Trump Marks His Territory
“The Republican Party is stacked,” pronounced former President Donald Trump to podcast host and Fox News personality Lisa Boothe, in an interview published Monday.
“Ron DeSantis is doing a really good job in Florida,” Trump told Boothe, as he unveiled something of a list of who he thought had been naughty and who had been nice. “I think Josh Hawley has shown some real courage in going after big tech … Somebody that’s been really terrific is Ted Cruz.” Continuing, Trump said: “Rand Paul has been great … Sarah Huckabee is going to do great in Arkansas. I think that Kristi Noem has done a terrific job.”
The ex-president, through his aide Jason Miller, also promised a new social media platform over the weekend, and with it Trump’s digital re-emergence. Miller said on Fox that the platform “would change the game,” and follows months of reports, particularly since Trump was defenestrated from Twitter, that the GOP standard-bearer had been weighing a new news network or even the creation of another political party.
And Trump is making clear he’s set out on revenge.
He and his team endorsed Rep. Jody Hice in his bid to take down Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who rose to national notoriety in January after leaking at least two rancorous calls with the president. Elements of that media moment have now been brought into broader question, including by reporting in The American Conservative, and it’s obvious that in the case of Raffensperger, the right is out for blood.
There are several other implications of Trump’s coming up for air this week, after two months of relative silence.
First, Trump appears to be doing Ted Cruz a solid. The hatchet, as it were, between two, once bitter rivals is buried thousands of feet under the ground. Cruz became a stalwart ally of Trump’s administration. He said it would be the honor of his life to represent Trump in his election contestation before the Supreme Court. And he joined in the formal objecting to the certification of the Electoral College on Jan. 6, as the Capitol Hill riots ensured. Senator Cruz has been pilloried in the press for an ill-advised trip to Mexico amid widespread power outages in his home state, but Trump made clear he liked the Texas senator just fine. With Trump long off his back—and given the strong performance historically of runners-up for the GOP nomination—Cruz likes where he’s sitting just fine.
Second, Josh Hawley is on Trump’s radar. Before this past winter, the Missouri senator’s reputation was something like eminence grise of the conservative intellectual circuit, or as writer Thomas Meaney put it Harper’s on Hawley’s 2019 appearance at the National Conservative Conference: “it was Josh Hawley over whom the crown most plausibly hovered.” Meaney’s piece was called “Trumpism after Trump,” but it’s been notable that Hawley has ratcheted up his contact with Trump since Trump lost the election last November. Hawley personally urged Trump to oppose a Coronavirus relief package if it did not contain personal checks, and in January, became the poster boy on the Hill of Trump’s efforts to avoid being jettisoned from power. Hawley’s style is generally a polished contrast to Trump’s, and the 2024 aspirant is known to keep to himself, but Trump just let him know: he likes the cut of his gib.
Trump also hooked up Rand Paul. The Kentucky senator’s brand of libertarianism has been something of a faded commodity since he blew out of the 2016 presidential, finishing far worse than his famous father. But Paul stayed in the trenches in the Trump years, in particular backing the president on foreign policy, and in recent days gained new notoriety himself by combatting the shaky pronouncements of COVID-19 pointman Anthony Fauci.
Trump’s nice words for Kristi Noem seemed to either elide or reveal ignorance of the South Dakota governor’s recent trouble—she has dashed the hopes of social conservatives by seemingly caving to corporate pressure over a bill that would have banned transgender participation in women’s high school sports. And Trump’s touting of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former spox and the leading candidate to become Arkansas’ next governor, confirmed that Mrs. Sanders, like her father before her, has presidential ambitions. And Trump seemed well-aware of his home state governor, Mr. DeSantis, his only real rival in the CPAC straw poll held a few weeks back.
But what was perhaps most interesting is who Trump did not tout: himself, nor a member of his family, nor his longtime lieutenants Mike Pence, the former vice president he has had a falling out with, nor Mike Pompeo, his hawkish, ambitious former secretary of State. It was contra the tenor of his CPAC address: “Don’t ever forget it. With your help, we will take back the House. We will win the Senate. … And then a Republican President will make a triumphant return to the White House. … And I wonder who that will be? I wonder who that will be. Who, who will that be? I wonder.”
But on Monday, for the first time in a while, it sounded more like Trump might not run.
If he doesn’t, It’s very much a feature of modern politics that recent presidents have struggled to anoint their successor. Bill Clinton was essentially iced out of the campaign of Al Gore in 2000. The choice of John McCain, a surly White House antagonist in the 2000s, was not the first pick of George W. Bush. Barack Obama favored Hillary Clinton, who forfeited an election to Donald Trump. Not stopping there, Obama famously told fhe New Yorker’s David Remnick in 2016 who he liked in the days after the Trump shock. “He mentioned Kamala Harris, the new senator from California,” Remnick reported. “Pete Buttigieg, a gay Rhodes Scholar and Navy veteran who has twice been elected mayor of South Bend, Indiana; Tim Kaine; and Senator Michael Bennet, of Colorado.”
Not on that list? Joe Biden.
It’s a reminder of how swiftly political winds can change. As Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times over the weekend: “So now comes a delicious twist: President Biden is being hailed as a transformational, once-in-a-generation progressive champion, with comparisons to L.B.J. and F.D.R. aplenty, while Obama has become a cautionary tale about what happens when Democrats get the keys to the car but don’t put their foot on the gas.”
And it is a reminder of how party godfathers can suddenly fade from the scene, especially if their legacies become defined by flash, but a failure to reward the faithful.