The Trump comeback looms

Trump is campaigning on two themes: nostalgia for the strong pre-pandemic economy, plus resentment over the outcome of the vote in 2020. It’s not much, but it’s enough—enough to force DeSantis, the would-be Trump replacement, into desperate stunts to prove himself Trumpier than Trump: handing out $5,000 rewards to cops who refuse vaccination; identifying himself with a state surgeon general who advises anti-vaxxers to trust their “intuitions.”

But nobody is Trumpier than Trump. There’s no Trumpism that’s bigger than Trump. “It’s about a movement, not a man” is a venerable cliché applied to populist politics. In this case, though, it’s about a man, not a movement…

In Trump’s first term, the country was protected to some degree by his ignorance and ineptitude. He kept trying to do bad things, but it took him a while to figure out how the controls operated, where the kill-switches were located. By the time of his attempt to extort the Ukrainian president, in 2019, Trump had achieved a higher degree of mastery. But by then it was too late. Then the pandemic struck, and Trump bumped into a new wall of failure. In a second Trump presidency, however, the burglars will arrive already knowing how to bypass the alarms and disable the locks. He’ll understand that it’s not enough to install an ally as attorney general—he must control the secondary and tertiary ranks of the Justice Department too. He won’t allow himself to be talked into another chief of staff with an independent sense of duty, such as John Kelly, who averted much harm from the middle of 2017 to the beginning of 2019. It’ll be Mark Meadows types from day one to day last. And he’ll bring with them a new generation of Republican officeholders whose top priority will be rearranging their states’ election laws so that Republicans do not lose power even if they lose the vote.