Opinion | What if Trump’s influence on the GOP isn’t as strong as it seems?

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Donald Trump

Trump’s rallies are still remarkably well attended – some political events, some Grateful Dead concerts, and some Andrew Dice Clay sets. The most recent in Alabama, with around 50,000 participants, is likely to have been the largest political rally in the state’s history.

Trump is making strides in his project to hunt and kill the careers of Republicans who supported his impeachment, with retired Ohio MP Anthony Gonzalez having a notable scalp.

Large majority of Republicans tell pollsters that Trump should run for president. 77 percent of Republicans in a Hill / HarrisX poll and 67 percent in a Morning Consult / POLITICO poll said they want the Trump train to leave the station again. Morning Consult / POLITICO found that Trump has an 82 percent approval rating among Republicans.

A Pew poll found Trump’s numbers less encouraging: two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-minded Independents said he should remain politically active, but only 44 percent said he should run for president. Still, Pew found that 63 percent of Republicans say the party should not, or at least too much, accept GOP officials who openly criticize Trump.

And yet, there are reasons to believe that Trump’s dominance is exaggerated and is slowly being dismantled so that if he runs for election he will be contestable and defeatable by the 2024 Republican primary.

There’s no denying that by almost any metric, whether it’s fame, fundraising, or demonstrated power to crush opponents, you’d rather be Trump than any other Republican contemplating running in 2024.

That doesn’t mean he’s as omnipotent as he seems right now.

It is not uncommon for a former president to own his party until someone comes and takes it away – for example, Bill Clinton before Barack Obama.

The difference is that parties are typically not friendly to presidents with a term who have lost their re-election offers, and in general, former presidents are not as keen on exercising control of their parties once they leave the White House.

One of the reasons Trump stuck to his imaginative narrative of stolen elections is to avoid the stink of the defeat of Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, who became a widely respected elderly statesman but were classified as freezing election losers after 1980 and 1992, respectively .

Additionally, Trump has an intact political operation that pays close attention to his potential supports and how they may or may not add power to his own power.

That obviously makes Trump a major player, maybe even more so. However, there are signs of a pull and factors that could intensify it in the years to come.

Trump’s media presence is greatly reduced. The press publishes fewer Trump stories and there are fewer clicks on those stories. Data from SocialFlow shows engagement for Trump stories plummeted this March and took another step down in August and September.

After foraying nowhere with launching his own website, Trump has relied on sharply worded press releases that don’t have the same news-cycle dominance of his tweets of yore. His merciless blow to Colin Powell after the death of the former Secretary of State would once have darkened the sun for about 12 hours in the media, but caused a relatively subdued response this week.

As for Trump’s polls, Republicans could tell pollsters they want him to run again as a way to put a finger in the eye of the media or as a general sign of his warm feelings towards him. While these results are based on completely accommodating and sincere feelings, the desire to run Trump is a threshold question that falls short of an obligation to elect him in 2 1/2 years.

Trump is likely to be prone to eligibility issues in a GOP primary. He lost in part last fall because Biden outperformed Hillary Clinton among the suburban electorate and independents. Biden alienates these voters, but nothing suggests that Trump has done anything since November 2020 to make himself less offensive to them.

In fact, there is a massive wall of resistance against Trump in the rest of the country that will be difficult to ignore. Biden didn’t get 81 million votes because he’s an electoral juggernaut. According to Exit polls, nearly 70 percent of Biden voters voted against Trump, and that sentiment is still there – one reason Democrats are desperate to keep going against Trump, be it in the Virginia gubernatorial race or local school board campaigns.

GOP politicians have every reason to do everything possible to keep Trump and his constituents on board in the interest of a unified base in the run-up to midterms 2022. But if Republicans take over Congress next year and worry about keeping it in 2024, they’ll beware of needing candidates better than Trump in swing districts to keep their gammers.

Trump, for his part, does not exactly exude the overwhelming concern for the party interests that one would expect from a party leader. At a rally in Georgia, he wondered that maybe it would be better if Stacey Abrams were governor instead of Brian Kemp, the Republican who became persona non grata for not following Trump’s plans to overturn Georgia‚Äôs 2020 results. He has also threatened that Republican voters will not show up in 2022 or 2024 unless the alleged 2020 theft is indefinitely resolved.

This is in line with Trump’s increasingly self-referential message. In 2016, he talked about fighting for his constituents and pounded on neglected issues that mattered to them, especially trade and immigration. Now he is calling on these voters to fight for him based on the imperative to deny his loss, which is overwhelmingly important to his ego and continued political viability.

Needless to say, this priority is backwards. It is very doubtful that in 2024 Republican voters will be as obsessed with an election four years ago as Trump is now.

At the end of the day, the primary voters of both parties want the most to win. And that’s Trump’s real Achilles heel. The fact is, he lost to Joe Biden, and while at the last minute he changed election procedures and re-stacked the media and social media landscape, it was essentially his doing. His greatest vulnerability is that at some point, on a debate stage or elsewhere, someone brings this up to him and lands it.

If Trump decides to take the plunge in 2024, he may well clear the field for his third consecutive GOP presidential nomination. However, his superficial strength right now could hide a weakness that will show up over time.

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