But Will He Make History For Selling Top Secret Documents To Our Enemies Instead?
From 1837, when Martin Van Buren was inaugurated until 1861 when the wretched James Buchanan was driven from office and Abraham Lincoln moved into the White House, the U.S. had a an exceptionally bad run of presidents-- all one-termers, largely judged as failures-- William Henry Harrison, who died a month into his term, John Tyler (who later was elected the the Confederate congress), James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Buchanan. Steve Bannon once said that Trump was such a terrible president that he would be judged on a par with Fillmore.
After Lincoln was assassinated, the U.S. was backing mediocrity-ville until William McKinley was assassinated and Vice President Teddy Roosevelt became president (1901). Roosevelt, though a Republican and an imperialist, was an ardent progressive reformer. He hand-picked his successor, William Howard Taft, a close personal friend, who turned out to be hideously conservative and challenged his reelection in 1912. Taft beat him in the GOP primary and Roosevelt ran on the Progressive Party line, throwing the election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The 1912 results:
Woodrow Wilson (D)- 6,296,284 (41.8%)- 435 electoral votes
Teddy Roosevelt (Prog)- 4,122,721 (27.4%)- 88 electoral votes
William Howard Taft (R)- 3,486,242 (23.2%)- 8 electoral votes
Eugene Debs (Socialist)- 901,551 (6.0%)
Wilson won 40 states and Taft won just 2-- Vermont and Utah-- while Roosevelt won 6 states: California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota and Washington.
Trump isn't exactly a Teddy Roosevelt-- nor an historian-- but there was been a great deal of speculation that he might try for another term. History will probably judge him as the worst president ever, but Biden is likely to be judged as just slightly better. He's weak and feeble, should never have been nominated in the first place and most Democrats don't think he should be re-nominated. A new CNN poll out this morning found that just 45% of Democrats want to see Biden run in 2024.
So will Trump run again? He would love to win again... but run? With him it's always about his toxic ego and his ability to monetize any situation. I doubt he'd run again unless he's handed the presidency a silver platter-- in other words, seen as the lesser of two evils. That same CNN poll shows that 50% of Republicans want him as the party nominee in 2024. But 49% prefer someone else. There's no doubt, however, that the nomination is his for the taking. What he doesn't want is to be seen as a loser. He's avoided that by claiming he won in 2020 and that the election was stolen, something an overwhelming number of Republicans believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary. If Trump runs again and loses, his monetization of his political fame could dry up. How important is that to him? Shane Goldmacher and Eric Lipton took it up this morning in the NY Times-- A Profitable Post-Presidency Like No Other. They began by describing a Trump rally in Naples, Florida, a description that ended bizarrely: "But the money raised did not go to Trump’s political operation. Instead, Trump’s share of the evening’s proceeds went straight into his pocket, according to a person familiar with the arrangement."
In the year since Trump has left the White House, he has undertaken a wide-ranging set of moneymaking ventures, trading repeatedly on his political fame and fan base in pursuit of profit. Much as he did while in the White House, Trump has thoroughly blurred the lines between his political ambitions and his business interests.
He has gone on an arena tour with the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, where a backstage “V.I.P. package” sold for more than $7,500. He has published a $75 coffee-table book, after being paid a multimillion-dollar advance by a new publishing company co-founded by his eldest son. He has turned an online Trump store into a MAGA merchandiser, with his company sending marketing missives to people on his 2020 campaign’s email list.
That store is now selling red “Make America Great Again” hats for $50 each-- a $20 markup from the price currently offered by his political action committee-- with all proceeds going to a Trump-owned company.
...For Trump, the monetization of his post-presidency represents a return to his roots. He expertly leveraged his celebrity as the host of The Apprentice and his image as a decisive businessman to build credibility when he first entered politics. Now, he is executing the same playbook, only in reverse: converting a political following that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in small campaign contributions into a base of consumers for all things branded Trump.
There are grandiose enterprises, such as a fledgling social-media company, whose billion-dollar market capitalization is largely predicated on Trump’s direct personal involvement. And there are smaller ones, like remodeling the lobby bar of Trump Tower in Manhattan and renaming it the 45 Wine and Whiskey Bar-- where specialty cocktails range in price up to, yes, $45 (that one comes with two “American beef sliders”) and can be sipped in dark velvet chairs surrounded by Trump’s black-and-white presidential portraits and paraphernalia.
...[N]o former president has been more determined to meld his business interests-- from chocolate bars to real estate to a tech start-up-- with a continuing political operation and capitalize on that for personal gain.
...Any division between Trump’s business and his political operation can be hard to discern.
At his first campaign-style rallies of 2022, in Arizona and Texas, giant television screens paid for by Trump’s PAC advertised his $75 picture book. His political operation has also promoted the book in emails to his supporters, as has his official post-presidential office, which also issued a recent statement (“Check it out!”) promoting a Trump property in Miami.
Lawrence Noble, former general counsel at the Federal Election Commission, said that the combination of ways that Trump had monetized his life after the White House, while remaining intimately involved in Republican politics and a possible future candidate himself, had created ethical questions unlike any post-presidency in modern times.
“The thing that is different about Trump is the making-money part seems to have permeated everything,” Noble said. “There is this appearance, at least, that he is always thinking: How can I make a profit off of this?”
...In 2021, Trump’s political committees spent more than $600,000 on Trump properties for rent, meals, meeting expenses and hotel stays, records show. His PAC continued to make monthly $37,541.67 rent payments to Trump Tower Commercial LLC.
The roughly $375,000 the PAC paid in Trump Tower rent was more than the total of $350,000 that Trump’s group donated to the scores of federal and state-level political candidates he endorsed in 2021.
Many of those candidates, in turn, redirected funds back to Trump, holding lavish events at his properties. Herschel Walker, the former football player whom Trump recruited to run for Senate in Georgia, spent more than $135,000 at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private Florida club. The Republican National Committee forked over $175,000 for a fund-raiser there in the spring.
Trump’s PAC made two $1 million donations to conservative nonprofits in 2021: the America First Policy Institute and the Conservative Partnership Institute. Both also hosted big events at Mar-a-Lago.
After years of slapping his name, for a price, on everything from steaks to water bottles to golf courses, Trump has found a big new market for lower-priced goods like hats, T-shirts and books.
The new push to capitalize on Trump’s name and brand echoes what he has done for decades with his real estate company, whose holdings now include six hotels in the United States and more than a dozen golf clubs.
In the Washington Post this morning, Michael Scherer and Josh Dawsey dealt with Trump's diminishing hold on the GOP. Many his extremist candidates-- some of whom are buying endorsements from him with cash and/or flattery, some of whom are certifiably insane-- are being rejected by mainstream Republicans. "Clashes," they wrote, "between Republican leaders and the candidates Trump has embraced have been playing out across the country with growing ferocity in recent months, a chaotic sign that Trump’s once unchallenged hold on the party and rank-and-file supporters is waning, even if by degrees. The former president’s power within the party and his continued focus on personal grievances is increasingly questioned behind closed doors at Republican gatherings, according to interviews with more than a dozen prominent Republicans in Washington and across the country, including some Trump advisers. Many spoke on the condition of anonymity because there remains significant fear of attracting Trump’s public wrath. The growing split is rooted in diverging priorities: Trump has pursued a narrow effort to punish those who challenged his efforts to overturn the 2020 election result, while also working to put people in power who would be more sympathetic to him should he try the same thing again. Other Republicans are more focused on finding palatable candidates most able to win in November." As a result, Trump and his endorsees now find themselves fighting against some elected GOP leaders, donors and party officers intent on navigating the party slowly away from him and his false election claims. Among voters, polls have shown Republican-leaning independents turning from Trump."
In some states-- Scherer and Dawsey singled out statewide races in Alabama, North Carolina and Alaska-- Trump's candidates have fallen behind in fundraising. Many of Trump's candidates in House races are flopping badly in fundraising as well, especially in races where Trump's lunatic candidates are challenging Republican incumbents. Many of Trump's candidates are doing poorly in polls as well. And, they reported, "An increasingly emboldened minority of Republican senators in Washington have bucked Trump’s direct commands, first by supporting a bipartisan infrastructure bill and now by working on a bipartisan effort that would make it harder for a future president to overturn a federal election result. Trump's knee jerk reaction to anyone who doesn't follow his orders is to call them names, like RINO or traitor to their constituents and the Republican Party. "[E]even major Republican donors are becoming increasingly bold about suggesting Trump step aside to let someone else run for president in 2024.
Art Pope, a prominent North Carolina donor who opposed Trump in 2016 but said he came to support much of his presidency, said he constantly hears in donor circles that a new nominee is needed in 2024, even if there is general support of Trump. “My preference would be he not run again for a variety of reasons and let there be a good primary going forward,” Pope said.
“The longer he’s not president, the more he’s going to realize he can be a kingmaker, and can still be the lead in the Republican Party even if he’s not president,” said Doug Deason, a Texas donor with close ties to the Trump family who said he doesn’t expect Trump to run. “I just think he’s going to realize the freedom that he has.”
The growing dissent and ebbing support has undercut the former president’s efforts to portray himself as an unassailable figure, and thrown suspense into the upcoming primary season.
Behind the scenes Trump has pushed back on aides, and even screamed at advisers, who have told him not to focus so much on re-litigating the last election, according to three people familiar with the matter. One adviser recalled a recent phone call in which Trump started shouting that he won the election after a person started discussing some of the reasons he lost-- and how he could improve in 2024. Trump has also complained to advisers about the new limits on his megaphone, as cable news networks shun live coverage of his mass rallies and his social media accounts lie dormant, two of his advisers said.
Tracking of online search terms, social media interactions and television news mentions have all fallen sharply since he left office.
“People aren’t necessarily seeing his messaging as much. They just say he’s not on Twitter, they don’t really know what he’s doing,” said a senior Republican, reflecting private conversations with donors and operatives. “A lot of people now say to me: ‘He did great things, he was a great president, but it’s time for something new.’”
Frustrations in the party have also grown about Trump spending less than $1.5 million in the second half of last year to help other Republicans, according to federal reports. Trump advisers say he wants to remain tightfisted with his political action committee outlays, though he will likely spend more ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“As opposed to being out there and to try to help the party, he is trying to help himself,” said one prominent Republican activist in Michigan. “He is completely focused on himself, and it is getting tiring.”
On Friday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee held a fundraiser for major donors at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s estate in Florida. Trump spoke to some of the committee’s top donors over lunch and, while ticking through races, vowed to help the Republican Party win back the majority. But he later falsely told guests the election was stolen and insulted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), according to a person with knowledge of his comments.
In recent months, he has repeatedly attacked McConnell, former vice president Mike Pence and a range of other senators and lawmakers from his own party. At the same time, McConnell has boasted that not a single Republican senator has publicly supported removing him as leader, an oft-repeated Trump demand.
Polls also have begun to show some weakening among Trump’s electoral coalition, even as Republicans appear poised for huge gains in the midterm election.
Trump’s favorability remains high among registered Republicans, at just under 80 percent in an Economist-YouGov tracking poll this month. But the same poll found 54 percent of Republicans saying they viewed him “very favorably,” compared with 68 percent right before the Jan. 6 insurrection last year and 74 percent in the month before the riot.
...“He is still God among Republicans, but independents don’t want him to run again. They have had enough,” said Frank Luntz, a pollster who has previously advised Republican leaders. “They aren’t happy with Biden and they weren’t happy with Trump, and they want something new.”
...The shift against Trump among independents has been especially sharp in Michigan, a pivotal swing state in presidential elections. Trump continues to get the support of 79 percent of registered Republican voters there, according to a recent poll by WDIV and the Detroit News.
The same poll found Trump is viewed favorably by 31 percent of all voters, the lowest level since 2016. That includes only 1 in 5 independent voters and only 38 percent of independent voters who say they lean Republican.
That hasn’t stopped Trump from becoming deeply involved. He has endorsed in 15 down-ballot races in the state, including 10 state legislative contests. He is also publicly supporting a long-shot effort to elevate state Rep. Matt Maddock (R), who was part of a legal challenge to block Biden’s win in Michigan, as the next Republican speaker of the state House.
His wife, Meshawn Maddock, the co-chair of the Michigan Republican Party, has become a regular adviser to Trump, according to people familiar with her role. She is helping to engineer some of his endorsements in the state, which include the father-in-law of the Maddocks’ daughter. People close to Trump say he would prefer that she run the state party.
Requests from others for Trump to stay out of races in the state have been rejected because Trump has only cared about the “election fraud issue,” according to a senior Republican with knowledge of the conversations.
“He’s doing endorsements for candidates he doesn’t know in races he shouldn’t care about,” another prominent Republican close to him said. “He’s going to end up losing some of these.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin offered an inside look at McConnell's campaign to thwart Trump. He wrote that as Trump "works to retain his hold on the Republican Party, elevating a slate of friendly candidates in midterm elections, McConnell and his allies are quietly, desperately maneuvering to try to thwart him. The loose alliance, which was once thought of as the GOP establishment, for months has been engaged in a high-stakes candidate recruitment campaign, full of phone calls, meetings, polling memos and promises of millions of dollars. It’s all aimed at recapturing the Senate majority, but the election also represents what could be Republicans’ last chance to reverse the spread of Trumpism before it fully consumes their party... [T]he message that he delivers privately now is unsparing, if debatable: Trump is losing political altitude and need not be feared in a primary... [and his] lieutenants share polling data they argue proves it. In conversations with senators and would-be senators, McConnell is blunt about the damage he believes Trump has done to the GOP, according to those who have spoken to him. Privately, he has declared he won’t let unelectable “goofballs” win Republican primaries."
If Trump muscles his preferred candidates through primaries and the general election this year, it will leave little doubt of his control of the Republican Party, build momentum for another White House bid and entrench his brand of politics in another generation of Republican leaders.
If he loses in a series of races after an attempt to play kingmaker, however, it would deflate Trump’s standing, luring other ambitious Republicans into the White House contest and providing a path for the party to move on.
“No one should be afraid of President Trump, period,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who won in 2020 without endorsing the then-president and has worked with McConnell to try to woo anti-Trump candidates.
But while there is some evidence that Trump’s grip on Republican voters has eased, polls show the former president remains overwhelmingly popular in the party. Among politicians trying to win primaries, no other figure’s support is more ardently sought.
...The Senate Republican leader has been worried that Trump will tap candidates too weak to win in the general election, the sort of nominees who cost the party control of the Senate in 2010 and 2012.
“We changed the business model in 2014, and have not had one of these goofballs nominated since,” he told a group of donors on a private conference call last year.
...Trump has made clear he wants the Senate candidates he backs to oust McConnell from his leadership perch, and even considered making a pledge to do so a condition of his endorsement. Few have done so to date, a fact McConnell considers a victory. “Only two of them have taken me on,” he crowed, alluding to Tshibaka in Alaska, and Greitens, the former Missouri governor running for an open seat.