Trump, Showing New Temperateness, Declares for a Second Term and Turns to the Issues
His early launch is a reminder that he has been underestimated before.
President Trump’s announcement of his candidacy to regain his former office was one of the outstanding political speeches given in the United States in the post-Reagan years. He jumped from being a grumbling re-litigator to an imaginative reformer.
One week before, as the midterm election results came in, it was clear that the country, as the polls indicated, did not have faith in the Biden administration, but that the Democratic smear campaign against Mr. Trump as being a hazard to democracy had prevented the Republicans from dealing the administration and the Democratic congressional leadership the defeat most voters believe they deserved.
In his presidential candidacy announcement address, Mr. Trump was temperate, focused on the issues, and took the lead in repositioning the Republican Party as an agent of positive change more than of vengeance. Late, certainly, but apparently not too late, he did what critics had been urging, and more.
He shouldered aside Governors DeSantis of Florida and Youngkin of Virginia to take the lead among Republicans in demanding the end of explicit sexual education of young children in public schools and of critical race theory teaching in state schools and in the Armed Forces, and an end to the abuse of transgender rules to enable biological men to compete unfairly in sporting competitions with women.
Those are all issues where the Democrats are vulnerable, and it was obvious by the time Mr. Trump finished speaking after more than an hour on Tuesday night that he is going to pound these and other Democratic soft points unmercifully for the next two years.
Instead of raising up yet again his just but labored grievances against the vote-counting methods used to elect President Biden two years ago, he took the lead among prominent Republicans in demanding voter identification and verification and one-day voting.
The majority support these measures, and it was an agile jump from continued complaints about the dubious 2020 election result to becoming instantly the principal advocate in the nation for sensible and popular electoral reform.
Mr. Trump promised early on in his remarks that he would avoid the expression “fake news,” and as if to emphasize that he has turned a new page and listened to his critics, he did not use the phrase again. His criticisms of the press in the balance of his address were few, precise, and not overstated.
Oratorically speaking, it was a new Trump. It was a logical sequence delivered forcefully but without bluster and with none of the usual asides and expatiations that, however amusing, often have made him seem unserious and self-obsessed, and have been harmful to his credibility.
On this night, Donald Trump was a formidable political leader who instead of reciting in laborious detail the many occasions when he has been targeted by the politicized and partisan apparatus of the American Department of Justice, simply stated that misuse of prosecutors and regulators for political ends was something a second Trump administration would stop.
It was tactically and psychologically important for him to promise reform and not vengeance. He highlighted one of the many weaknesses in Democratic attacks upon him: The Democrats do not fear Trump-sponsored chaos or a Trump assault upon democracy; they fear exposure of their own misdeeds and hypocrisy.
By recounting the failings of the Biden administration almost impersonally, and without hyperbole, Mr. Trump made the case more forcefully than he ever has before that the whole system that he ran against in 2016 is in desperate need of renovation. When he attacked the “festering rot and corruption” of Washington, everyone knew that it was not confined to the Democrats, though they were certainly the principal target.
All knew that the majority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, though not mentioned, was in Mr. Trump’s thoughts also and that the time is coming when Mr. McConnell’s penchant for using campaign funds of which he is a trustee for the Republican Party for the purpose of elevating his own favorites and destroying the careers of potential Republican opponents probably lost the Republicans the Senate and cannot be tolerated much longer.
Just as in 2016 Mr. Trump ran as much against the Bushes as against the Clintons and Obamas, on Tuesday night he effectively raised the standard of the trans-partisan national interest in good government. In this, he played his high card: He is not really a politician but entered the political world to make it better and more efficient.
Mr. Trump called for congressional term limits and term limits on governors in states where they do not now exist. He subtly but clearly distinguished himself from the vast scrum of humdrum professional politicians, with no need to mention that Mr. Biden is chief among them. His attacks on the Democrats’ open southern border and failure to do anything to assist local government in reduction of urban crime were unanswerable.
In one hour Donald Trump reminded the nation of his great strengths and by not displaying them, caused millions of people to begin to forget what caused them to fear or dislike him. Whatever the political future may hold, and it is likely to be tortuous and contentious, Donald Trump revived his political fortunes.
As I wrote here last week, it seemed to me, as to many others, that the Democrats had convincingly demonstrated that the country was more afraid of or averse to Mr. Trump than it was censorious of Mr. Biden, despite Mr. Biden’s low standing in the polls. In a single stroke, Mr. Trump has turned the tables, put the administration on the defensive, and got well ahead of Republican rivals.
Donald Trump has been underestimated before, and he has strained the patience even of long-time supporters, but he showed on Tuesday night his intuitive political brilliance, his indomitable personality, and his indestructible status as the evocative voice of profound and widespread, if often almost unspoken, popular political aspirations. He has been written off many times before; more than ever, it would be a mistake to do so now.