Leave it to Joe Biden to experience the most tidy reversal imaginable after some breathtaking success.
Consider: Biden was senator-elect at 29; and then a widow and a mourning father at 30. The Small Wonder State senator was a hotshot presidential front-runner at 45; he was a discredited plagiarist and brain aneurysm victim shortly thereafter. Biden was “rescued off the scrap heap” as Donald Trump observed of his selection by Barack Obama for vice president in 2008; he was coldly cast aside by his reputed friend for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden was inaugurated president of the United States, a plain lifelong desire, in 2021; by 2022, significant swaths of the nation he governs, notably including his own party, believe he is Ronald Reagan in 1988 at best, or Paul Von Hindenburg, if you want to dispatch with the nonsense and manifest Godwin’s Law.
So when his White House workshopped the summer of “Dark Brandon,” in opera-bouffe fashion, it failed to anticipate the obvious rejoinder: the autumn of “Dark Don.”
The blitz onto Trump’s baby boomer hacienda last Monday accomplished the axiomatic: sated the lust of the “lawfare” wing of the Democratic Party, and evoked Trump’s peculiar, career-length transpartisan appeal, with critics of the raid emerging from the vestiges of the luckless but honorable civil libertarian left. And so, fabled Trump reporter Michael Wolff thinks this is it: America is barreling toward a cinematic zenith in the Trump show.
Per Wolff: “In the nearly eight years now since the Trump campaign began, neither the Democrats, nor that stubborn core of anti-Trump Republicans, have managed to find their own storyteller, or to recognise that the language, assumptions, and honour of politics may have changed.… Politics is the business of lawyers and not of showmen, Democrats continue to believe that.”
When Trump returns to Palm Beach next month from his summer redoubt at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and greets club members on the Mar-a-Lago terrace, he will regale them with tales of this attack. He will tell them that this not only represents the end of the republic unless he protects it, but also the stuff of Trump legend—a story of his heroism and his opponents’ impotence.
I have never met Donald Trump. But the verdict on his presentation in private is unanimous: almost impressively, the man his chief strategist once called “the greatest public speaker since William Jennings Bryan” comes across as having almost no inner life.
Charmed enough to meet a few, I can remark that some VIPs in private leave a thespian impression of their world-presenting posture; I haven’t encountered him directly, but Boris Johnson, I suspect, could be accused of being—as rivals once damned his predecessor in charisma, Tony Blair—an actor. But in the gladiator arena of latter-day American politics, and at the supper table, Donald Trump is the same. He just talks.
We know who Donald Trump is. And this is his power.
The oft-ridiculed David Brooks pinpoints the present dynamic, didactic considerations aside: “It feels as though we’re walking toward some sort of storm and there’s no honorable way to alter our course.” The more Trump veers toward “the full Felix Gallardo,” the more the league of pedestal voters of the Democratic Party is aroused.
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And now, almost divinely robbed of the opportunity not to do the exacting work of a national presidential campaign (Wolff, who dined with 45 and the former First Lady last year, suspects that’s mainly why Trump has not already declared), Trump will be left with no recourse but to run. And every bit a caricature of his neo-adopted Irish identity, the Trump reboot will drive Biden to run again.
I have made the case, recently, that Florida provincial magistrate Ron DeSantis has offered up a charismatic counter-model of what America could look like if took the offramp on the woke nightmare. I believe that. One wonders, however, what really drives the species. Restoration? Or revenge?
Donald Trump has been merchandising the line that the 2020 election never really happened. It’s almost as if all sides are starting to believe him.