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Trump’s Disappearing and He Knows It

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on December 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump continues to run for a second term as the ... PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 31: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on December 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump continues to run for a second term as the President of the United States. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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January 18, 2023 11:55 a.m.

I say all the following not for a moment discounting the threat Donald Trump continues to be to the American republic. But since the announcement of his reelection bid, immediately after a discrediting electoral defeat more than two months ago, he’s seemed less a swaggering warlord planning his return than a diminishing voice less and less relevant to the political happenings of the day. His claims and attacks become more vitriolic as his volume gets turned lower and lower.

Just this week he launched a broadside against white evangelicals, the most loyal and militant portion of his political base. They were “disloyal,” he said, and he blamed some of the 2022 reverses on them: “I thought they could’ve fought much harder during the election, the ’22 election.” This after an earlier interview where he blamed no-exceptions abortion bans for the 2022 defeats. This is angry desperation, not any ability to read the room.

Now comes word that Trump is coming back to Twitter and, he hopes, Facebook too. It makes perfect sense and it’s the right read of his current predicament. He can rant on his lifestyle social network, Truth Social. And those rants are often reprinted on Twitter. But it’s not the same. He’s someone you can barely hear in the far distance. For Trump, that’s a living death.

One of the key signs came in the GOP’s humiliating first week of the January as Kevin McCarthy struggled to beg for the Freedom Caucus holdout votes to become speaker. The logjam was broken when McCarthy agreed to hand over effective control of the House to President Trump’s most ardent supporters, the biggest defenders of the Big Lie and in many cases participants in the 2020/21 coup attempt. But Trump’s name was barely mentioned. The exceptions proved the rule. Lauren Boebert name checked him once to say she was defying him. Matt Gaetz finally nominated him for speaker. But no one else voted for him. He came behind not only McCarthy and Hakeem Jeffries but even randoms like whichever other backbencher they were nominating that round.

It was the House Trump built. But Trump himself was nowhere to be seen.

He needs to be back on Twitter and on Facebook to make some stab at being relevant again, at controlling news cycles rather than disappearing from them. He’s been allowed back on Twitter since November. But in some power play with Elon Musk he’s refused to tweet. Now he knows he has to. I don’t know if it will help him at this point. But he has no choice.

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