President Trump’s recent flurry of activity has raised speculation about his future role in American politics. It is thus incumbent upon his strongest supporters to engage in a difficult introspective question: What role does America most need Trump to play?
Candidates nominated in appreciation of past service typically fare poorly. The most successful candidates are those who understand the demands of the current moment. And the most successful presidents followed through by delivering on their campaign promises. Donald Trump did both. In 2016, America was suffering from 16 years of dismal leadership implicating both parties. America needed an outsider beholden to neither the Bush nor the Obama agendas who could grab the country by its lapels, get in its face, and scream, “PAY ATTENTION!” Trump was uniquely capable of providing that wake-up call.
By 2024, assuming that the country can restore acceptable levels of ballot integrity, America will need something different. The strongest candidate — and the person most likely to produce a successful right-of-center presidency — will be the person best suited to that point in time.
What might those needs be? Could Trump be that candidate? The answers to both questions lie in an unsentimental assessment of Trump’s performance in office. For three years, “Make America Great Again!” yielded unparalleled gains in domestic, economic, and foreign policy. In year four, the abject failure to “Drain the Swamp” dealt unprecedented blows to the economy, society, the rule of law, and election integrity.
Donald Trump’s America was a beautiful gold-and-glass skyscraper built in a swamp. The institutional infrastructure — government employees, media, academia, and leading industries — was too deeply compromised to sustain it. It’s now sinking. Quickly.
That problem was foreseeable. Trump himself highlighted the decayed state of many of these institutions. He called them out repeatedly for their lies, corruption, double-standards, failures, and anti-Americanism. Yet he proved unable to do very much beyond highlighting the problem. That failure was particularly glaring when it came to personnel. At no point was Trump able to hire more than a handful of people who shared his vision and values. He retained far too many Obama appointees and left-leaning careerists, and added far too many Republicans committed to restraining his agenda rather than furthering it. From start to finish, these betrayals from within plagued his administration.
Contrast those results with President Obama and the anti-Trump resistance, where betrayals and defections were rare, and institutional coordination was effective. What was their secret? Organizational excellence. Obama used his experience as a community organizer to build and influence organizational structures both in and out of government.
Inside government, Obama’s hand-picked allies politicized and weaponized (most obviously) the IRS, FBI, CIA, and the departments of justice and education. Among activists, he converted his formidable “Obama for America” campaign machinery into the permanent “Organizing for America.” OFA provided the infrastructure that let a hastily formed resistance movement function as an effective cellular network.
Other leading progressives have shown a similar commitment to organization. Eric Holder had multiple lucrative opportunities when he stepped down as attorney general. He chose to improve Democrats’ standing in state legislatures — a choice so important that Obama rolled OFA into the effort. It’s telling that top progressive stars placed such importance on cultivating the farm team. You can bet that they’re now doing the work necessary to improve upon Democrats’ disappointing down-ballot performance in 2020.
Such moves on the left demonstrate commitment and long-term strategy unmatched on the right. They’re part of the “long march through America’s institutions” announced in the 1960s that explains how and why the radical utopian left has inflicted such harm on the very structure of the American republic.
By 2024, America will need an organizer of Obama’s ilk who shares Trump’s passion for American greatness. The next Republican candidate must broaden and grow the coalition of Americans committed to restoring our nation’s founding ideals. The next Republican president must clean house, drain the swamp, put true allies into all positions of influence, and present plans capable of restoring America’s debased institutions.
In short: Make American Greatness Sustainable!
Even at 78 (the age Joe Biden was when inaugurated earlier this year) Trump himself would bring many assets to that challenge: an enormous following, significant funding, and experience building organizations. True advancement, however, will require a clear understanding of why Trump’s great America is now sinking into the swamp. Though such critical self-reflection is possible, it’s not among Trump’s demonstrated strengths.
If Trump deploys his assets to identify and promote a successor blessed with a distinct mix of strengths, his efforts may galvanize a sustainable, organized movement to restore America’s great traditions. If he deploys them only in the service of his own comeback, he risks leading a disorganized mass of individuals lamenting his inability to sustain American greatness.
Could Trump be as ideally suited to 2024 as he was to 2016? Yes. But what America most needs now is an organization-building kingmaker, not a restored king.
Bruce Abramson, PhD, JD, is a principal at JBB&A Strategies and B2 Strategic, a director of the American Center for Education and Knowledge, and author of the forthcoming book “The New Civil War: Exposing Elites, Fighting Utopian Leftism, and Restoring America” (RealClear Publishing, 2021).