president again, a new Republican administration will put a stop to the [Justice Department] investigation that he views as the Biden administration working to hit him with criminal charges — or even put him and his people in prison."

Trump has reason to believe this ploy will work. Reportedly, Attorney General Merrick Garland is following the dictate of his predecessor, Bill Barr, that any investigation of a presidential candidate requires his personal approval, which suggests that in practice there will be no such investigations during an election year.

On Twitter, legal scholar and Just Security editor Asha Rangappa summarizes the dangers of Garland's apparent reasoning:

Garland is trying to be as "neutral" as possible. My analogy is this: If you take the wheel of a misaligned minivan and just hold the wheel steady where it is, you might still be headed towards a cliff. You need to *get the vehicle back on the freaking road* first. THEN steady

Donald Trump's mental pathologies are likely becoming worse as the threat of prosecution and other negative consequences for his crimes loom over him. His niece Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, has warned that these pressures have created an especially dangerous moment. Donald Trump is likely engaging in witness tampering and other acts of intimidation to protect himself from the Jan. 6 House committee and the law.

In a recent interview with journalist Molly Jong-Fast on "The New Abnormal" podcast, Mary Trump said, that for her uncle "to reach out directly to the witness . . . suggests to me two things: he's terrified and desperate and he's completely overestimating his power to manipulate people. I think that that ship has sailed."

Republican elites are worried that Trump is a disruptive influence who will blunt their momentum in the culture war. But in the end they will rally around him and stifle all dissent.

In a conversation with author and radio host Thom Hartmann last week, Mary Trump amplified that warning. "I think he's going to turn on everybody," she said. "As we've seen, his circle is getting smaller and smaller by the controversy. So I think there will be very few people left standing…. He's done terrible things for his entire life and not once has he been held accountable, so there is no precedent for this."

What of the professional political class? How are they responding to Donald Trump's likely announcement?

Republican elites are concerned that Trump is a disruptive presence who will blunt their momentum in the war they are currently winning to return American society almost all the way to the 19th century by taking away the rights of women, nonwhite people, LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. They may be trying to stop Trump for the moment, but in the end today's Republican Party is a political religion. If Trump runs again in 2024, they will ultimately rally around him and silence any dissenting voices.

Politico reports that Democratic leaders and their consultants are eager for a rematch with Trump:

Democrats aren't just eager for Donald Trump to cannonball into the 2024 presidential race before the fall midterms. Across the country, they are actively plotting ways to immediately capitalize on a pre-November announcement.

Campaigns and officials at major Democratic outfits are planning to capture the anticipated cash windfall that would come their way should Trump announce he's making another run at the White House. Candidates also are exploring ways to exploit Trump's premature entry to energize despondent base voters and coalesce independents and suburb-dwellers who have soured on the party over stubbornly high inflation….

Democratic campaigns are pre-drafting fundraising pitches that center on the danger Trump's return represents and using him to target suburban voters who are considering lashing out at Biden over the economy but weary of emboldening GOP election lies and conspiracies.

"It's bad for them because he takes so much oxygen out of the room," said John Anzalone, a longtime Biden pollster. Already, the dynamic for fall campaigns has been reshaped by the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade and the Jan. 6 committee hearings into the insurrection.... "So come on in," Anzalone prodded. "Jump in the pool."

Given that a core element of Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign was to elevate Trump as the preferred opponent because he was seen as "unelectable," repeating such a strategy seems unwise. Donald Trump is the greatest political show in recent American history. The question now is whether the American people, the news media and other gatekeepers want to see that show again. 

If the answer is yes, this show will be one where the villain reclaims his throne and then enacts savage acts of vengeance on his enemies. Sick societies produce sick leaders. Sick people are attracted to those movements. America has yet to confront the cultural sicknesses that vomited out Trumpism. There are far too many Americans who are desperately eager for a second Trump regime.

When and if Donald Trump publicly announces that he is running for president in 2024, the reaction will be a national character test — and an important indicator of how imperiled America's future really is.


By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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Authoritarianism Commentary Democracy Democrats Donald Trump Elections Fascism Jan. 6 Republicans