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For Trump and Trumpers, the script doesn’t change

Former president follows familiar patterns as the 2024 race gets underway

Then-President Donald Trump alongside Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was then majority leader, in 2019.
Then-President Donald Trump alongside Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was then majority leader, in 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

I had a number of thoughts as I watched the beginning of former President Donald Trump’s speech Saturday to a crowd of supporters in Waco, Texas.

First, Trump continues to mock and demean his opponents, adversaries and others, whether they are Republicans — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — Democrats, or members of the media. 

Second, Trump has proved (and continues to demonstrate) that he will lie about almost anything if it serves his purposes. In particular, he accuses his critics of doing what, in fact, he has done himself.

Third, everything that is good and successful comes from Trump, while anything that somebody else has done is wrong and stupid. Only he has the right answers. Only he can make things better.

Fourth, many of our institutions are corrupt and controlled by elements of “the establishment,” which seek to destroy him because he is fighting for the “little guy” in America.

And fifth, he is a lock to win the Republican presidential nomination and will win the presidency in 2024 unless the establishment steals it from him again (as happened in 2020).

This is the same Trump we saw in 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022. He is the same mean-spirited narcissist he always has been, except maybe a little worse.

That would not be a huge problem if the Republican Party was made up of principled conservatives and pragmatists like John McCain, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and even Ronald Reagan, all of whom were public servants of good character. 

But that’s not the party now. Today’s GOP is the party of Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. It’s the party of Sebastian Gorka, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Lindell (the pillow guy). And it’s the party of election deniers who chair too many state Republican parties.

It’s also the party of Newsmax TV, which sells gold coins during Trump’s speeches and puts less-than-articulate former football star Herschel Walker on the air to comment on Trump’s speech.

Of course, Trump and his fellow travelers are only half of the problem. The other problem — maybe the bigger problem — is the party’s grassroots. 

I realize that many Democrats believed for decades that most mainstream conservatives and Republicans were intolerant warmongers who didn’t care about the poor or racial minorities.

But the current Republican Party is light years to the political right from what it was when people like Bob Dole and Howard Baker — or even Mitt Romney — defined the GOP.

Of course, the left played at least some role in the GOP’s metamorphosis from a mainstream conservative party.

I have an old friend, a college professor, who found the Trump message appealing primarily because he was tired of being buried under an avalanche of paper about diversity and inclusion. He was frustrated that more resources were going to diversity training than to the university’s traditional education mission. 

However, Trump turned the Republican Party into one that would like to take the country back to the 1950s (or possibly the 1850s), with positions on guns, abortion and gay rights that alienate plenty of swing voters and pragmatists.

Finally, Trump is simply wrong about his positioning for 2024. While he is the early favorite for the GOP nomination, that race is only now starting to take shape. He does not have the nomination wrapped up. 

More importantly, his legal troubles are not likely to help his prospects in the general election.

Republican and Democratic turnout should be very strong next year, as turnout was in 2020. But swing voters will likely be tired of Trump and prepared to move on, as they signaled when he was last on the ballot.

In any case, you can bet that the former president will double down on his rhetoric, portraying himself as a victim while sounding extreme, intolerant, dishonest — and maybe more than a little bit nuts.

By now, everyone knows who and what Trump is. Those who watch Newsmax or the prime-time lineup over at Fox apparently find an authoritarian president appealing. They come from the Viktor Orban/Vladimir Putin wing of the GOP.

But most Americans — particularly college-educated swing voters in key states like Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania — are likely to be looking for something less angry, less chaotic and less crazy.

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