Anyone who looks at how close the 2020 election was can’t discount the possibility. Far from damaging his party at the polls, Trump staved off the promised “blue wave.” Republicans kept the Senate (for now) and gained seats in the House. And Trump lost the presidency by a small number of votes in a handful of states. At this writing, he is behind by about 14,700 votes in Arizona, 47,000 votes in Pennsylvania and 12,000 votes in Georgia. A flip of just some 73,700 votes in those three states and Trump would be making plans for a second term — and we would all be taking about a “red wave.”
That means the 2024 Republican nomination is Trump’s if he wants it. He has the most loyal base of any president in modern history and an army of 71 million voters. No sane Republican would challenge him. But if Trump wants to make another run at the White House, how he handles the next few months will be decisive.
First, he needs to handle the presidential transition smartly. As former president George W. Bush said this week, “President Trump has the right to request recounts and pursue legal challenges, and any unresolved issues will be properly adjudicated.” Given how close the election was, Americans will grant Trump some time to do this. Was there voter fraud, as Trump claims? According to his book “Rumsfeld’s Rules,” one of former Bush-era defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s “Rules” for intelligence is that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” The lack of evidence that North Koreans were building a nuclear weapon was not evidence they were not building one. The same applies to voter fraud. Given the Trump campaign’s allegations that Democrats blocked GOP poll watchers from closely observing in key places, it is understandable that Republicans are suspicious. Even if it does not change the election result, we should all want to know whether some took advantage of our unprecedented national experiment in mail-in voting.
But even if Trump’s legal team turns up evidence of cheating, it almost certainly won’t be enough to overcome Joe Biden’s margin of victory in three states. That means after exhausting the legal remedies, Trump needs to graciously concede. Still, he is not likely to ever accept the vote was fair. Indeed, Trump’s claims of fraud may be less about changing the results of this election than winning the next one — creating a narrative that the presidency was stolen and setting up a campaign to “reclaim” it in four years. Democrats can hardly complain about this approach, considering they questioned the legitimacy of his election based on a now-discredited Russia collusion conspiracy theory.
But Trump does have to preside over a smooth transition. Once the vote is officially certified, he needs to invite Biden to the White House, cooperate with his transition team and attend Biden’s inauguration. No one likes a sore loser. If Trump leaves a sour impression on swing voters by the way he leaves the White House, he may do himself permanent damage.
Second, before leaving the White House, he has one last job to do: He must save the Republican Senate majority. If Democrats win the two Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, they will take control of the chamber. They can then get rid of the filibuster and pass whatever radical legislation they like. They will also have the power to reverse Trump’s judicial legacy by packing the courts, and lock in their majority by making the District of Columbia a state, giving them two safe seats.
The only way to prevent this is to turn out Trump’s loyal base. And the only person who can do that is Trump. He needs to hold rallies for Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, and campaign for them like he did in the final days of the November election. He also needs to make the election about the future and stopping the radical left from imposing its agenda on the American people, not about the November vote.
If Democrats win in Georgia, it will be seen as a final repudiation of Trumpism. But if Trump can lead the effort to hold the Senate in Georgia, he will leave office with a major victory — and perhaps launch the first salvo of his 2024 campaign.