Douthat underestimates the changed institutional landscape that would greet Trump upon reentering office on January 20, 2025. Trump would likely have unified Republican control of the House and Senate. He would have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court—and the real possibility of naming Justice Stephen Breyer’s replacement. Trump did have a Republican Congress for the first two years of his term, but he didn’t know how to use it, and both chambers were led by Republicans who were deeply skeptical of Trump and his goals. Then-Speaker Paul Ryan didn’t do much to stop Trump, but he slowed him down, as did McConnell.
Now Ryan is gone, and McConnell has demonstrated his flexibility. The internal Republican resistance to Trump has been winnowed away, leaving little more than Mitt Romney in the Senate and a handful of representatives in the House. Trump is in the midst of a quest to purge them, too, targeting Republicans who voted to impeach him. He’s already forced Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez to drop his reelection bid, and he’s doing his best to take down Liz Cheney of Wyoming.
More pliable legislative and judicial branches would help Trump, but he would also have better control of the executive branch. He assembled his first administration from misfit toys and castoffs, staffers who would never have gotten such jobs in another presidency because they were too inexperienced, too incompetent, too abrasive, or too extreme. On his return, he’d do better. Those staffers are now seasoned and more able, and fewer veteran Republicans would remove themselves from consideration next time.