Two years since he incited an attempted coup and just 12 months out from the US election primaries, Donald Trump is more likely to end up in prison than back in the Oval Office.
A combination of legal and political woes make it highly improbable the 45th president will secure the Republican nomination. His days as leader of the free world are almost certainly over, leaving only two questions: will Trump control the chosen GOP candidate, and can he stay out of jail?
Donald Trump rides off into the sunset on one of his digital trading cards.Credit:
Remarkably, it seems the man who inspired his supporters to attack the world’s most recognised symbol of democratic government has finally committed the only truly unacceptable political sin: losing.
Trump has thrown away the last three US election cycles including the 2018 midterms, the 2020 presidential poll and the 2022 midterms, where Democrats unexpectedly held onto the Senate. All but one of Trump’s handpicked election-denier candidates lost.
Against a highly beatable Joe Biden, whose approval rating is anchored around 40 per cent, fed up Republicans are desperate for a presidential candidate who can appeal to swing voters and deliver what Trump has long and loudly boasted but quite clearly can no longer deliver: victory at the ballot box.
Trump’s ability to control Republican primary voters and lawmakers has always been the key to his political power.
I saw this loyalty on full display on January 6, 2021, standing in the doorway of the Capitol as the angry mob smashed their way into the hallways of power, trashing everything in their path.
“Today is not the end, it’s just the beginning!” the president bellowed to his furious supporters, before the madness began.
In the early hours of the following morning, watching the National Guard erect a fence around the US Capitol Building through tear-gassed, bloodshot eyes, I was convinced it was, in fact, the beginning of the end of Trump. His die-hard fan base was unhinged enough to scale the walls of the Capitol, but it’s a long way from an electoral majority.
Two years on, Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is at its lowest point since he announced his first presidential bid in 2015.
Incumbent Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis holds his son Mason as he celebrates winning reelection, at an election night party in Tampa, Florida, November 8, 2022.Credit:AP
“Appearing to be weak and a loser is kryptonite for the man who built his political Superman persona around winning,” warns legendary Republican strategist Mike Murphy.
Sixty-one per cent of GOP voters surveyed in a USA Today/Suffolk University poll said they would prefer a different candidate to pursue Trump’s conservative policies over the next two years, with two-thirds backing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the man for the job.
“There were people around Rasputin who said he can never be killed, until they brought a big enough gun,” Murphy points out.
Murphy, who advised John McCain, Jeb Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger, predicts Trump will realise he can’t win a general election by the end of 2023, and will instead try to dictate who wins the Republican Party nomination.
“That way, he’ll get all the media attention with much less risk of political embarrassment,” Murphy says.
Given the US federal justice system shies away from investigating presidential candidates, Trump’s early announcement to run in 2024 is likely as much a legal strategy as a political one.
Twice impeached – facing a raft of investigations into his family business, alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election, and potential criminal prosecution for his role in the Capitol insurrection – it seems reality might finally be catching up with the TV star.
Murphy likens the American legal system to lava: slow moving, but “fundamentally unstoppable”.
Trump will eventually have his day in court, it’s just a question of whether he’ll be charged in any number of investigations before 2024.
Those hoping to see the New York billionaire standing in line for prison slop wearing an orange jumpsuit may be disappointed. Even if convicted, it’s unlikely that Trump will be watching the election coverage from a jail cell. He’ll more likely be locked up in a “bungalow on an air force base somewhere in North Dakota” predicts Murphy. It’s still an extraordinary image to ponder: a former US president behind bars – a fate even Richard Nixon avoided.
Trump’s political death throes, like the man himself, have been dramatic and often cringeworthy. The most recent, billed as a “major announcement” by Team Trump, was the launch of Digital Trading Cards showcasing the 76-year-old in various avatars including a superhero and NASCAR driver. The non-fungible tokens initially sold out in less than a day, but in the past week have lost more than 70 per cent of their value.
His stocks are plummeting across the board.
Without the support of the GOP, and with the feds circling, 2023 may well be the year The Donald finally dances – or is dragged – off stage, for good.
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