It is one of the many quirks of our completely busted public discourse that relatively political minor issues (like Stormy Daniels) often get enormous amounts of “news” coverage, while other, far more significant topics, receive relatively very little. It sure seems like the prospect of President Donald Trump deciding not to run for a second term has, until the last couple of days, fit into the latter category.
After all, Trump’s decision whether to run for reelection will likely shape our politics for at least a generation. Heck, the mind boggles when considering all of the thousands of events which would have been different in the past political era if Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford had stuck with their agreement for Ford, and not George H.W. Bush, to be Reagan’s Vice Presidential nominee.
If Trump does run in 2020 — which, on paper, would appear to be the most likely scenario — then there are really only two logical paths going forward. Either Trump wins reelection with a Democratic Congress, and Reagan’s GOP becomes forever as irrelevant and forgotten as the public phone booth, or, Democrats, likely led by a progressive in the White House, will likely control most of the federal government until at least 2029.
For old-school (pre-2015) conservatives like myself, these are both frightening scenarios. Since beating Trump in a Republican primary is pure fantasy, especially when Fox News and talk radio are all now almost completely “state-run,” this leaves only one other way for further havoc to be somehow avoided: Trump deciding on his own not to run.
This issue has suddenly popped up in the news with two of Trumps “exes,” so to speak, voicing their opinion that he may decide to take a pass on 2020. His first wife, Ivana, seems to be urging him to do just that, while his one-time sycophantic booster, turned career-saving critic, Joe Scarborough, has flat-out predicted that Trump will call it quits after just four years.
Neither of their analyses were particularly deep, and both were obviously self-serving. However, there is some logic to the theory that Trump may just decide that a second run provides him with more risk than reward.
Obviously, Trump could lose in 2020 (though Democrats somehow still need to find a viable alternative), and possibly very badly. If that were to happen, it would prove that his life’s crowning achievement, winning the 2016 election, was indeed a fluke which will always have an historical asterisk next to it — even if it is never proven that he pulled it off by “colluding” with a foreign adversarial government.
For Trump the golf fanatic, this would be roughly the equivalent of a surprise winner of prestigious The Masters tournament (which about as many men have won as have become president) being stripped of is his coveted green jacket. Avoiding this potential ignominy, as well as the prospect of having to endure four more years of boring governance as a lame duck, would seem to provide good reasons for Trump the gambler to take his winnings off the table and go home.
Again, to be clear, I think this scenario is longshot. Trump clearly loves the campaign part of this charade far more than the governance, and his ego would never let him seriously consider failure as a legitimate option. His statement, which I believe to be at least somewhat accurate, that the news media will support his reelection for ratings purposes is by far the most telling sign that he currently fully intends to run in 2020.
Scarborough’s thesis that Trump’s possible legal problems would cause him not to run in 2020 is also ill-conceived. If Trump really is in any serious legal jeopardy then the LAST thing he is going to do is voluntarily give up the very reins of power which could protect him, and there is simply no realistic political mechanism for him to be removed from office.
There is also the element of Trump’s infantile personality which often causes him to do exactly the opposite of what “media experts” think that he will or should, just to spite and prove them wrong. This is why those who sincerely want him not run in 2020 (which would be about 55 percent of the general population and zero percent of those in the news media) need to immediately reverse their strategy.
The only way this effort is even theoretically going to work (and then then Trump would surely wait until the last minute, thus leaving the GOP primary field in disarray) is if the entire issue is effectively ignored, and Trump is roundly praised, while the certainty of his reelection is widely touted. Trump, like the child that he is, must be allowed to believe that he has already achieved his promise to “Make America Great Again,” and that his reelection is a forgone conclusion, thus removing any real need for him to prove his critics wrong.
It is only then that Trump, on his own, may come to the conclusion that the most personally beneficial way for this reality show to finally end would be if he declared victory and, on a cliff-hanger befitting the greatness of his narrative, shocked the world and suddenly moved on with the remainder of his life.
So, with that in mind, Mr. President, PLEASE don’t listen to your critics! America badly needs you to run again in 2020!
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected].
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.