by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
I assume that the voters who are choosing Donald Trump again have their reasons. They believe he’s the strongest candidate, perhaps because he’s the largest personality. They want him because they liked the way he drove the opposition nuts. They want him for reasons of revenge because they feel that they were robbed of having “the full Trump” the first time because of Russiagate. And some want him because he’s more than a Republican: he’s against the Left, and in some crucial ways, he’s also against the Right.
But this primary season and the upcoming 2024 election are turning into a textureless mush. It’s the exact opposite of 2015–2016. Back then, cable television, pressured by Jeff Zucker, was Trump television, carrying his rallies. And in 2015-2016, Trump was an issues candidate, driving massive debates about immigration, about foreign policy, and the American economic model. He ran as a rebuke to the post-Cold War bipartisan consensus. His rise tracked the rise of a similar politics in European nations, rejecting a similar consensus. The shock of the Brexit result foreshadowed the shock of the Trump–Clinton result.
But in 2024, Trump’s rallies are not driving news coverage or national debate. And it’s not just a strategy of media blackout, it’s also the fact that he’s not really running as an issues candidate. Long chunks of his rallies are spent on digressions about the 2020 election or the various criminal prosecutions aimed at him.
That is, I cannot think of a time when politics was as denuded of issue-substance as it is now. Neither party is even pretending to offer a suite of policies aimed at solving our pressing problems.