Trump Yearns for 2016

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign was historic. By now even Democrats can admit that. Whether he cheated or not (he did), Trump managed to pull one of the biggest upsets in modern political history, upending the political establishment on messages of hate, division, and fear.

In 2020, Trump is running essentially the same campaign—only this time around it’s a cheap, pathetic imitation.

Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president Thursday night, closing the 2020 Republican National Convention with a 70 minute speech that went absolutely nowhere. Trump struggled to read off the teleprompter, seemed to have trouble breathing, and pissed off roughly everyone (read: media members) forced to stay up and watch until the bitter end. The speech touched on all his common themes—his economic prowess, Joe Biden as an evil radical leftist, kowtowing to law enforcement—but failed to find a cohesive, common theme other than Things Are Bad, I’ll Fix It.

That messaging worked in 2016, in part because Trump had little to lose. By this time four years ago he had forcibly gained control of the Republican Party, capping his takeover with one of the gaudiest political conventions ever. He was still a longshot to win the election, but with a little help from some outside sources, he pulled off the improbable.

Four years later and the mythology, even if you believed it, is gone. Trump is a husk of his former self. He constantly appears worn out and has far more trouble speaking on camera, even with a teleprompter in front of him. The lavish promises he made to his supporters are mostly all broken—COVID-19 has ravaged the historic economy he supposedly built (he didn’t), and his handling of the pandemic has proved to be one of the most pathetic displays of leadership in modern history. Struggling in polls from coast to coast, Trump’s campaign has retreated to fear and hate, abusing executive power and greasing the wheels to steal the election in November. And he’s so incompetent and widely reviled that it still might not work.

Trump’s messaging and tactics certainly can still work; they did last time, after all. But things were different then—the problems “he alone could fix” were the product of a broken, greedy, incestuous political system; a swamp that needed draining. In 2020, Trump is that system, and the problems he promises to solve are entirely his own making. He’s had more than 40 months to prove he wasn’t exactly what so many people thought he was, and he hasn’t.

That version of Trump will be more than enough for the millions who still support and will eventually vote for him. They’re bought in til the bitter end, riding or dying with the man who represents everything to them, from societal status to economic promise. Those are the people his acceptance speech, and this entire campaign, are aimed at. Trump’s 2016 run was a nostalgia play, urging supporters to vote for him to bring America back to its purported former glory. For all the power and cachet he’s gained since then, Trump is again running a nostalgia campaign, only this time hearkening back to 2016 when his loutish campaigning worked and trolling the libs never felt so good. Its success will depend how short Americans’ memories truly are.