Could it be another victory for Trump?

By Stephen Eric Bronner / Common Dreams

He won in 2016. Can he win again in 2024? It doesn’t look that way. He might even be campaigning from jail –and, in that case, it’s over. Every day brings new revelations. Scandals about payoffs to porn stars, civil suits about sexual abuse, and new reports of brutish behavior should offend those white women who voted for him. Alleged violations of the Espionage Act by illegally keeping 11,000 documents upon leaving office, and obstructing an official inquiry into the matter, should enrage ethnic industrial workers known for their ostentatious patriotism. Soliciting bribes for pardons on leaving office and other forms of rampant corruption in his administration should rub those with small-town values the wrong way. Tax cuts favoring the richest .01%, resulting in the greatest upward shift of wealth in American history, should outrage populists, while Trump’s mainstreaming of bigotry should disgust all people of goodwill among his supporters.

None of this has occurred. Trump’s popular base is rock-solid. Roughly two-thirds of the Republican Party want him as their party’s nominee, and just under one-third of the overall electorate intends to vote for him. Swing voters will prove decisive, but polls don’t always tell the story. Enough mainstream voters cast their ballots for Trump but, feeling guilty or ashamed, they didn’t inform the pollsters. No less than with other fascists, establishmentarians greased the wheels for Trump’s victory in 2016, and these “moderate” Republicans remain afraid of opposing him on any issue of significance ranging from his endorsement of white supremacists to his false insistence that the 2020 election was stolen to his support for the insurrectionists of January 6, 2021.

Whether the Democratic Party can bring out its base and independent allies is the crucial question, which is complicated by institutional mechanisms benefiting Republicans and the media whose ratings soar when they cover Donald Trump.

Moderate Republican voters, especially in the suburbs, might stay home for the 2024 elections. But the opposite might also occur. They are worried about a jittery economy fueling inflation, skeptical about overspending in defense of Ukraine, distressed over identity politics, and ready to battle “woke culture.” Moreover, many also harbor a mixture of racist anxiety and xenophobic anger against Black Lives Matter and the five million immigrants that have crossed the Southern border since President Joe Biden took office in 2020.

Whether the Democratic Party can bring out its base and independent allies is the crucial question, which is complicated by institutional mechanisms benefiting Republicans and the media whose ratings soar when they cover Donald Trump. As a party supportive of capitalist elites, Republicans deliberately want to keep the vote count low and, especially at local levels, they have successfully micro-legislation that makes voting sites inaccessible, transporting voters to them more difficult, providing them with toilets more complicated, and offering water to those waiting to cast their ballots more cumbersome.

Redrawing or re-zoning districts, or what is termed “gerrymandering,” also favors Republicans in 19 states and their candidates competing for over 40% of congressional seats. Such changes also impact the electoral college, an anti-democratic vestige of America’s founding, which can play a decisive role in presidential contests. For example, Al Gore, the Democratic Party’s candidate in 2000 won a popular majority by 500,00 ballots but lost the electoral college by five votes to the Republican candidate George Bush, and Hillary Clinton in 2016 received three million more votes than Trump, yet lost the electoral college 306 to 232.

However, none of this explains the fervent loyalty that Trump is accorded by his followers. Charisma alone is also insufficient. The charismatic personality becomes charismatic only insofar as, wittingly or unwittingly, it stands for something. Trump is usually portrayed as self-interested, unprincipled, a charlatan, and a crook—and he is. Yet, the snake-oil salesman’s potion works on his intoxicated audience. Through his bully-pulpit, manipulation of the media, legislative actions, and incitement to violence, the ex-president recast the United States in the image of his followers and, in their eyes, made America great again. That was his accomplishment.

Trump reinvigorated what had become a moribund conservatism when President George Bush left office amid a failed war against terror, a devastating economic depression, and a feeling of ideological drift and depression over the election of President Barack Obama. Intent on re-fighting the American Civil War (1861-1865), and rehabilitating the “lost cause” of the slave-holding Confederacy, Trump’s bile erupted like boiling lava from a volcano. America’s most bigoted and reactionary forces which had seemingly been confined to state and local politics, now overflowed onto the national stage thus legitimizing the cultural vision of a nation dominated by white Christian men and women who are anti-secular, anti-science, and anti-intellectual. What Trump calls “patriotic education” has taught them that the United States is the incarnation of freedom and democracy, and they don’t wish to hear anything to the contrary. Inspired by dreams of a “gilded age,” when the nation belonged to them, they fear having it taken away by immigrants, people of color, feminists, and the LGBTQ community.

So far as they are concerned, Trump did what he promised and no civil suit, sex scandal, indictment, bad press, jail time, or “witch hunt” can change that. The ex-president’s bombastic worldview now defines the Republican Party. All his serious rivals for its presidential nomination are campaigning within his framework and on his terrain. They are using his issues, his disrespect for truth, his institutional racism, and his pandering to elites. They too call for de-regulating the market, “weaponizing” the state, and rebelling against the slew of cultural advances inherited from the New Left. Trump’s rivals may qualify their proposals a bit—temper their language and—but their audience is his audience. Those who reject his worldview now hover around 2% whereas those who grudgingly identify with it, as they tentatively distance themselves from him, appear as “Trump-lite”—and come up short when measured against the real thing.

It doesn’t matter to his supporters whether Trump is branded a pathological liar, a degenerate, a criminal, a puppet of business elites, or even a traitor.

The ex-president is the overwhelming favorite to win his party’s nomination. The 2016 election will likely repeat itself as Trump’s half-dozen intra-party challengers split the anti-Trump vote, thus leaving him with a plurality. Money is also flowing into Trump’s coffers from large donors, but also from everyday supporters in $5 and $10 contributions. His people don’t read the New York Times or watch CNN, PBS or NBC, and most don’t even bother with Fox News, which reaches only a tiny minority of American citizens. Bereft of education, uninterested in established media, skeptical of information, contemptuous of the state, and hoping to avoid paying taxes, Trump’s audience exists in a no-man’s land of rumors about cabals led by George Soros, warnings about the insidious deep-state by Q-Anon, threats to democracy from the New World Order, and neo-Nazi rantings about the “great replacement” of white people by people of color.

It doesn’t matter to his supporters whether Trump is branded a pathological liar, a degenerate, a criminal, a puppet of business elites, or even a traitor. Clinging to their guns, these self-styled patriots fumble with ideas and information in a post-truth society resting on what Herbert Marcuse termed “repressive tolerance.”

Calling for a dialogue with this audience is naïve. Hillary Clinton was right when she called them “deplorables.” They are deplorable for their cynicism, their use of the double standard, and their lack of goodwill. No wonder that Trump has already stated his refusal to debate opponents in the primaries. He has little to gain. Should the ex-president campaign from a jail cell, and bewail yet another “stolen” election, he might call for violent protests and perhaps even another insurrection. Like so many other fascists, he could then present himself as the savior alone capable of ending the chaos that his troops unleashed.

Trump may lose the battle of 2024, but his troops will remain, standing by and ready, when someday in the future, they can again mount the barricades. Once Trump becomes the presidential candidate of the Republican Party, events can transpire that no one can predict in advance. We saw that in 2016 – and we can only hope not to see it again.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Co-Director of the International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue ( and Board of Governors Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University.