The political-media industrial complex has been occupied in the two years since Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election attempting to provide an urgent response: Who is the next Trump?
Given that Trump has made it apparent he believes himself to be in the best position to carry on his legacy in 2024, business has been surprisingly brisk.
No big deal. In recent weeks, two opposing profiles that were forcefully twisted by outstanding authors yielded various results. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis shares Trump’s talent for scab-picking demagogy, but Flegenheimer wrote in The New York Times that DeSantis has more self-control: “Here is Trump, but more strategic about his targets; Trump, but restrained enough to keep his Twitter accounts from suspension; Trump, but not under federal investigation.”
Reporter Elaine Godfrey from the Atlantic does not agree with that. DeSantis is described as “a charmless, wax statue replica of Trump” on stage. Kari Lake, a Republican candidate for governor of Arizona, is seen by the author as having more self-control than Trump but possessing some of the same scab-picking demagoguery skills. “Unlike Trump, she doesn’t ruminate about cleaning toilets or deliver odd asides about stabbings or rapes,” she says.
Who will succeed Donald Trump when he exits the stage? There is a more convincing response: No one.
The idea of being a leader like Trump while maintaining discipline or without what The New York Times called Trump’s “baggage” is illogical. One key component of Trump’s appeal is his ability to excite his fans with a carefree disregard for what his opponents or the media, using normal standards, refer to as baggage. Another is a narcissist’s general lack of self-control and spectacular, moment-by-moment improvisation.
By definition, a politician who plans how to duplicate Trump’s appeal is acting. Trump naturally speaks lies with ease. However, he is not lying about what matters most to him. He is being himself completely. The raucously self-assured, clinically self-absorbed artist who was elected president in 2017 had spent 71 years preparing for the position. He has gained five more years of experience since then.
That is unreplicable. In the words of Lloyd Bentsen, Ron DeSantis is not Donald Trump. Kari Lake is not either. I would venture that no one else is either. Regardless of what you may think of Trump, he is innovative. DeSantis and Lake are the most recent in a long line of imitators, according to the Times and Atlantic articles’ central argument.
It’s not only a journalistic game to speculate about whether another person will become the Trump movement’s natural legatee. It looms over all of American politics and influences both party debates. In the end, it comes down to asking what the past seven years have been about, beginning with Trump’s meteoric rise to the top of the GOP field in 2015.
It is accurate to say that the Trump movement has certain ideological roots. This includes disliking commerce, globalisation, illegal immigration, elite entitlement, and other issues. This movement has taken different forms in numerous other nations. This implies that someone other than Trump may eventually succeed him.
The issue is that ideology was not the main driving force behind the Trump movement. Psychology was involved. The simple fact that Trump has been a celebrity since the 1980s contributed to some of his appeal. At the same time, it’s likely that no other politician in American history has been as adept at harnessing resentments that have been suppressed and turning them into a personal brand. It is unlikely that DeSantis or Lake have Trump’s psychological grip on supporters, despite superficial similarities like as an impulse for indignation and insult, election denialism, and a relish in hurting elite sensibilities.
The difference is demonstrated with a thought experiment. Let’s assume that surveys and focus groups revealed indisputable proof that what the 2024 GOP electorate desired was a softer approach and a return to the “compassionate conservative” language that George W. Bush utilised to win the presidency in 2000 (before 9/11 changed everything). Is there any doubt that a person as ambitious as DeSantis, whose drive to climb the careerist food chain led him to Yale at the age of 18, to Congress at the age of 34, and to the governorship at the age of 40, would alter his political character accordingly? But imagining Trump changing his political identity is practically impossible. In the early days of the epidemic in 2020, he tried to be stoic and traditionally presidential, but he quickly reverted to form.
Even if Trump runs for office again, DeSantis was shown in the Times article evading the question of whether he would ever run for president in 2024. However, even in the likely scenario that he defeats Democrat and former Governor Charlie Crist next month, this wasn’t very persuasive. The Atlantic, on the other hand, reinforced rumours that Lake, should she prevail in a tight contest for governor against Democrat Katie Hobbs in 2024, or should she lose, would seek for the Senate that year.
Democrats are concerned about DeSantis and Lake because they believe they combine election denialism and appeals to bigotry in a more deliberate and electable manner, making them potentially more dangerous than Trump. A popular goal among Republican operatives and fund-raisers is that they can duplicate Trump’s populist appeal while leading the party back to pre-Trump standards, where the majority of people believe it is time for the party to move past Trump. The risk is that Republicans might end up with a standard-bearer who exhibits Trump’s divisiveness and loud voice but lacks his capacity to defy political gravity.
Even the most skilled of mortals find it difficult to pull off what Trump does. Republicans who, like DeSantis, combine Ivy League credentials with overtly confrontational populist appeals have received waves of attention in succession so far. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Yale Law), Tom Cotton (R-Harvard, Harvard Law), and Elise Stefanik (R-Princeton) are among them (R-Harvard). Their time could still come. Right now, it appears certain that the 2024 GOP primary will be a dull event if Trump really does intend to run.
Trump still possesses a unique capacity to follow the rules when others cannot and to survive situations that seem fatal. Similar to how some today question Trump about how he pulls off his feats, daredevil Evel Knievel accomplished motorcycle jumps in the 1970s that led others to believe “He must be crazy.” “Kids, do not do this at home,” the broadcasters would frequently say during broadcasts of his feats.
That might be sound counsel for the current crop of Trump imitators as well.