Trump Thinks He Won the Presidential Election… of 2023
Someone needs to remind him there’s a lot of campaign left before November 2024, so stop pretending he’s got everything locked up.
Donald Trump sat out the first Republican debate in August because, he said, the public already knew him and what he stood for. | Artie Walker Jr./AP Photo
Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer. He has written commentary about the media industry and politics for decades and was previously a columnist for Reuters and Slate.
To accurately measure the metabolism of Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign we must invoke the images and manners of the bestiary’s most indolent and sluggish creatures. The three-toed sloth, which favors slow motion. The echidna, which would lose a race against a continental plate. The nurse shark, which is so lazy it relies on ocean currents to aerate its gills. And then there is Australia’s pygmy blue-tongue lizard, which “hunts” by lounging by its burrow hole in hopes that an insect or spider will stride by.
In recent weeks, Trump has come to resemble these kings of lethargy, slowing his campaign to the speed of the hour hand. As POLITICO’s Meridith McGraw recently reported, Trump has largely discarded the hard, steady work of campaigning against his Republican opponents on the stump and limited his appearance to “spot” events, TV interviews, or tele-rallies. Instead of fighting for votes, Trump people have worked the nomination process to make sure that rules that reward delegates tip his way. Where he can’t raise money, he tries to persuade potential donors not to give to his foes. On Monday, he took to Truth Social to urge the Republican National Committee to stop spending time on the “meaningless” debates because he’s leading in the polls and to start suing Pennsylvania for switching to automatic voter registration.
In short, he’s acting like he’s clinched both the nomination and the general election — about a year early.
Trump sat out the first Republican debate in August because, he said, the public already knew him and what he stood for. “Why would I allow people at 1 or 2 percent and 0 percent to be hitting me with questions all night?” he said in a Fox News interview in June. Now, he’s also skipping the second GOP debate in favor of giving a competing speech in Detroit amid the UAW strike as if he’s already the nominee. This is like a manager trying to get the umps to call a ball game in his favor in the fourth inning just because his team is leading 5-0 and, on top of that, saying his lead makes him deserving of the World Series trophy, too. It’s a minor reprise of Trump’s behavior on election night 2020 when he declared himself the winner before all the votes had been counted or any of the networks had projected a winner. “Our election was over at 10 o’clock in the evening,” he said. Only a child would assume he’s won because he’s leading at halftime. Only a fraud would insist, as Trump did, that the election was rigged once the call went against him.
Ensconced in campaign slacker mode, Trump would like to pretend that nothing of substance will change over the next 14 months, so he should get his second term now. It doesn’t take a zoologist to appreciate that the world doesn’t stop when a bear hibernates. Trump might want to pretend the rest of the campaign is a meaningless charade, but a lot of history is about to go down between today and November 2024. At the latest count, Trump has been indicted in three states and the District of Columbia for everything from conspiracy to defraud the United States to withholding classified documents and more. A New York judge just ruled that he committed fraud and has relieved him of control of some of his properties in the state. As Amber Phillips of the Washington Post noted last month, Trump will be in court with two trials during much of March, the precise time a candidate would want to be campaigning in nearly 30 states and territories scheduled to hold primaries that month. His legal dance card for 2024 is so loaded that if court dates earned frequent flyer miles, Trump could take a round trip to the moon with his family and still have enough points to visit Hawaii three or four times. There will be motions, new evidence and maybe even some verdicts — maybe even more legal cases — any of which might derail his “inevitable” victory express.
Give Trump credit for attempting to cryogenically freeze the field until his opponents (and the voters) have slipped into a state of metabolic torpor. But the true blame resides in the sleepy pack taking him on, who, with the exception of Chris Christie, have mostly chosen to snuggle in his den than rouse him with challenging rhetoric. Most of the candidates — from Ron DeSantis to Mike Pence to Vivek Ramaswamy and even, to a degree, Nikki Haley — are running on modified Trumpian platforms that make it easy for him not to respond. Most of these candidates seem to really be running for Mr. Congeniality, not president, by politely conceding the contest to Trump without even trying.
Lethargy can be a successful survival strategy in the animal kingdom or on the campaign trail. (It worked for Biden last time, after all.) But it’s not surefire. Harpy eagles and jaguars hunt sloths. Hammerheads dine on nurse sharks. Snakes prey on pygmy blue-tongue lizards. Trump may be leading the Republican polls by a large margin now, but treating the campaign like a cakewalk risks tempting the fickle election fates. No animal hibernates for 14 months. So you can bet that Trump’s opponents — and the voters — will wake up at some point to discover this race isn’t over yet.
The echidna’s spines make it a low-profit piece of prey. Maybe Trump should grow some? Send animal facts to [email protected]. No new email alert subscriptions are being honored at this time. X is still the place where I hang out, but Bluesky is starting to appeal to me. My RSS feed was eaten by a harpy eagle.