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US politics

Could Trump be president again?

“Brace yourself,” says Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. With every day that passes, it looks increasingly certain that Donald Trump will run for re-election in 2024. Many assumed the twice-impeached former president wouldn’t risk another campaign because a second defeat would make him “the biggest loser in the history of American politics”. But things have changed. “Republicans are rallying around his potential candidacy, even if they privately think it’s a bad idea.” Joe Biden looks beatable. And across the country Republicans have responded to the “Big Lie” – that the 2020 election was stolen – by replacing independent election administrators with “Trumpist conspiracy theorists”.

Let’s be perfectly clear about what all this means, says Robert Kagan, also in The Washington Post. “The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War.” In the event of defeat, Trump will use an army of lawyers, loyal state lawmakers and possibly even soldiers to overturn the results. That means there’s a “reasonable chance” of “mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue states”.

What rubbish, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. All of this is exactly what Trump tried to do last time he lost – and every effort failed, often embarrassingly. His own judicial appointees “swatted down” his ludicrous claims of electoral fraud; “every state government” dismissed his overtures; and military leaders “hated Trump” so much that they planned to ignore orders they didn’t like. Remember – this was when he was in power, with all the levers of the federal government at his disposal. The idea that he’ll carry out a “more effective coup” now he’s out of office is for the birds.

Liberals worried about the 2024 election being stolen are “missing the graver danger”, says David Graham in The Atlantic. “Trump could win this fair and square.” Biden’s approval rating “has slipped definitively underwater” and – crucially – he has lost the support of independent voters. Given the “tight margins” in several states last time round, Trump wouldn’t need a huge swing to win a “rematch”. It’s a terrifying prospect. A revitalised Trump “would likely have unified Republican control of the House and Senate”. The dwindling band of Republican “never Trumpers” would be even more isolated, meaning there’d be basically no internal resistance to his whims and ways. Trump’s victory in 2016 was a “serious wound to the American experiment”. For him to win again “could be a mortal injury”.