Wounded by his ouster from the White House and from Facebook and Twitter, the Donald withdrew to Mar-a-Lago to sulk. Only recently has he begun stepping out with an increase in videos and communications.
Nevertheless, despite his disappearance, the GOP remains committed to their Dear Leader. Acolytes, by which I mean all GOP leaders, office-holders, and office-seekers, continue to stream to Florida to genuflect.
Only two prominent Republican leaders remain absent: Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney. Both are paying the price for their recalcitrance. Romney was booed at a meeting of the Utah GOP, and Cheney continues to draw scrutiny over her criticisms of Trump and over her ongoing insistence that Biden won the fair and fraud-free 2020 presidential election.
They should both hold firm. Trump is now a leaking gasbag. Yes, there is still some hot air left in him, but it’s diminishing. However much he seeks to re-inflate, with his feints toward running again in 2024 and his spewing of the Big Lie, lawsuits and time are against him. Possibilities still exist that felony convictions could eliminate him from contention for any federal office, let alone the Oval one. Meanwhile, his wretched diet and his aversion to any exercise other than swinging a golf club surely imperil his health.
Still, he holds sway over his Party. He is the fully acknowledged leader, and the rats are following their “Piper.”
There is no other Piper in the line dancing down to Mar-a-Lago, only knock-offs, rat hats instead of sable. That’s why Romney and Cheney should hold firm. Trumpism needs Trump. Nobody else has the combination of showmanship, bombast, humor, and celebrity that the Original has. Sequels are rarely better than the originals, and these “want-to-be” Trump sequels are puny and second-rate. Oh, sure, many of them bloviate and lie and strut like Trump. Just watch DeSantis, Ducey, Cruz, Hawley, and the rest of the sycophantic floats parade themselves before cameras. They can puff up all they want, but they can’t come close to the master.
No one is clamoring for any of these characters. I doubt anyone soon will be. Trump can pull off staged theatrics. His stream-of-consciousness, put-downs, name-calling, and general nonsense charm and rouse the MAGA audiences. None of the purported candidates can pull off any of that.
Meanwhile, heirs apparent, the Trump kids, seem to have disappeared, which I don’t think is strategic. They, too, are facing their own legal challenges. More to the point, they may have some of their father’s glamour and his ability for straight-faced lying, but they all lack his history and persona. Ivanka might be the closest clone, but she suffers from one significant drawback in today’s Republican politics: she’s a woman. Plus, she seems to lack a sense of humor. If she found one, that might help her develop some warmth.
The only prospective candidate out there with the requisite celebrity and pretend glamour is Tucker Carlson. Outspoken and adept at lying with boyish charm, Carlson is the host of the most-watched cable “news” program. The size of his following is impressive, and his enthusiastic support for alt-right populism, anti-immigration, anti-vaccination, and nativist America First follows Trump’s agenda.
Carlson’s problems, however, could be difficult to overcome. Unlike Trump, he’s articulate. That may not play well with the base, though they certainly like his spiels on television, where he shows an un-Trump-like fluency in teleprompter. He might learn over time, however, to talk in the language of the masses without talking down to them.
Next, he’s coherent. This is significant. Trump never cares that his rambles make little sense. His interspersed zingers, braggadocio, and lies entertain. No one listens to his speeches for sense. Carlson, on the other hand, is trained in the art of coherence. His premises might be wrong, he might well sprinkle in some insults, and his conclusions might be dazzlingly dumb, but he follows a line of thinking. In his diatribes Carlson wants to make a point. Trump just wants to energize and entertain. Carlson will need, then, to jettison his faux logic as he dumbs-down the rhetoric.
Finally, Carlson seems interested in being right, in convincing people to agree with him and come to his side. Of course, his audience is already there, so this kind of convincing is pedestrian. On the other hand, Trump never cares about being right. Again, he wants to be entertaining. If he pushes a position, it is because of the attention that it garners. Of course, it helps that Trump has never admitted and will never admit that he’s wrong. Carlson still has the tendency to try to persuade. He does seem able, however, to adapt by adopting browbeating.
Carlson has a long way to go to grasp the mantle. But he has plenty of time to prepare for 2024. Indeed, 2028 might be even a better target for him. Yet I fear that his years of old-school conservatism have solidified his tendency in a debate to lay out an argument coherently and articulately. That tendency, as rock-solid as Trump’s mendacity, will be Carlson’s downfall.
Regardless, Tucker should start working on his genuflection if he hopes to inherit Trump’s pipe and not be pied.