The Memo: Trump is diminished but hasn’t faded

Tuesday marks six months since former President Trump left the White House.

Back then, Trump helicoptered off the South Lawn having become the only president in history to be twice impeached. The tumult of the Jan. 6 insurrection was still reverberating.

Where he stands now is a more complicated question.

The former president has not faded from the scene in the way his opponents hoped.

He would be the clear favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024 if he runs.

He has swatted away intraparty foes, drawn huge crowds to rallies and inserted himself with force into Republican primaries. He continues to issue a stream of statements from Mar-a-Lago deriding his enemies and oxygenating his false claims about the 2020 election.

But Trump is diminished in other ways.

Social media bans have made him a less central figure to the national conversation than he once was. The Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg are under indictment for tax fraud in New York.

The former president also confronts an immutable law — time moves on. His presidency is always receding in the rearview mirror.

A huge swath of the population is firmly fixed in its views of Trump, loving or loathing the 45th president. But it is more significant that some erstwhile supporters are drifting away.

Dan Eberhart is a prolific Republican fundraiser who says he gave about $100,000 in support of Trump’s 2020 reelection efforts. But the events of Jan. 6 caused him to have a “cooling” on Trump, he said.

Eberhart told this column that he has come to see the former president as a net negative for the GOP.

“His stranglehold on the Republican Party is likely to hold us back,” Eberhart said, drawing a comparison with Barry Goldwater, the 1964 GOP presidential nominee who had a visceral appeal to many conservatives but lost the general election in a landslide to former President Lyndon Johnson.

In Trump’s case, “there is nobody in the party who can come close in terms of filling up a rally or energizing the base,” Eberhart added. “But at the same time, it wasn’t enough to win last time, and it won’t be enough to win this time.”

Brad Blakeman, who served on the senior staff in former President George W. Bush’s White House, is another formerly stalwart Trump supporter who now sounds a lukewarm tone.

“The era of Trump is over,” Blakeman said.

“While he is a leader in the Republican Party, he is not the leader of the Republican Party. That space has to be filled by others who are moving up or who are currently serving,” Blakeman added.

Looking ahead to 2024, Blakeman cited Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sens. Rick Scott (Fla.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley as credible potential GOP challengers, whether Trump runs or not.

Others are not so sure there is any opening if the biggest name in GOP politics seeks a comeback.

Trump is formidably strong among the Republican base, according to numerous polls. His rallies in late June and early July in Ohio and Florida drew crowds in the thousands. And even Trump’s staunchest detractors acknowledge his power with his base.

“I really do detest him, but I have never seen a political candidate who had such a strong hold on voters,” said veteran Democratic strategist Tad Devine.

Devine was deeply skeptical that Trump could win a general election again.

He returned to the one question that is often asked by the former president’s fans and haters alike: Who could beat him for the Republican nomination?

“Nobody is going to be able to stop him,” Devine predicted. “Ron DeSantis is a flyweight next to Trump. There is no way that guy is going to be able to stand in the ring with Trump and not become ‘Lil Marco Rubio’ Two. You can’t go from sycophant to slayer overnight.”

The power that Trump exerts over his base isn’t just about his celebrity or his sloganeering.

He undoubtedly changed the Republican Party, both in tone and in substance — to the horror of many country-club conservatives but to the delight of his admirers. Those shifts are still rippling across the political landscape.

“Trump and Trumpism are alive and well, and he is the dominant figure in the Republican Party,” Peter Navarro, a key trade adviser in the Trump White House, told this column.

There is “a battle going on in the Republican Party for the hearts and minds of the people,” according to Navarro — one that sets traditional GOP power brokers such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) against “populist economic nationalism in the form of President Trump.”

“One of his great achievements was to turn the Republican Party into the party of the working class,” Navarro said of his former boss.

It’s a debatable claim. Last November, voters with incomes under $50,000 favored President Biden over Trump by 55 percent to 44 percent, according to exit polls.

But Trump did make gains in unexpected places, notably among working-class Latinos.

His capacity to reach parts of the electorate that other politicians cannot remains potent, just as it was when he began his political ascent.

Back in 2016, “party elites were too removed from Trump’s supporters and lulled by their own stale rhetoric to grasp what was happening. Media elites were just as stupefied,” the journalist George Packer writes in his new book about America’s divisions. Trump “had a reptilian genius for intuiting the emotions of ‘Real America’ — a foreign country to elites on the right and left.”

It all comes at a massive cost, however.

The ardent members of Trump’s loyal base are balanced out by the many millions of Americans who recoil from his demagoguery, lies and willingness to salt the wound of racism.

His loss in November was in part attributable to serious erosion among suburban, better-educated voters.

There are also those who are simply tired of the chaos he churns up endlessly in his wake — a trait that reached its nadir on Jan. 6.

An Economist-YouGov poll conducted July 10-13 indicated that the number of Americans who hold a “very unfavorable” view of Trump far outweighs those with a “very favorable” view, 45 percent to 26 percent.

The polarization he incites is not nearly as beneficial as he seems to believe.

But none of it means Trump is going to fade away anytime soon.

“I think his standing has deteriorated overall with the public. But I think his stranglehold on the Republican Party has intensified,” said Devine. “He has his hands around its neck right now — and he is willing to put on as much pressure as he needs to control that political party.”

Via The Hill

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