Here’s a fun Wednesday morning thought for everyone: Donald Trump will probably run again in 2028 if he loses.
It might seem a little early — even absurd! — to bring this up now. But a refusal to acknowledge Trump’s comeback ambitions after 2020 may have cost his Republican critics their last best chance to cut off his path to the nomination in 2024. Everyone in the party should proceed with eyes wide open now, however they decide to handle him this cycle.
Let’s start with one simple fact: President Biden will turn 82 just two weeks after Election Day 2024. Donald Trump will be the same age on Election Day 2028. God is the ultimate decider when it comes to their political futures, but age alone is no guarantee against another run.
Another fact: Trump is extremely predictable. He does not acknowledge defeat, he lashes out at the people he blames for sabotaging him, and he responds to setbacks by trying to immediately prove his dominance again. There’s little reason to think a loss would prompt a different reaction this time.
Another round of appeals from Republicans to think of the health of the party, or about the legacy of “Trumpism without Trump,” is unlikely to do much either. Trump is disconnected from the institutional conservative movement and GOP. He does not view his political career as a link in a centuries-long chain of ideological struggle like, say, Mike Pence. He believes he should hold the presidency because he is uniquely suited to hold it.
What about the indictment against him? The same legal problems that made it advantageous for Trump to run in order to claim political persecution and maybe regain control of the Justice Department in 2024 could easily still apply in 2028. In fact, it might behoove him to declare again immediately after losing if any trials have been delayed until after the election or if any investigations are still ongoing. And yes, you can run for president from prison.
Republicans worried about him as a nominee understand much of this, which is why even before he launched his latest campaign some critics were openly fretting about whether he might launch an independent bid if he lost the nomination, or tell his voters to stay home, or just generally undermine the Republican ticket.
Just as relevant to their concerns, and much less discussed, is that he’s very likely to consider himself a still-viable candidate whose chances of a return would be a whole lot better without an incumbent Republican president to worry about. Republicans debating whether they can go one more election without confronting him directly, or if they can position themselves as his heir apparent, should factor that in.
Room for Disagreement
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait believes Trump’s legal threats could change his calculation about attacking Ron DeSantis or any other Republican nominee if they defeat him — at least for the 2024 cycle. If he’s facing federal prosecution, Chait argues, their potential ability to grant future pardons could be a major reason to stay in line.
- Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly, his former attorney Michael Cohen, his former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and former Senator Rob Portman all predicted Trump would not run in 2024, or would quickly drop out if he did. Many of their arguments would apply just the same to 2028, so ask yourself how convincing they sound right about now as he leads virtually every poll of Republican voters.