(CNN) — Only Donald Trump knows if he will run for the White House in 2024. But it is already clear what his campaign would look like. It would be based on a lie that he was duped into leaving office and would relentlessly politicize and monetize America’s ideological, social, and racial divisions.
As a political neophyte in 2016, Trump tapped into a streak of discontent with the economy and a sense that established power in Washington was ignoring millions of people. His victimization of Mexican and Muslim immigrants in that campaign played on fear of outsiders. Some Democrats believe his victory was also born out of a racist backlash against the country’s first black commander-in-chief and that he benefited from his racist and false accusations about the birthplace of former President Barack Obama.
Now, what looks like a new attempt by Trump to reclaim the White House is shaping up to be an even more sinister affair, especially since a twice-contested president who has already incited an insurrection and tried to subvert American democracy to stay in office. he would be looking to regain the amazing powers of the presidency.
In recent days, Trump appeared to see a window of opportunity, with President Joe Biden heavily criticized for his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and with the resurgence of the pandemic, to accelerate his own political aspirations. The former president has offered no political plans or useful suggestions, for example, on how to tackle the country’s biggest crisis: the covid-19 emergency about which he made a big botch while in office. Rather, his statements and attacks more frequently suggest that a new presidential campaign would be a vehicle for personal revenge and the wounded vanity of being rejected by voters after a single term. That became clear this weekend when the country solemnly celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the former president unleashed a series of political assaults on his successor.
There was something sad enough that the most recent former president felt unable to join Biden and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama in official commemorations of the attacks. Trump has never been interested in being a member of the ex-presidents club. And his political brand as an ‘outsider’ is often based on attacking pillars of the establishment such as former presidents. But his absence underscored the huge divisions in a nation that now cannot even come together to mark the most unifying event in modern history: the national response to the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
How Trump Politicized September 11 Commemorations
Trump visited police and fire officials in New York City on Saturday after being criticized for avoiding national celebrations and later working as a commentator at a boxing match. But even then he did not stop throwing political hints, bragging about his previous campaign and his administration, lying that the 2020 elections were “rigged” and giving a broad indication that he would organize another presidential campaign.
“I know what I’m going to do, but we’re not supposed to talk about it just yet from a campaign finance law standpoint,” Trump told an interrogator, before adding: “I think you’re going to be happy, let me put it that way. I think you’re going to be very happy. “
The former president also lashed out at Biden for withdrawing from Afghanistan, a topic worthy of debate and criticism, but perhaps not on a day dedicated to commemorating the victims of the 2001 attacks.
“I hate to talk about it to this day,” Trump said, but then he launched a protracted attack on Biden, claiming that had he been in charge, the situation would have been different, even though he set the stage for withdrawal by capitulating to the Taliban withdrawal demands in an agreement with the group.
Those who hope that Trump will behave with decorum or become “presidential” have long been disappointed. But his conduct in recent days has been radical even for a former president who spent four years breaking down the presidential conventions and political and legal norms.
Bush draws an analogy between terrorists and domestic extremism
As Obama, Clinton, Bush and Biden attended the official events of September 11, Trump spent his time sending out a series of political statements.
“This is the twentieth year of this war and it should have been a year of victory, honor and strength. Instead, Joe Biden and his inept administration surrendered defeated,” Trump said in one, sent through his political action committee. .
“We will continue to live, but unfortunately our country will be hurt for a long period. We will fight to recover from the shame that this incompetence has caused,” the former president wrote.
Trump advocates may point out that Bush delivered a politicized speech at the memorial site in Pennsylvania dedicated to the victims of the fourth plane hijacked on September 11 that was shot down when heroic passengers stormed the cabin. But Bush was defending democracy, not attacking it as Trump did for much of Saturday.
The 43rd president compared violent domestic extremists to 9/11 terrorists and clearly drew an analogy between the attacks and the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on January 6 following a rally of the outgoing and defeated president.
“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” Bush said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their contempt for human life, in their determination to desecrate national symbols, they are children of the same vile spirit.”
Using race as a political weapon
Far from facing such extremism, as Bush advised, Trump is still trying to appropriate it, not only with his lies about voter fraud that have convinced millions of people, but also in his continued use of race as a political weapon. His attacks on the integrity of the 2020 election have left millions of his supporters believing that a general election was stolen that even Trump’s own Justice Department said contained no serious corruption. Not only is this a serious threat to faith in the US political system, it is an important part of what it means to be a Republican in 2021. A new CNN poll released on Sunday found that roughly 6 in 10 of those Republicans and GOP-leaning independents believed that supporting Trump and believing that he won in 2020 are at least a somewhat important part of identifying with the party.
The power of the former president in the Republican Party, which means that he would be a prohibitive favorite in any new campaign for his nomination, can be seen in the way that candidates who want his endorsement must buy his false claims of voter fraud. Those who speak the truth about what happened in November 2020 and the Capitol uprising, like Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, will likely find themselves in a primary election that backs Trump. The Republican Conference of the House of Representatives under its leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, has become a wing of Trump’s political movement, embracing his falsehoods about the elections, whitewashing history and embracing his authoritarian conservatism.
Some of Trump’s most damaging behaviors occur when he uses race as a weapon in the service of his political goals. In a statement last week, for example, the former president condemned authorities in Richmond, Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War, for the removal of a statue honoring General Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who took up arms against the United States in a war to defend slavery.
“Our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the Radical Left, and we cannot allow that to happen!” The former president wrote. It was not the first time that Trump defended the Confederacy. He did so in the 2020 campaign when he took advantage of the removal of statues of racist historical figures to fuel the fears of those of his voters who fear that their traditional white culture will be overwhelmed as part of the country’s growing diversity.
Trump’s belief that Lee was a great general is also challenged by history, and he seemed inadvertently exposed to criticism by arguing that if Lee had commanded troops in Afghanistan, “that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. years”. Of course, the commander-in-chief who led that war from 2017 to January was none other than Trump himself.
Trump’s remarks lack the immediacy and platform he enjoyed as president, in part because his insurrectionary rhetoric got him kicked off social media. But they are broadcast by their spokespersons and followers on Twitter and Facebook. The former president also appears to have an open invitation for bland, uncritical interviews with Fox News opinion anchors.
Some of his most notable interventions in recent days have come when he highlighted the anguish of several parents of the 13 US servicemen killed in a suicide bombing last month outside the Kabul airport who support and criticize Biden.
Under normal circumstances, it would be more than appropriate for a former president to comfort those mourning the fallen. But Trump has done so in politicized statements that leave the impression that he is exploiting his pain.
This adds to a growing impression, evident in his mismanagement of the pandemic when he tore apart public health councils and during his presidency, that there is nothing the former president does not do in support of his personal goals, even in a possible new bet on the White House.