Trump’s 2024 presidential bid will force Republican Party soul-searching, Northeastern expert says

president trump speaking at a podium
Former President Donald Trump, seen in reflection, announces he is running for president for the third time as he speaks at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

After lackluster midterm elections, a Tuesday night announcement by former President Donald Trump of his 2024 presidential campaign strategically served several purposes, Northeastern experts say. It also gave the Republican Party a daunting choice—again be the party of Donald Trump, or not.

There are several reasons Trump rushed to announce his candidacy, experts say.

“Of course, there is the political motivation of trying to announce early, before competitors jump into the fray,” says Costas Panagopoulos, chair of Northeastern’s political science department.

The early timing of the announcement was also partially designed to deflect any criticism of Trump’s impact on the lackluster performance of the Republican Party in the 2022 midterm elections last week, before such views became cemented in the minds of his electorate, Panagopoulos says.

The U.S. Department of Justice may put on hold any potential prosecutions or indictments of the former president during the 2022 election cycle. By announcing his candidacy now, Panagopoulos says, Trump possibly secured an opportunity to claim that any of such efforts are politically motivated.

Much of what Trump said in his more than hour-long speech reflected the kind of priorities his 2016 campaign and subsequent presidency had had: saving America from demise and ensuring its greatness and glory; strengthening borders against immigrants and drugs; tax and regulation cuts; taking on the Washington establishment; and defeating the radical left. 

Trump mentioned Tuesday night his “decisive action” during the COVID-19 pandemic “to save the lives and the U.S. economy,” “the strongest ever” southern borders during his presidency, achieved “American energy independence which have turned into energy dominance,” jobs and factories leaving China for America, and the respect Russia, China, Iran and North Korea had for him.  

“Some of the ways in which he characterized certain things reflected to me a sense of revisionist history, looking back at his administration through rose-colored glasses and not accurately reflecting the reality of either the circumstances of his own administration or the current administration,” Panagopoulos says. “He has basically convinced himself, perhaps with good reason, that he could characterize things any way he wants, accurate or not, and his supporters will either not question those things, or will not care if they doubt those things.”

Ted Miller, associate teaching professor and course coordinator at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies, says he is concerned that Trump is considering changing the civil service model established in the Pendleton Act to surround himself with loyalists.

“This has not been discussed in his first term,” Miller says, but now Trump is better prepared since he has been through the presidency before.

Before the Republican Party chooses to support Trump or nominates another candidate for the 2024 presidential elections, Panagopoulos says, it has some serious soul-searching to do about what that would mean both for public policy and for their electoral fortunes.

Trump is partially responsible for the GOP losing the House majority in 2018, he says, the presidential election in 2020, and not performing as well as expected in 2022 due to extremist and 2020 election-denying views of some of the candidates he had endorsed.

But marginalizing Trump with his cult-like following and dismantling his hold on the GOP base would take a real fight, Panagopoulos says.

“Donald Trump is not the kind of person who’s going to sit back and play a silent role in the party. He won’t be a quiet presence,” Panagopoulos says. “The only way that can happen is if there’s some real cohesion within the GOP in standing up against Trump.”

An alternative Republican candidate like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, for example, would have to compete with Trump’s national stature, celebrity and visibility in the electorate that has been built over the course of several decades.

DeSantis might be the best-case-scenario candidate to face Trump, Miller says, but he would have to demonstrate that he can take blows from Trump. Even though Sen. Marco Rubio was forceful and Sen. Ted Cruz was a skillful politician, they both lost the nomination to Trump.

“You need Trump’s supporters to win the election,” says Miller, author of A Conspiratorial Life: Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism.

But Trump supporters follow him and him alone, Miller says. That is the problem, because it is not really ideological, it is a real personal loyalty, akin to fame adherence. 

“How do you dislodge that?” Miller says.

The only way he sees that happening is if Republicans consistently make the case that he has lost in 2018, 2020 and 2022.

“People may not be able to be swayed. That is a big chunk of the GOP base. But it is not most voters,” Panagopolus says. 

Trump can create some problems for the Republicans both in the primaries and in the next presidential election, Panagopoulos says. If Trump decides to run as an independent, it would likely siphon enough votes from the Republican nominee to result in a Democratic victory. If the GOP embraces his candidacy and nominates Trump again, they still risk losing 2024 presidential elections.

Another problem within the GOP is election deniers, Miller says. He was relieved to see last week that many of them lost in the 2022 midterms, but some of them did win and they possess considerable control in the party.

“This is a brand new thing that people reject elections,” he says, noting that the belief in the legitimacy of elections is foundational for a democracy. “I would like to see complete rejection of people who deny reality.”

It will take at least the next election cycle to replace them, Miller says, while he would like both parties to focus on American democracy.

While Republicans decide whether they want to be the party of Donald Trump, Democrats need to continue to deliver on the priorities that they were elected to deliver for the American people, Panagopoulos says, and to communicate their achievements in a way that convinces voters that their policies are in their best interests.

“Much of this has to do with the performance of the economy and presidential approval,” he says.

Although President Biden has indicated that he intends to run in 2024, the Democratic Party needs to develop a bench of viable contenders for the presidency and other high profile offices across the country as well, he says.

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