Trump Shifts Gears

November 14, 2020 8:13 p.m.

I don’t know if you watched the President’s comments yesterday at his vaccine event. But one of our number, TPM Reader EB, said after it ended that that was the concession. He was right. I didn’t quite get it as it was happening. But after EB said it I realized he was right.

Of course he didn’t literally concede anything. Trump was petulant, lashing out at perceived enemies. But he was low energy and notably did not take questions. There was one moment even when he had to catch himself because he almost inadvertently admitted that he lost and that his presidency is ending.

What I think we can see over the last forty-eight hours is that Trump is shifting from actual attempts to overturn the result of the election and even to a degree efforts to prevent his party and the apparatus of government from recognizing the reality of the transition. His efforts now are solely focused on delegitimizing the result of the election and embedding in the American right the idea that the election was fraudulent.

It’s similar to birtherism, which of course Trump had a key role in elevating and amplifying. I also suspect that as soon as the machinery of government moves a bit more clearly in line with reality of Biden’s presidency, or at the latest after the inauguration, Trump will announce his campaign for President in 2024.

Trump will be 78 in four years. That’s pretty old to run for President, though we can’t really say it’s too old since Biden will be that old on January 20th. But really it doesn’t matter whether Trump eventually runs. By announcing his 2024 campaign Trump provides a tentpole to what amounts to Trump legitimism, a focal point around which to array anger and resentment over the purported theft of his second term.

More concretely and more immediately it freezes the Republican party in place as Trump’s party. As long as he’s running it will be very difficult for any other Republican to make moves in that direction. Added on to this is Trump’s creation of a bloody shirt myth about the 2020 election. Any Republican trying to push him from the stage will become complicit, in his world, with the Democrats who stole the election from him.

Whether this all plays out this way, who knows? We’re less than two weeks out from election day. The future is always unknown. Now it seems even more so. But this is the goal and I suspect it is to a significant degree the reality for some time to come. Trump is failing and I think giving up on the possibility of holding on to the Presidency. He’s trying to hold on to the GOP. And on that front he’s winning.

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