Twenty-one months after flying off into the Florida sunset, Donald Trump has re-emerged on the scene, as if his recent absence was only a blip.
In the final days before the US midterm elections, the former president has been hightailing it from one political rally to the next, lobbing insults at any Republican who stands in his way and publicly speculating about making another bid at the White House, for old times’ sake.
Top Republicans urged Trump to wait until after the midterm vote. The concern was that he might to detract from their roster of Senate and House of Representatives candidates poised to deliver a shellacking to Joe Biden and the Democrats, fuelled by a sluggish economy, bad inflation and post-pandemic malaise.
Trump agreed to wait until after the vote tomorrow to officially pull the trigger. But by last Thursday, he was in Iowa announcing he would “very, very, very probably do it again. OK?” By Saturday, the campaign tease had progressed to full-on reveal, with Trump admitting he would “like to do” the announcement right there and then — but was holding back, out of respect for the two Pennsylvania Republicans he was meant to be stumping for.
The calculus for this announcement is simple. Final polls indicate that a very good night for Republicans is likely on Tuesday, with the GOP poised to take back one if not both chambers. Who better to ride on the party’s success than Trump?
Over the course of the 2022 election cycle, Trump has doled out a whopping 200-plus endorsements to Republicans across the country. For some candidates who had been struggling in their primaries, the Trump seal of approval has a Midas effect, helping dozens claim the nominations. Come January, many of them are likely to be sitting members of Congress.
The endorsements have been matched by a late — but not insignificant — disbursement of cash from Trump’s Make America Great Again super Pac, which has given out more than $16mn, while saving most of the cash for a 2024 run.
On the campaign trail this past weekend, Trump seemed close to his old self, bestowing a new nickname upon his former protégé turned potential Republican rival Ron DeSantis (“Ron DeSanctimonious”) and touting polls that showed the former president leading the race for the Republican nomination with 71 per cent support.
Twenty-one months, a Capitol uprising and countless legal troubles later, the former president appears all but unchanged. The question is: are the voters?
When Trump left the White House nearly two years ago, he had been banned from Twitter, his allies were under siege and his party’s leadership was anxious to be done with him. Now, a year and a half later, the world may once again have tipped back in his favour.
As he prepares his expected announcement, Twitter’s new titan — Elon Musk — is in the process of moulding the social network back into the kind of virtual public square Trump thrived on, free of an army of content moderators hired to block the dissemination of fake news. Musk has floated the possibility of allowing the former president back on the platform.
Whether or not Trump decides to run is really besides the point. Even pre-announcement, he has seeped back into the public consciousness and public arena.
It is hard not to think of the other former leaders who have re-emerged victorious in recent weeks, from Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil to Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. In the tailwinds of a global pandemic, economic convulsions, energy supply shocks and a war in Europe, we can’t seem to quit the shadows of our past.