- - Friday, July 29, 2022

After more than a year of calling him, “my predecessor” or “the other guy” President Joe Biden mentioned former President Donald Trump by name this week during a speech about law enforcement. For some pundits, this was used to add fuel to the notion that Democrats are nervous about the former president running again.

But like in the classic “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” things may not be what they seem.

The narrative that Mr. Trump is the only solution or that Democrats are reflexively terrified of his resurgence is at once dubious and silly. That’s not stopping some folks from trying to sell it though.

America’s 45th president clearly remains a tour de force with his hardcore supporters. After the last 18 months, even many Democrats acknowledge that his policies are better for the country. That gives him an opening for a comeback, but it’s not as wide as some want Americans to believe.

Those close to Mr. Trump either want to drive the perception that he’s the invincible, inevitable and only alternative. The numbers though are starting to tell a different story. This month’s Quinnipiac poll showed 64% of voters don’t want to see him make another run, including 27% of Republicans and 68% of independents.

The same New York Times poll that recently showed Mr. Biden’s popularity in the tank also showed less than half of Republicans saying Mr. Trump was their preferred choice.

Lesson? Invincibility in politics is an illusion. Selective reading of polls is dangerous.

For Mr. Trump to be truly viable, he and his team need to find a way to drive genuine enthusiasm beyond the adoring crowds. You don’t win national elections playing only to your base.

A second Trump term will require him to actually win over moderates, women and even Republicans who grew disenchanted with his style. Despite the collapse of Biden’s popularity, Mr. Trump still has plenty of work to do.

The race against Hillary Clinton was a choice between two candidates who were upside down on favorability, forcing voters on the margins to make the less uncomfortable decision.

2024 won’t be that kind of a race. 

Folks in Mr. Trump’s orbit continue to suggest that Democrats and the media will do anything to keep him out of politics. On the contrary, they hope for the exact opposite.

The Jan. 6 hearings, for instance, aren’t about damaging Mr. Trump enough to prevent him from running for a second term. Democrats are hoping to enrage him enough to ensure he’ll take the bait and run while making it all but impossible for him to win a general election.

The real impact of the committee’s work is intended to be the political equivalent of death by a thousand cuts. The one-sided political show trial Republican leaders allowed to happen hasn’t even been syndicated into documentaries, television and online advertisements yet.

Democrats know Mr. Trump’s entry into the race will box out an exceptional field of other potential candidates and expose significant fissures within the Republican Party. Like a number of Trump-backed Senate candidates, he may lay claim to a solid 30 to 40% of the GOP primary vote, but that means a lot of other voters will still need convincing.

Democrats are terrified that he doesn’t run. With unpopular, radical policies driven by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders and the far left, poorly parroted by the current occupant of the White House, Mr. Trump’s style is all they have to give them hope.

This year Democrats are spending money to boost Trump-backed candidates in GOP primaries they consider more beatable in the general election. If they were really afraid of the former president’s political prowess, they wouldn’t be spending that money.

Democrats desperately want another campaign where everything is all Trump, all the time, where the GOP is branded as his party and where the press clamor for the first-person social media message with exclamation points that flattens the news cycle like a steamroller.

It’s the only way for the left to win. Democrats aren’t afraid of Mr. Trump. They’re desperate for him to stage a comeback. It’s proof positive just how bereft they are of ideas and talent.

For the Beltway insiders, this game of illusion is captivating, but for the American people, it’s corrosive.

There are grave risks for all sides here. Republicans and Trump acolytes, in particular, would do well to remember, that just like in “Virginia Woolf,” illusion is ultimately never more than illusion and reality, however hard to handle, is inescapable.

• Tom Basile is the host of “America Right Now” on Newsmax Television, an author and a former Bush administration official.

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