Features

Trump’s return: is the Bad Orange Man on his way back to the White House?

Is he about to stage his comeback?

23 July 2022

9:00 AM

23 July 2022

9:00 AM

Is Donald Trump going to run in 2024? And if he does, will the world go even more completely crazy? These are questions that almost nobody wants to answer. Many of us are in denial. President Trump broke something in the global political psyche the first time round, which is why so many commentators struggle to admit the obvious: that, by the end of January 2025, Bad Orange Man could well be back in the White House, trolling the universe.

The last, best hope of liberal sanity is that Trump will decide not to stand again. He is 76. He knows that running for the White House, and then being president, is one of the most stressful and exhausting things any human being can do. ‘He doesn’t want to end up like Biden,’ says a Republican operator who knows Trump well.

Then again, Trump is in better shape than poor Biden was four years ago. Friends say he’s a picture of health. ‘He thinner, fitter and he’s in remarkably good spirits,’ says Nigel Farage, who has been making regular pilgrimages to the Donald’s residence in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. ‘So yes, absolutely, I think he will run. Why wouldn’t he?’

For people in denial, it’s obvious why he wouldn’t. He was the most divisive president in living memory. He lost an election and refused to accept the result, and his incendiary and bogus claims of electoral fraud led to the scenes of 6 January last year, when a mob of his supporters broke into the Capitol building in Washington, DC.

None of that matters to Trump. In his mind, history has already vindicated his record, and (here’s the really challenging part for any fair-minded person) he’s not altogether wrong. Under Trump, the American economy performed well. Inflation was at 1.4 per cent when he left office; gas (petrol) at $2 a gallon. Under Biden, inflation is at 9.1 per cent and a gallon of gas costs more than $5.

Trump was much reviled on the world stage. In hindsight, however, his foreign policy looks quite impressive, especially when set against Biden’s. He regularly rebuked the Germans for empowering Vladimir Putin through their reliance on Russian hydrocarbons. Look today at the war in Ukraine and Europe’s disastrously high energy prices. Was he wrong? He also pressured Nato countries into upping their defence spending, brokered the Abraham Accords between Middle Eastern states, and reoriented America’s grand strategy to tackle an increasingly belligerent China. None of that was stupid.

Last week, Biden went to Saudi Arabiato beg for oil and appears to have been ignored. The Saudi royals aren’t crazy about his moral grandstanding against their ‘pariah’ kingdom. Trump, by contrast, this week hosted a Saudi-funded golf tournament at the course he owns in Bedminster, New Jersey. He never lets ethical concerns get in the way of the bottom line – or smooth relations with people who can help him.

Given Trump’s sense of his own historical importance, and his confidence in his superhuman abilities, it’s hard to see why he would let a mortal consideration such as age disrupt his destiny. Last week, he gave his strongest hint so far. ‘People want me to run,’ he said. ‘In my own mind, I’ve already made that decision.’ Then the kicker: ‘Do I go before or after? That will be my big decision.’ He meant before or after the midterm elections in November, which the Republicans are widely expected to win.


A normal presidential frontrunner would wait for those results before declaring. Trump isn’t normal. His success in politics comes from defying expert wisdom. ‘My hunch is that he’ll go for it before, and possibly very soon,’ says Farage. One of his close lieutenants, Devin Nunes, former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, came to London this week to launch Truth Social, Trump’s new social media platform. ‘I don’t think anyone knows,’ he said, when asked if Trump would declare ahead of November. ‘Conventional wisdom says he won’t, but Trump has never cared about that.’ He may even perform his big reveal on Truth Social in the coming days – in part to give his nascent technology platform a ‘yuge’ publicity boost. That would be very Trump.

If Trump announces he is running for the Republican nomination, he’ll be almost impossible to stop. ‘You’ve got someone who won 71 million votes last time, who controls Republican fundraising efforts, and who still in spite of everything dominates the media landscape,’ says Nunes. ‘Who beats that?’

There’s a lot of buzz around Ron DeSantis, the 43-year-old Republican governor of Florida, who has been catching Trump in some polls and raising enormous amounts of money as he cruises towards near-certain re-election in his state in November. He’s popular because he has mastered the Trumpy art of winning by making opponents go mad. Yet he isn’t as widely despised as Trump, at least not so far. ‘DeSantis can pitch himself as an “all of the good Trump, none of the bad Trump” candidate,’ says one Republican strategist. ‘He can also, given his age, present himself as “Trump but you get two terms”.’

Those inside Trump’s orbit are less convinced. ‘The Democrats, those who oppose Trump, and the media are trying to lure DeSantis into a run,’ says one operative. ‘But you have a death wish if you are a Republican running against Trump.’ DeSantis is a highly ambitious man: why would he want to get into a vicious primary fight against Trump – one he has little chance of winning – and risk becoming another Ted Cruz, someone who was the Republican future once?

Insiders say it’s far more likely that DeSantis will be picked as Trump’s vice-presidential nominee. ‘I don’t see that he won’t do that,’ said Farage, meaningfully. Following that train of thought, President Trump could end up doing what experts thought Biden had planned for Kamala Harris – win back the White House before making way for his DeSantis in 2028.

The other Republicans hopefuls look hopeless. Pence, Trump’s vice-president, appears certain to run. He is admired outside of the MAGA sphere for having refused to support Trump’s bid to overturn the 2020 result. As a result, however, Pence now can’t give a speech to any large crowd without being booed and called ‘traitor’ – such is the brutal power of Trumpism. That leaves the optimistic senator Tom Cotton (‘America’s Steve Baker – trust me, I know them both,’ says Farage); the no-hoper governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan; and the establishment darling Nikki Haley, who appeals to America’s lower classes about as much as Tom Tugendhat does to Britain’s. Arguably the biggest Republican threat to Trump comes from Mike Pompeo, his former secretary of state, a highly intelligent figure who is now much thinner than he was and says he is willing to challenge Trump. But he’s barely registering on current polls and Trump would have fun ribbing him as ‘lightweight’.

There have been endless reports of ‘Trump fatigue’ among conservatives. It’s mostly wishful thinking. The New York Times recently published a poll that, according to the paper’s headline, showed ‘half of GOP voters ready to leave Trump behind’. Closer inspection revealed something different: the survey asked respondents who they would vote for in a Republican primary consisting of five candidates. Trump scored 49 per cent, DeSantis 25 per cent, and Ted Cruz a distant third on 7 per cent.

It’s often said that Trump’s political endorsements have lost their potency of late, because some of his acolytes have failed at the ballot. Yet any fair analysis of this year’s primaries shows that the vast majority of Trump-endorsed politicians are winning. The next big test for Trump’s preferred candidates is the Arizona primaries on 2 August. Blake Masters, running for the Senate, has already seen his popularity surge after Trump gave him his blessing. As Nunes puts it: ‘If it’s true that Trump endorsements no longer matter, why do they all still come begging?’

Another Republican source suggests that Trump might be less motivated to run if, as is increasingly expected, Biden doesn’t stand for re-election in 2024. ‘The revenge factor is strong,’ he says. ‘If you take that away, the chances of Trump standing diminish.’ Others scoff at that idea. ‘No sane person thinks Biden is running,’ says a source close to Trump. ‘I don’t think that will be a factor.’ After some thought, he adds: ‘I suppose Joe Biden isn’t sane.’

Senior Democrats are beginning to let their despair over Biden be known. There’s also clearly panic at the lack of decent candidates who might conceivably replace him in 2024. Harris polls even worse than him.

Democrats insist, a little too eagerly, that a Trump re-run is their best shot at winning again. It is true that Trump disgust will always be a powerful driver of votes. In a survey this month, 50 per cent of registered voters said they thought that Trump’s ‘attempt to overturn the 2020 elections’ was ‘a crime that he should be prosecuted for’. Republican strategists do worry about Trump’s stubborn refusal to submit over 2020: he says he’s writing a book on the subject called Crime of the Century.

That said, a substantial chunk of the American public – some 40 per cent, according to polls – believes that Biden’s victory was illegitimate. These voters do not necessarily go along with Trump’s outlandish claims of fraud. But Trump’s defeat left a sour taste, coming as it did amid the fog of Covid and after a massive expansion of mail-in balloting. It’s also undeniable that Big Tech companies tried to sway the outcome: most outrageously in their suppression of the scandalous Hunter Biden laptop story.

Besides, never underestimate the Democrats’ ability to turn advantage into weakness. America’s governing party has spent the past few weeks conducting Congressional hearings into what happened on 6 January. The inquiry is blatantly one-sided – Trump calls it ‘the Unselect Committee’ – yet its findings are written up breathlessly as incontrovertible proof that Trump orchestrated an attempted coup. As the hearings go on and on, the public, in as much as they are paying attention at all, see just another faintly ridiculous attempt to prosecute Trump. After Russiagate, Ukrainegate, the impeachments and investigations into his finances, Americans surely have ‘Trump inquiry fatigue’.

Which prompts another question: who is madder, Donald Trump – or his enemies?

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
Close