Former President Trump is back in the political fray.
He has issued broadsides against President Biden as well as Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci in the past few days.
Trump’s original campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is heading up a new super PAC at the former president’s behest.
And Trump is rumored to be setting up his own social media network, in part to circumvent the ban that Twitter has issued against him.
But the bigger question hanging over it all is stark — what does Trump really want?
Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to Trump for almost his entire presidency, insisted that, for the moment, he is simply making his opinions known.
Citing examples such as border security, the Keystone XL pipeline and possible tax hikes, Conway said that for Trump, “it’s a combination of correcting the record and conscientiously — not constantly — weighing in on policy matters when he feels changes are being made that could hurt the country.”
Another person who served as a senior official in the Trump White House said that the former president was “taking it pretty slowly at the moment. He is taking it day-by-day and not ruling out anything.”
The $64,000 question is whether the former president would consider another run for the White House in 2024. Such an effort would be aimed in part at seeking vindication after his defeat at Biden’s hands last November.
The word from inside the Trump circle is that no decision will be made on that score until at least the 2022 midterms. But Trump wants to remain viable — and part of the political conversation — while he weighs his options.
“Do I think Trump would walk into the nomination? Yes. Anyone claiming otherwise is not being honest,” said one former Trump campaign adviser. “But he could very easily look at what he is doing with his life and say, ‘I would much rather be a kingmaker than put myself through this bullshit again.’ In 2024, he can be either the king or kingmaker.”
Either way, he will have plenty of money to advance his goals.
Trump raised around $250 million, together with the Republican Party, in the period between November’s election and Biden’s January inauguration. Lewandowski told Fox News last week that a new super PAC dedicated to advancing Trump’s aims would file paperwork during the second quarter of this year — that is, anytime from April 1.
But one former senior Trump aide cautioned that it was important for the president to conserve cash for now, so he can deploy it as the midterms grow closer.
“Doing that is a much better use of his money than these bloated bureaucratic organizations that pay big retainers to too many consultants,” the aide said. “What does he need an organization for?”
The basic, broad dynamics of Trump’s popularity have never changed much. He is beloved by the GOP base but fairly unpopular with the electorate at large.
An Economist-YouGov poll released Wednesday indicated that he was viewed favorably by 40 percent of Americans but unfavorably by 54 percent. It was a dramatically different story among Republicans, 83 percent of whom held a favorable impression of Trump.
The statements that are being issued with increasing frequency from the former president’s office make clear how little has changed in terms of his views or his tone.
On Wednesday, he blasted Biden’s infrastructure bill on the basis that the taxes involved would “crush American workers” and amount to “total economic surrender.”
Two days previously, he hit out at Birx and Fauci as “two self-promoters trying to reinvent history.” He also yet again mocked Fauci for throwing out a weak ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park in Washington last year.
“That was an all-timer statement, I will say,” the former Trump campaign adviser laughed. “I don’t blame him. Donald Trump understands he is his own best spokesman.”
Other former presidents have tended to take a step back from the political spotlight, particularly when it comes to intraparty battles. Trump has taken a different tack, hitting out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and complaining about “RINOs,” a pejorative acronym that stands for Republicans in Name Only.
He has backed Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who is seeking to unseat fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger as Georgia’s secretary of state. Raffensperger drew Trump’s ire by refusing to overturn his state’s election results in November.
Earlier this week, Trump even backed an incumbent candidate for the chairmanship of the South Carolina Republican Party, Drew McKissick.
Neither the South Carolina nor Georgia contests are the kind in which ex-presidents would normally involve themselves.
But “trying to put Donald Trump into a traditional box is not understanding Donald Trump,” according to Brad Blakeman, who served in former President George W. Bush’s White House and is a Trump supporter.
There are plenty of critics when it comes to Trump’s desire to maintain his political relevance.
They point to the number of black marks against him.
His incitement of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection made him the only president in history to be impeached twice. Many voters hold him culpable for the pandemic death toll reaching such catastrophic heights. He is blamed by some within his own party for their loss of the Senate following runoff defeats in Georgia. He also faces a sea of legal woes on topics ranging from his business dealings to alleged assaults against women.
Susan Del Percio, a Republican strategist but Trump critic, replied simply “No” when asked if she takes seriously the idea of a 2024 run for office.
She sees Trump’s political interventions as a feeding of his ego rather than anything else.
“He misses the spotlight, he misses the attention,” Del Percio said. “Attention is like oxygen to this man.”
Even among those who look far more favorably on Trump, there is genuine uncertainty as to his intentions. Some sources in his circle who spoke with The Hill were skeptical that the mooted Trump social network is anywhere close to launching, for example.
As ever with the former president, factionalism among his aides makes it hard to divine the truth.
“What the president wants to do and what the different camps around him want him to do are two different things — or three different things or four different things,” said one longtime Trump acquaintance.
But one way or another, Trump is not going anywhere:
“He remains a leader to tens of millions of Americans. And even to Americans who don’t support him, he remains an object of fascination,” Conway said. “Both groups still want to hear from him — or at the very least, can’t quit him.”
Via The Hill