The stupefying magic of 2016 is gone, gone, gone. Just like that lovin’ feeling. Donald Trump’s unstoppable juggernaut of seven years ago has fizzled down to an absurdity of closed door speeches to wealthy supporters, NFT superhero trading cards, endless jeremiads about stolen elections on his failing and ridiculously named social media platform “Truth” Social, and a blood-curdling number of civil litigations and criminal investigations. Trump has become a dangerous and embattled parody of himself — and it’s just not working anymore.
Back when Trump burst onto the scene it was just two days past his 69th birthday. On June 16th, 2015 he rode the escalator down to the lobby of his eponymous tower and took the world stage by hideous storm. He was at the height of his powers, and he rode his lies and unique candidacy into the White House, into a presidency that was so gawdawful the Republicans wished he’d been a Democrat.
In any case, in the course of the four spectacularly awful years of the Trump presidency, Republicans discovered something that I think truly shocked them. They could support Trump’s obvious lies and disastrous missteps and still get away with it. With Fox News carrying water for Trump and a staggeringly stupid constituency, the number of things Republicans could get away with surprised even them. Maybe it really was true: Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes.
But the world is very different now. Slowly, stupidly, like a drunk emerging from a bad dream, Republicans are waking up to the possibility that they just might be able to win with someone else, someone like Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley or Mike Pompeo or Mike Pence. They’re also waking up to the fact that their “president” could actually go to jail. Even they know it would be tough for him to win a presidential election from the maximum security wing of ADX Florence.
What’s more, Trump isn’t a spring chicken anymore, to say the least. At 76 he’s old, tired, and losing his stamina. Decades of an execrable diet and no exercise and possible drug abuse have taken their inevitable toll. He’s really in no shape for another campaign. He’s become the political equivalent of a Weekend at Bernie’s or Dead Man Walking.
Early on Friday Trump promised to deliver a major political announcement later that night. He also promised to resume his Nuremberg-style rallies. Instead he spoke behind closed doors at Trump Doral, his resort in Miami, to a shady group called Judicial Watch. Trump was ostensibly there to (hilariously) promote “integrity, transparency and accountability in government and fidelity to the rule of law.” It was like Al Capone giving an impromptu talk on the importance of integrity in government.
But it’s still true that Trump remains the most popular potential candidate. It’s hardly surprising. One thing Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence share in common is a breathtaking lack of charisma. None of them have really been able to capture the public imagination. But the election is two years away and anything can happen between now and then.
In any case, I have a feeling that Donald Trump really is finished. I know I’ve said this before, but never before have so many forces been arrayed against him. And he just doesn’t look or sound equal to it any longer. Donald Trump’s enthusiasm deficit isn’t something he’s ever going to make up, particularly not with his endless legal troubles and his endless whining. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.