“Here you come again, just when I’ve begun to get myself together...” – Dolly Parton
Granted, he never really left. Unlike other former presidents, Donald Trump didn’t disappear from the daily news cycle once he departed the White House. Thanks to his legal troubles, the hearings into the Jan. 6 insurrection and his diarrheic spewing in speeches and online, he has remained a constant presence.
In fact, there was a temptation to lead this column not with the above epigraph, but with a more-obscure lyric from one Dan Hicks: “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”
In the end, though, it’s Parton’s weary resignation at the return of a no-good man she cannot resist that best sums up the Republican Party’s plight after Trump’s announcement Tuesday that he will be running again in 2024. The declaration came somewhere in the middle of a long and notably lethargic speech at Mar-a-Lago where, like some geriatric rock band on a reunion tour, he trotted out all the old hits: immigrants, crime, blood on the streets, the “China virus,” fake news and, of course, woe is me. “I’m a victim,” he whined.
Trump’s return comes at an inauspicious time for Republicans. If they had not quite, as Parton sings, finally begun to get themselves together, some were at least recognizing the need to do so after the “red wave” that wasn’t. It was their third consecutive election pratfall, a record of ineptitude that induced at least some on the right to say what was once heretical: it is time to dump Trump.
Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears called him “a liability.”
Former Labor Department official Gavin J. Smith said Republicans “are growing sick and tired” of him.
Then there’s the shellacking Trump took from formerly friendly media. The New York Post dubbed him “Trumpty Dumpty.” The Wall Street Journal declared him “the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser.”
It’s a brutal reception that has inspired some observers to downplay Trump’s chances of success in 2024. Former Vice President Mike Pence said on Fox “News” that, “The American people want a new style of leadership.” Former House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “He’s not going to be the nominee . . .”