Former President Donald Trump showed a flash of discipline this week when he canceled a potentially explosive Jan. 6 press conference, surprising friends and foes who had grown accustomed to his renegade style that shook up Washington.
Mr. Trump’s change of heart was a departure from the way he throws caution to the wind and shrugs off a conventional approach to politics.
“When he has wanted to get his spotlight and wants to push something, he doesn’t easily reverse course,” said Christopher P. Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. “It is not his style, and in this case, whether it is caution or a reevaluation, it has led him to an un-Trump-like action, and that by itself is different.”
Mr. Trump’s unconventional approach helped fuel his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and played into his defeat to Joseph R. Biden in 2020.
Mr. Trump stuck to his modus operandi after the 2020 election by airing claims of a stolen election that have become a rallying cry for his loyal supporters. Those include members of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol to protest the results and now face criminal charges or have been prosecuted.
Though calling off the presser on the anniversary of the riot, Mr. Trump has not completely abandoned his stolen election rhetoric or his defense of the rioters as “patriots.”
He said he plans to take on topics such as the Democratic-led House select committee investigating the origins of the riot and “fake news media” at a Jan. 15 rally in Arizona.
“It will be a big crowd,” Mr. Trump said.
The former president also isn’t backing away from politics. He has endorsed Republican candidates for this year’s midterm elections and issued hundreds of statements.
Mr. Trump, 75, has heralded his administration’s achievements and launched a parade of attacks on Mr. Biden and other Democrats, as well as against Republicans who have broken with him.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming has been a top target.
At the previously planned press conference at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Mr. Trump planned to double down on his stolen election claims and his criticism of the “Unselect Committee of highly partisan political hacks.”
The event was billed as an opportunity for Mr. Trump to offer a counternarrative to the news that has come out of the House select committee’s investigation, which Republicans have dismissed as a partisan effort to smear Mr. Trump and the entire party.
Mr. Trump insists the coup took place at the ballot box on Nov. 3, 2020.
“Until then, remember, the insurrection took place on November 3rd, it was the completely unarmed protest of the rigged election that took place on January 6th,” Mr. Trump said.
Steve Mitchell, a Republican Party strategist, said he suspects the enormous buildup to the anniversary of the Jan. 6 attack prompted Mr. Trump to rethink his plans.
“He would be the lightning rod if he did something tomorrow, and I think he knows that,” Mr. Mitchell said. “Then he will respond at a time and place of his choosing with a crowd that will be supportive of what he says — in effect giving him the last word.”
Mr. Trump is still widely viewed as the de facto leader of the Republican Party. He is considering another bid for the White House in 2024, freezing the field of possible contenders.
The former president has a lot running on a strong Republican showing in the midterm elections. If the past is prologue, he will claim he deserves most of the credit.
Republican strategist Kevin Sheridan said a “Republican earthquake is coming in 2022” and the political landscape will look a lot different next year.
“We have Joe Biden to thank for that,” he said, adding that it is not productive for Republicans to try to guess Mr. Trump’s 2024 intentions.
“It’s safe to assume he’ll try to preserve his options before making his next move,” Mr. Sheridan said. “He still has a strong base of support, but there are signs that a durable plurality of Republican voters are moving on from him.”
Regardless of whether Mr. Trump is changing in style or substance, he is facing a political crossroads as the 2024 race nears.
“I think he is at a bit of a risky point,” Mr. Borick said. “As time moves on and let’s say Republicans have a lot of success in 2022 without him on the ballot, it is going to get harder and harder for him.
“He has defied all kinds of political rules in the past, often to success, but the aging and distance for politicians as they move away from power is not usually kind, and I think there is an increasing chance the party is finding ways to move past him,” he said. “It could be a party that has been changed by him, but ultimately one whose future is not with him.”
• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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