Opinion | Donald Trump Is Doing His Comeback All Wrong

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Now Donald Trump knows what it feels like to be a one-hit wonder. Paralleling the career trajectories of Question Mark and the Mysterians, Norman Greenbaum, Soft Cell, Chumbawamba and Foster the People, Trump rose rapidly to the top, lingering there on the strength of one melody, before his fall and replacement.

This loss of mojo humiliated Trump, and he has finally settled on a comeback formula. And it’s high time he has. After having lost his spot in the public eye, his visibility on cable news has crashed, Google searches of his name have melted away, and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter made him persona non grata. Meanwhile, that new social media operation his aide Jason Miller promised in March would “become the hottest ticket” has turned into vaporware. The Trump blog that did appear was so unpopular Trump shuttered it in less than a month.

The comeback plan Trump has teed up is nowhere as circuitous as the one Richard Nixon constructed in 1966, which had him going on the hustings for Republican candidates and collecting political debts. It’s not even as subtle as deliberately disappearing and coming back with a new image, the way Nixon did. Instead, according to POLITICO’s Meridith McGraw and Marc Caputo, its about reanimating the original Trump for President and doubling the now-customary 18-month run for the presidency into a three-year footslog. He’s running!

The campaign will make overt what’s been covert for months. He’s been hectoring supporters with easily lampooned fundraising emails that have oscillated between the threatening and the frantic. “You’ve received multiple emails from Team Trump, including my father, inviting you to join this brand new prestigious club, and you’ve ignored every single one of them,” reads one purportedly written by Eric Trump. “I am calling on Joe Biden to resign” and “This is where we step up and show the Left-wing MOB that REAL Americans are REJECTING Joe Biden’s corrupt agenda,” read two more. “I emailed you. My son, Don, emailed you. Kimberly Guilfoyle emailed you. Team Trump emailed you. And now I’m emailing you. AGAIN,” states the ultimate Trump email.

Other attempts to regain his media primacy have failed. He has goaded Mitch McConnell, but those comments have passed unacknowledged. He has restarted his rallies, spoken at CPAC events and a state GOP conclave, exchanged inanities with Sean Hannity, and licked the sweet cream of easy questions with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, to little avail. Outside of a few members of Congress who face tight races and want his endorsement — i.e., inside the Trump universe — he has made little headway. The day he became ex-president, the immutable laws of media made it inevitable that his public stock would fall and his voice would stop carrying. He was just another civilian, even if his camp continues to call him “President” Donald Trump. But an ex-president holds no real power and possesses no special portfolio. He is a bullet without powder. A Ferrari with four flat tires. A noun without a verb. “At Once Diminished and Dominating,” as a June New York Times headline put it.

But Trump could do much better in restoring himself to relevancy. Announcing his presidential candidacy this early will only dissipate the available political energy over three years and force comparisons to the laughable Harold Stassen, who ran for the White House 10 times. Plus, as the McGraw and Caputo article notes, Trump is aware that official candidacies impose financial reporting obligations on someone who has declared as well as other red-tape limitations, and Trump hates such scrutiny and limitations.

Instead of spending his political seed on the presidency this early out, Trump would be wiser to follow Steve Bannon’s proposal and run for a safe House seat in 2022, with the objective of being elected Speaker by an incoming Republican majority. Crazy as it sounds, he wouldn’t actually have to run to become Speaker because the Constitution doesn’t stipulate that the Speaker must be a member of Congress. In this scenario, if Trump got the gavel, he could monkey-wrench the Biden presidency with impeachment hearings. If he got extremely lucky and took out Kamala Harris, too, the order of succession would mean he could return to the White House again. Creepy, huh?

But by announcing a presidential run this far out, Trump won’t be accorded any substantial journalistic ink for a long time. Posing as a potential new Speaker of the House, however, would force the press corps’ hand. It would have to cover his every move between now and November 2022. Even if he lost, he would then be perfectly positioned for a presidential run.

Instead of acting all regal like “President” Trump, the man from the dark tower should play the role of Citizen Trump, the outsider and political hand-to-hand combat fighter. He can go ahead and act as if he has his party in a headlock. He can brag about how he raises campaign funds by the metric ton because that’s a fact. He can crow about his ability to summon crowds in the thousands. He can even send those wacky fundraising emails. But the best public image for Trump right now is of a one-hit wonder on the comeback trail, not a deposed king. Even his followers have stopped believing he’ll be restored to the White House in a couple of weeks. Pretending to be president isn’t sufficiently Trumpy to reinsert himself into his base’s dialogue.

He’s already doing some of this — using what public forums he can to lob counterfactuals at Biden and claim that he would have handled the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, the border mess and the Gaza rumble very differently. But right now, nobody can hear Trump scream. The quickest way to solve that would be a weekly Fox News show: He could shadow every Biden move with a critique, forcing his base and the press to take notice. Mike Huckabee had a Fox show. So did John Kasich. So why not Trump? He’s as smart and twice as lippy as Tucker Carlson. But calling a boxing match with Don Jr. isn’t going to cure his shrinking-profile syndrome. It’s such a self-evident solution to his receding ego problem it’s an astonishment he hasn’t signed a Fox contract to do his lunatic and liar thing weekly on a big cable news network — and get the New York Times and the Washington Post to chase him. Like the Rev. Al Sharpton and other shrewd campaigners before him, Trump could start placing himself at the head of the parade and call himself the leader. There is no such thing as overexposure in the Trump universe.

It would be a mistake for Trump to continue to confuse a world of his own imagining for the actual arena where the games of policy and politics are played. Following these modest proposals, he could renew his occupancy on Page One and cement a claim on the lead position on the cable newscasts. His counterpunches to Biden’s head and torso would land with greater damage. His already fantastic fundraising efforts would really take wing. And the attention he preens for would be his. The one-hit wonder would have a shot at topping the charts again.

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Thanks to the Internet Archive TV News Archive for the Trump TV data above. Send other TV ideas to [email protected]. My email alerts receive a dozen fundraising emails from Trump a day. My Twitter feed preserved all of Trump’s tweets in a database. My RSS feed says “96 Tears” was so cool that no second hit was required of the band.

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