LOWRY/Is Donald Trump boring now?
Donald Trump implicitly endorsed a half-baked conspiracy theory for why his candidates lost in the Georgia Republican primaries, and it created barely a ripple in the political world.
The man who shocked and outraged his way through four transfixing years as president of the United States has become a known commodity, indeed predictable and even monotonous.
It’s a blessing and a curse for formerly cutting-edge musicians to see their once radically counter-cultural material show up in TV ads for cars. There’s no danger that Trump will ever be similarly laundered into the mainstream. But he can become boring, which will put at risk one of the pillars of his appeal as the most wildly entertaining, mad-cap national political figure of our lifetimes.
Now, I say this as someone who thought Trump’s act might begin to wear thin some time in 2015. I was wrong then, and I may well be wrong again. At the very least, though, Trump can’t benefit from the shock of the new a second time, or a third time, depending on how you’re counting.
The rallies, once an innovation and still his campaign signature, long ago fell into a groove of familiarity — the stilted reading of scripted remarks off the teleprompter, interrupted by spontaneous riffs and ridicule of his enemies.
Perhaps, by now, the terms of abuse have become such timeless classics that fans would be disappointed not to experience them live, a little like going to a Beach Boys concert anytime over the last half-century and not hearing “California Girls.”
Yet you could have heard the same lines at any Trump rally at any place on any occasion over the last several years. The media is still “Fake News.” MSNBC is still “MSDNC.” Adam Schiff is still “shifty” and Chuck Todd still “sleepy.”
And, as you might have heard, Chris Wallace always wanted to be like his father Mike of “60 Minutes” fame, but sadly didn’t have the talent.
Much of his focus is backward-looking. Republican voters care, as they should, about the beginnings of the poorly predicated Russia probe that consumed so much time and attention during Trump’s first couple of years in office, but there’s no way they care as much as Trump does.
The former president said the words “Russia” or “hoax” innumerable times during a rally the other day for Liz Cheney’s opponent in Wyoming. The casual observer could have been forgiven for thinking it was an event primarily about the Mueller probe with some throwaway lines about Harriet Hageman mixed in purely for variety’s sake.
He talked about his two impeachments, and, of course, his “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
There is wisdom in the famous William Faulkner line that, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It’s an adage that’s traditionally been best suited to Southern gothic novelists, though, rather than American politicians who usually benefit from putting an accent on the future.
Trump’s signature 2016 boost of, “I alone can fix it,” has become, “I alone can fixate on it.”
The candidate who brought relatively neglected issues that mattered to the average voter into the center of the political discussion in 2016, from immigration and trade to opioids, is now largely telling voters about the slights and ill-treatment that matter to him in 2022.
All that said, there’s no doubt that rally attendees still enthusiastically enjoy Trump’s lines. And there’s also no beating something with nothing. If Trump’s rallies are stale, what hot new event in Republican politics is going to supplant them? The fact is that Trump at his most dull still may be more interesting than a conventional Republican at his or her most entertaining.
A Trump march toward the GOP nomination will elate his supporters and create a five-alarm fire in the press and among Democrats. But at least this time around, everyone will know what he’s going to say next.
Rich Lowery is editor of National Review, a leading conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley.