So far, former President Donald Trump’s 2024 bid looks like a masterclass in biffing a national campaign. And that spells bad news for everyday Americans, who deserve a genuine alternative to the free trade/free markets/free love platform of Bush-Clinton-Obama neoliberalism.
The Worst Campaign Launch, Maybe Ever
The rollout of Trump 2024 came on the heels of a disappointing midterm for Republicans, and for several days after his announcement Trump did not have a campaign website online other than an ugly “donate now” page on DonaldJTrump.com.
One month later, Trump made another “major announcement”: a line of cringeworthy NFTs that feature his own face photoshopped onto illustrations of a superhero, an astronaut, a cowboy, a successful Wall Street investor, and other things he is not. Even by ex-president standards, Trump’s NFTs are pretty sad. They almost made me want to watch President Barack Obama’s cringe nature documentary for relief.
Voters seem to have noticed that Trump’s campaign is not cutting it. Polling shows Trump lagging in a hypothetical 2024 matchup against Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. And over winter break, one of our correspondents met a previously pro-Trump couple in North Carolina that is now pro-DeSantis and disdainful of Trump’s “trading cards.” They are not the only ones.
That’s too bad, because Trump 2016 was impressive. Trump’s most loyal voters were the non-college-educated whites of America’s industrial heartland, many of whose livelihoods, communities, and families were destroyed by the “worst trade deal[s] maybe ever signed anywhere” under Clinton and Bush, et al. Offering those voters hope, Trump promised to make America great again, bring the jobs back, and restore order to the border and the streets.
Of course, Trump didn’t have the resources to deliver on most of those promises; his agenda got bogged down in the swamp. But it was wonderful to have a change in tone, at least until 2020.
2020: Year of the Aristocrat
The neoliberal elite had a heyday in 2020. Big Tech, the billionaires, the billionaires’ pet foundations and activists, and the corporate media all flexed their muscles to help deliver milquetoast pushover Joe Biden his very own presidency.
On the Big Tech front, Twitter employees censored the Hunter Biden story informally for political reasons, rather than objectively by applying Twitter’s content policies. Progressive activist groups took advantage of COVID-19 lockdowns to convert local election offices into mail-order get-out-the-vote operations for Democrats, with hundreds of millions of dollars of plutocrat money to boot (thanks Mark Zuckerberg). And some of those same NGO operatives coordinated behind the scenes with media outlets to ensure that their way of doing elections got positive coverage.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump went full conspiracy theory mode, wailing about Dominion voting machines and other nonsense.
2020 should have shown America that Republicans need to up their lawfare game and that loose voting rules give too much power to activist NGOs. Instead, 2020 showed America that Donald Trump is a moron. Trump’s refusal to accept the basic reality that he lost the 2020 election makes him look pathetic. The misguided protest at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and the made-for-TV hearings that ensued, did not help him either.
Where Do We Go from Here?
The sad part about Trump’s implosion is that it represents the end of right-wing populism in America for now.
The closest equivalent to Trump is DeSantis, who is the perfect embodiment of fusionism 2.0—i.e., Chamber of Commerce tax cuts with a side helping of performative anti-woke activism, rather than performative pro-life activism a la President Ronald Reagan. Everyday Americans who hope for change that reflects their values and economic interests will be disappointed as ever.
The mega-donors, pundits, lobbyists, and incumbents remain in charge. Voters are relegated to choosing between highly curated, elite-friendly options on Election Day. So much for government by the people, which is what most people mean when they say “democracy.”
Trump may not be a viable candidate in 2024, but he used to be a threat to the neoliberal order and the moribund machinations of Conservatism, Inc. For the good of America’s everyman, we can only hope for more such threats in the future.
* The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker. For another perspective on Trump from a Thinker team member, please view this op-ed.