In yesterday’s Morning Jolt, I wrote, “While it is inconceivable that Trump would lose a fight over control of the party now, it is conceivable that the air may slowly leak out of the Trump balloon, month by month, year by year.”
I think Peter Hamby’s comparison of post-presidency Trump to Sarah Palin is a useful one to keep in mind. In 2009, it looked like a safe bet that Sarah Palin was going to be one of the biggest movers and shakers in Republican politics — if not the biggest — for the rest of the decade. But she chose not to run in 2012 and gradually faded from the GOP consciousness. By 2015, Fox News chose not to renew her contract, and I had completely forgotten she tried to launch her own subscriber-based online video channel in Obama’s second term. And by January 2016, she was something of an afterthought, endorsing the man who had stepped into her old role, Trump. Few of her fans stopped liking her, but they found other political figures who excited them more. As the 2016 election cycle approached, Palin seemed . . . stale. Her stream-of-consciousness speeches were more and more about herself, and less and less about the issues and problems on the mind of her audience.
A passionate and loyal political fanbase is tough to keep for more than a decade, particularly in today’s media environment. People get bored and move on to fresher faces. Tucker Carlson is the biggest controversy and outrage-generating figure on Fox News Channel’s prime time these days, Josh Hawley is the guy leading the charge against Big Tech on Capitol Hill, and Ron DeSantis is now signing bills live on Fox News. MediaMatters – usually a reliable barometer of who on the Right is irking the Left the most – is spending time denouncing Tucker Carlson for his vaccine skepticism and Rick Santorum for not sufficiently respecting Native-American culture, and TikTok influencers for “pushing dangerous far-right conspiracy theories to their young audience.” The political world moves on to other figures and other issues.
Donald Trump spent five and a half years at the center of American life. By the time Republicans are thinking seriously about their choice for presidential nominee in mid-2023, Trump will be 77 years old, and his last election victory will have been six and a half years ago.
Trump is still the safer bet than the rest of the field. But just as his rise was just about impossible to envision in May 2013, the rise of the next big figure in Republican politics may be just about impossible to envision right now.