Opinion: Democrats shouldn’t underestimate the threat Trump poses

Editor’s note: Julian Zelizer, political analyst for CNN, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 24 books, including “The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer. The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


It looks like former President Donald Trump is going to make another bid for the White House. On Thursday, Trump told supporters to “get ready” for his return to the presidential campaign trail, and top aides have pegged Nov. 14 as a possible launch date, sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Trump is apparently hoping to make President Grover Cleveland the first person to win two non-consecutive elections.

Trump has been hinting at another run for months, the news would certainly send shockwaves through the political world. Trump is arguably one of the most controversial and volatile political leaders in contemporary US history. And Dobbs v. As we’ve seen with recent Supreme Court decisions like Jackson v. Women’s Health, as well as the toxic rhetoric and support for conspiracy theories within the GOP, his presidency was a disaster.

Although a sigh of relief was heard in many parts of the country after President Joe Biden won the 2020 election, some Democrats may feel that Trump’s resurgence is good news for the party. After all, Biden, who has again said he is “intentional,” seems to have the magic formula to defeat Trump. The contrast it automatically presents – a stable, experienced and low profile political leader – is powerful. Trump’s presence on the campaign trail would also rally Democrats behind Biden and allow the president to raise significant campaign funds.

But Democrats should not underestimate the threat Trump poses.

If the midterm campaigns have shown Democrats anything, it’s that Republicans remain a solidly united party. Very few can shake that unity. After Trump left the White House, the party did not change significantly and the “Never Trump” contingent did not emerge as a dominant force. Indeed, officials such as Congresswoman Liz Cheney were expelled from the party.

Even with unconventional and flawed candidates like Herschel Walker and Dr. Mehmet Oz running for key Senate seats, the latest polls are showing the GOP in relatively good shape heading into Tuesday’s midterm elections. Meanwhile, Democrats are scrambling to defend several seats and candidates in reliably blue states like New York are also at risk.

If Republicans do well next week, possibly retaking control of the House and Senate, members of the party will surely feel confident in ramping up their culture wars and economic debates in 2024. , a strong showing is likely to create winds to unify the GOP behind Trump. While there has been plenty of speculation about the rise of other Trump-like Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, it’s likely that when the former president formally re-enters the political arena, they’ll be “grumpy” — as his formidable opponents learned in the 2016 Republican primaries. .

A GOP midterm victory would also bolster Trump himself. At this point, the account has largely escaped him. Despite ongoing criminal investigations and a January 6 House Select Committee investigation, Trump is still a viable political figure.

And if Trump announces his candidacy, the Justice Department is considering announcing a special counsel to oversee two broad federal investigations into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the misuse of national security documents stored at Mar-a-Lago. But that is unlikely to stop Trump; We’ve seen the relentless attacks on former special counsel Robert Mueller, who oversaw the Russia investigation. And now that Trump is formally the nominee, it will be increasingly difficult to judge him. Trump, a master of playing the victim, is sure to say (as he has done in the past) that any investigation is just a “witch hunt” designed to get him out on the run.

If Trump avoids trial, it would surely come under fire for the president, who may very well still be struggling with the economy and division in his own party. And if election deniers move into positions of power after his term, and Trump escapes any punishment by Jan. 6, he is likely to take advantage of the loyalists who have infiltrated state and local election offices to ensure victory is his. Trump will also come to the race having been to this rodeo before, which means he will be able to hone the technique and rhetoric that brought him to office in 2016. And now that Elon Musk has bought Twitter, Trump can be reinstated, giving him a way. to direct and shape the media conversation. (Trump, who founded Truth Social, where he has been active since being banned from Twitter, has not publicly indicated he will return.)

Finally, it’s worth noting that a midterm victory would do little to energize Republican voters. The outside party is often more motivated and prepared for political struggle than the incumbent party, which is to some extent eroded by the reality of governability.

But the 2024 election will be as much about Trump as it is about Biden. While Biden can tout a successful legislative record that includes the Anti-Inflation Act and a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, he enters 2024 with the same baggage that any incumbent carries. The issues he has battled, including inflation and the aftermath of his withdrawal from Afghanistan, will be part of the conversation in a way they weren’t four years ago. If he runs, Biden will no longer campaign to be the new leader; he is the boss.

The midterms have shown that Democrats’ focus on the radical nature of the GOP and the inherent dangers to democracy are not necessarily enough to rally voters. These dangers have been brought up several times, including in Biden’s closing speech on Wednesday, but Democrats are still fighting to hold on to power.

Of course, just because Trump is a very serious threat in 2024 doesn’t mean he will win. Trump turned off many independents and even some Republicans for 2020 and it remains unclear whether he can win their support in crucial swing states. And as we saw with President Barack Obama’s run against Mitt Romney in 2012, presidents who have endured tough election campaigns can still find a way to victory.