Many years have passed since June 25, 2015, when Donald Trump launched his first presidential challenge. And he will still be in the spotlight for many more years, until January 2029, when his second presidential term ends, if he wins the sixtieth presidential election in the history of the United States on November 5th, as polls have long suggested. He is not a meteor, therefore, if it really goes like this. Not a nightmare to be forgotten along a path of substantial democracy, but a fifteen-year period with his figure, his ideology, and his language constantly at the center, a period so long and intense that it will constitute a turning point that profoundly marks America, an epochal turning point from which it will not be easy to return.
It is not just propaganda when it is said that the November vote will be a referendum on democracy. And it is in these terms that President Biden poses his challenge to Trump, quick to crown his now historic opponent, winner of the Republican caucuses in Iowa, as his presidential duelist. It’s as if he had chosen him, among the potential Republican challengers, as the best possible opponent, better than the freshest candidates, a woman, Nikki Haley, and a governor, Ron DeSantis, who in their youthful unpredictability are more insidious than the dangerous but predictable tycoon. The duelist Trump was already knocked out four years ago and is brimming with problems – 91 court cases – which are weighing him down in the long competition and could hinder his race to the point of causing him to stumble and fall. All this is in the context of the vote as a referendum on democracy, which to the White House strategists seems the most favorable playing field for a president-candidate who is floundering in the polls and who sees decisive parts of his electorate crumbling, which perhaps by now is only sensitive to yet another appeal to defend democracy endangered by the dictator Trump.
We know that polls must be taken as an often-capricious gauge, but the sensational fundraising data, where the president has scored unprecedented results, could be an indication in support of line of attack chosen by Biden, who has raised funds above all in the name of decisive battle to save democracy: 97 million in the last quarter of 2023. The Biden-Harris ticket now has 117 million dollars in cash. A very expensive and bloody duel is looming, while the Republican primaries already seem to have no story and the Democratic primaries are only virtual, unless in the end the scenario of an open convention emerges, desired by the party’s big names in the face of an obvious, looming defeat for Biden.
Despite all this, the competition remains unpredictable, less obvious than one is already led to consider it based on the results of caucuses in a rural state, which, if they matter at all, it is for their psychological rather than political value. This is true to the extent that the Democrats are no longer starting their primaries in Iowa but rather directly in New Hampshire, a state that is more representative of the different segments of the electorate and where the Republican competitors remaining in the race will compete once again next Tuesday.
From that moment on, it will be possible to verify Trump’s real strength, also in relation to that of Haley and DeSantis, especially should they decide to combine their forces, with the weaker of the two leaving the scene in favor of the better placed. At that point, assuming there is still life in the Republican Party, the primaries could make sense, even if the former president’s leading position is unlikely to be put at risk.
In fact, as the New York Times writes, Trump’s clear victory in Iowa reveals a further level of depth in the reservoir of devotion within his party. For eight years he has cultivated a relationship with his supporters that has little precedent in politics. He values them, entertains them, speaks for them, uses them for his political and legal advantage. It’s a connection — a painstakingly built bond, some say, a cult of personality according to others — that has unleashed one of the most enduring forces in American politics.
Trump, as Newton Gingrich, a dean of American conservative politics observes, again in the NYT,
is not a candidate, he is the leader of a national movement. No one has yet figured out how to handle the champion of a movement. That’s why even with all the legal issues piling up, this only infuriates his movement and fuels their anger incredibly.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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