COMMENTARY

We won't get fooled again — I think. Trump's back, but let's hope it's a brief visit

Has the dark magic worn off? Are Republicans beginning to look toward the future? Be careful what you wish for

By Brian Karem

Columnist

Published November 17, 2022 9:46AM (EST)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump waves after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump waves after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

So here we go again.

He's back. 

Donald Trump is once again running for president. For some he's the second coming (or more accurately the third coming) of Jesus Christ, riding in on his mandarin chariot of vitriol, lies and deceit to save the world from God knows what. For the rest of us he's a human popcorn husk stuck between your teeth; a human case of long COVID you can't shake; a human cancer you can't excise, radiate or get rid of no matter how much chemotherapy you endure. 

Trump began his 2024 revenge tour in typical aplomb, before a crowd of cult followers cheering his every lie from a ballroom at Mar-a-Lago. Outside they were shouting "Trump or Death" and inside they worked themselves into a MAGA-hat frenzy like ferrets on Benzedrine, caffeine and meth. 

Donald, as always, is a menace to society and he doesn't care. You can never quite count the idiot out: His survival instincts are preternatural and his ability to con is uncanny. But his new announcement comes just after the midterms, where his favorite candidates were trounced: Those who ran on the Big Lie lost and the Republican "red wave" never materialized. Many in the GOP are looking elsewhere, anywhere, for new leadership while Trump claims his movement is the greatest in the history of the world and there will probably "never be anything like it again."

We can only hope. 

Trump is trying to resurrect his underdog status, which catapulted him into office in 2016, but he has the noose of several criminal and civil investigations, as well as his own track record as president, wrapped around his neck, weighing him down. It appears he has learned nothing from the midterm debacle suffered by the Republicans. His speech was pure fiction, including the claim that he kept us out of wars "for decades" while president. The lies, too numerous to itemize, read like a laundry list of reasons the voters rejected him so soundly in his last bid for the Oval Office.

His historically early announcement for the office belies his insecurity and was strategically made to try and suck all of the oxygen out of the room – as Trump often does – by planting himself firmly on center stage. His hope is to bench any and all Republican opposition to his nomination. For now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — once a star fascist protégé of Trump's — looks to be the only viable alternative for the remnants of the Republican Party after Trump's ravages.

It will be best if we pull out the hook and yank Trump off stage. The world is finally looking more familiar and a little more hopeful with Joe Biden at the helm than it was at any point during Trump's years in office. 

Trump has long proclaimed, "Only I can fix it," but left the entire world teetering on the brink of disaster, a fact that was reinforced by this week's meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali. The two leaders spoke candidly about their priorities and intentions, including the need to work together to seek amicable solutions to serious problems. Rather than announcing "Only I can fix it," both leaders, despite their differences, acknowledged the need for all nations to work together to solve problems we all share. As Xi said, "We are at a crossroads." 

Working to build relationships is the cornerstone of Biden's foreign and domestic policy and is an anathema to Trump — who preaches unity through beating into submission those who disagree with him. 

Biden acknowledges reality, and has been able to forge relationships with those who disagree with him to pass infrastructure bills and a coalition of support against Russian aggression in Ukraine. That has been at the heart of Biden's foreign policy. "He really believes that," a senior White House official recently explained to me. "He really thinks that we can work together with all nations, even our enemies on issues where we have similar interests."

That's far from the old Donald Trump mantra of chest-thumping, whining and screeching like a wounded animal caught in a trap.  It's also a far cry from Trump's claim, as he announced his third bid for the White House, that China was responsible for him losing the last election — which he has yet to admit he lost.

Isolationists are having a fit because of Biden's foreign policy while cheering Trump's insanity. They ignore reality at the cost of humanity's existence. We are all in this together, and isolating yourself from the rest of humanity is why the hunter-gatherers deep in the Amazon are no longer among us.

Donald Trump is that man; a power-craving hunter-gatherer con artist out to stake his claim as a modern-day potentate while imbued with the pusillanimous power of a puff pastry. The world has moved on from Trump, even if his cult will still grovel and bray like wild jackasses at his flat feet. 


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The rest of us are trying to take our lessons from the midterms and move on. Trump may not realize that taking away a woman's right to make her own medical choices is contrary to democratic principles; he may not acknowledge that denying the 2020 election results subverts democracy and he obviously does not care what the rest of us think. But Trump and his minions are in the minority, and after four years of Donald Trump the midterms made one thing exceedingly clear: He's done. He can ravage the country, he can cause suffering and pain, but he has no legacy to maintain and nothing positive to give to society. Rupert Murdoch has tossed him on the dung heap of history. Mike Pompeo swiped at his former boss and called on the GOP not to get caught "staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood." 

It appears that what passes for Republicans in this day and age have had enough of getting their asses handed to them because of the meanderings of Trump and his mindless minions. But that is expected from those with any common sense at all. Veteran Republicans, delighting in their own rectitude, still labor under the false assumption that they are righteous — so they venerate themselves while dismissing the man they followed and lavished with praise until it was no longer profitable to do so. 

That, of course, fails to describe Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert and a handful of other crusty miscreants whose sum total of wisdom and maturity couldn't fill a thimble. They are the weakest of the weak, proud to be on display and far too ignorant to understand their sideshow status. They, like Trump, demand to be heard for no reason other than they've soiled their own laundry.

Donald Trump has always attracted himself to such people and made the mistake of seeing weakness as a merit and inferiority as a superior asset. So have Pompeo, Bill Barr and others who once attached themselves to Trump like blood-sucking remoras to sharks.

Those characters and others like them are now looking for a new shark, and many are drawn to DeSantis — who so far has yet to engage the former president, though Trump has trolled him several times recently. As previously noted here, Joe Biden has taken some pleasure in what now looks to be a DeSantis vs. Trump death match.

It's obvious that neither Cheney nor Kinzinger can win the Republican nomination in 2024 — but they'd be a major threat to Biden and the Democrats if they did.

But that may be missing the point as well. Trump will get a lot of attention from the press. DeSantis will too. But the Democrats don't need to fear either of them. They'd both be far easier to vanquish than the potential threat neither Democrats nor Republicans can see coming:   The re-emergence of a legitimate conservative party in America, whether it's called the Republican Party or something else. Democrats have been pushing for that since they got into office, most notably by giving Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger prominent positions on the Jan. 6 committee. The president often talks about "traditional" Republicans and has described the MAGA crowd as "a minority portion of the party" — which admittedly could mean as much as 49.9 percent of Republican voters. On this I agree. Many Republicans saw Trump as the easiest path to victory, and they love to win. Now that Trump no longer looks like a winner, where will those voters end up?  

Biden's actions could be inadvertently responsible for the greatest threat to Democratic victory in 2024: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

At this point it's obvious that neither of them could win the Republican nomination, but a Cheney/Kinzinger ticket (with Cheney at the top) would be a frightening prospect for Democrats, especially if Biden chooses not to run for re-election. Liz Cheney is not the hero many perceive  her to be at the moment — but what politician is? She has a following, and is an appealing candidate for her patriotic response to the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

That appeal supersedes the fact that for most of Trump's administration she was one of his staunchest political allies. 

Of course Cheney is persona non grata among the MAGA maggots, but she's still a potential breakthrough GOP candidate. How ironic would it be for the party that continuously tries to tell women what to do with their bodies to have the honor of electing the first female president?

Pondering a possible Cheney campaign, a young GOP voter told me that the "woke liberals would eat their hearts out." This was a 26-year-old African-American who works in retail management. He is religious, a former high school football star and a conservative Republican. He belongs to the young Republican crowd that believes Democrats are all socialists, fascists and anti-American. He only votes for Democrats, he said, when the Republicans "are crazy." He didn't vote for Trump and he doesn't like DeSantis. But he says he is intrigued by Cheney and Kinzinger.

To be sure, Donald Trump has a far better chance of becoming the Republican nominee in 2024 than Cheney does — and the Republicans are far closer to slipping deeper into authoritarianism than embracing the lessons they might learn from last week's midterm elections. For the moment, Cheney remains a young conservative's pipe dream.

Perhaps Democrats should stop slapping themselves on the back and reflect on the fact that they managed to lose the House to a party of election deniers, clowns, con artists and thieves.

The Democrats could learn something from the midterms as well. True, they stopped the "red wave," but not on the strength of their candidates. It was because of the issues. The voters, in many cases, chose what they saw as the lesser of two evils. And as we all know, the problem with doing that is that you are still choosing evil.

So what should the Democrats learn? Perhaps they might reflect on the fact that they still lost control of the House — by an agonizingly narrow margin — to a political party filled with election deniers, clowns, reprobates,  con artists, thieves and robber barons. The Republicans are gradually morphing into the Nazi Party and the Democrats still lost seats? Christ, how ineffective can you be? 

However low the Republicans set the bar, the flaccid Democrats barely crawled over it. The message from the Democrats after the midterms is that "people voted for democracy." Actually, that remains to be seen. Democrats are slapping themselves on the back because they didn't lose as badly as the pundits, pollsters and press thought they would. That's not cause for gloating. 

Can we aim a little higher? The country still needs much better voter turnout if democracy is to win. One thing people close to Trump have noted is that for all the supposed high engagement in these midterms, there were plenty of precincts across the country where voter turnout was below 50 percent. That, I was told, favors Trump in his 2024 bid. Trump's people are rabid voters — when he's actually on the ballot. If all goes according to whatever plan Trump has — and let's face it, he never really has a plan — those Trump voters could give him the Republican nomination and sweep him into the White House again while the rest of us sleep.

I don't buy it. Donald Trump has failed to learn a lesson from reality, as so many times before in his life.

The world has moved past him. 

I still don't believe he'll be on the ballot in the 2024 general election.

He is and remains a pariah. What's left of the Republican Party, held hostage by Trump for the last six years, is struggling to move on, despite its natural tendencies to play the role of the Gimp in "Pulp Fiction." 

The Democrats, should Biden decide to run again, are potentially putting an octogenarian on the ballot against a  lunatic septuagenarian.

I pray there are other, better options. 

As Pete Townshend once told us, "I get on my knees and pray, we won't get fooled again."

So "Who's Next?" (That's the album containing that song.) 

I hope it's someone who values democracy. 

We all know that isn't Donald Trump.


By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East, and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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