The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Is Trump finally becoming a serious candidate? You’ve got to be kidding.

Former president Donald Trump speaks during an event with Joe Lombardo, Clark County sheriff and Republican candidate for Nevada governor, and republican Nevada Senate candidate Adam Laxalt, on July 8, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)
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In case you missed it, The Post had a sensational scoop last week in an article headlined “Donald Trump looks to fall launch for 2024, potentially upending midterms.” Oh, I wasn’t surprised that Trump is ready to announce his candidacy. I’ve been expecting that, if only because he is likely to see a campaign as a way to ward off prosecution for inciting an insurrection — which he richly deserves. This is going to be the “don’t lock me up” campaign.

No, what I found eye-opening was this passage: “Trump has decided in recent weeks to stage a series of what aides dub policy speeches as he continues to plan the structure of his next campaign. He gave a speech on crime Friday in Las Vegas ... Further speeches are being planned.”

When I served as a foreign policy adviser for Republican campaigns (John McCain, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio), we used to spend inordinate amounts of time crafting policy speeches full of weighty proposals. This was considered standard practice for a “serious” candidate. Trump, as we know, flushed those expectations down a gold-plated toilet. His idea of policy was “lock her up” and “build the wall.”

Has Trump finally decided, seven years after launching his first campaign, to become a serious candidate? His speech in Las Vegas on July 8 had some serious-looking trappings: He used a podium with “President Donald J. Trump” and a mock presidential seal on it. But if this were a policy speech, then orange is his natural skin color.

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Trump began with a brief tribute to Shinzo Abe, the assassinated former Japanese prime minister. “Based on this being a speech about law and order,” he said, “I hope that the man who committed this crime will pay a swift and steep price for the greatness he has taken from our planet.”

But, of course, most of speech wasn’t about Abe’s greatness or about the issue du jour. It was about Trump’s greatness — and how he has been victimized by so, so many.

“We have to stop fighting with each other and unify,” he solemnly intoned. “That was happening during the greatest period, I believe, in our country’s history in many ways, just before covid came in from China.” I’m sure we can all remember the Era of Good Feelings when Trump was castigating Democrats as traitors and criminals before China unleashed a pandemic to ruin his life.

We could go back to that halcyon age if only Trump weren’t in the crosshairs of a “racist” attorney general in New York. That would be Letitia James, a Black woman whose office is about to depose Trump about his business dealings — because, according to Trump, she is anti-White. You can tell Trump is nervous about being held to account, because he also accused Democrats of using “the law as a weapon to persecute their political opponents while they let rapists and murderers go free.”

In Trump’s telling, it was a shame he was robbed of his rightful election victory, because, if he had still been in office, he would have solved every problem in the world — even the Iranian nuclear program. “I would’ve had a deal done within one week after the election if the election wasn’t rigged,” he assured the audience. Yeah, right.

As to the ostensible subject of this “policy speech,” Trump did mention crime a lot, mainly to blame it on “the Biden administration, the Pelosi-Schumer Congress, radical left Democrats at the state and local level, and frankly everybody else.” (Everybody else?) “They defunded the police,” he claimed. In reality, Biden wants to increase spending on police.

But what about actual, you know, policies? There were a few — all familiar from previous Trump rallies. Limiting access to guns definitely wasn’t on the agenda. He demanded: “Leave our police alone, let them do their job. They know what to do.” (The family of George Floyd would beg to differ.)

Trump wants the death penalty for drug dealers, which he claims has eliminated drug dealing in China and every other dictatorship that’s tried it. At least that’s what he said Chinese President Xi Jinping told him. The facts suggest otherwise: China has a big drug problem.

For the umpteenth time, Trump also called for a border crackdown, falsely blaming crime on “an open cesspool of drugs and criminals pouring into our country.” But how can all these criminals be pouring across the border, given Trump’s boast that “We completed almost all of the wall”? You mean that the wall wasn’t completed? Or that it doesn’t work?

I could continue pointing out Trump’s false “facts” and nonsensical proposals from now until 2024, but honestly, what’s the point? His movement was never about policy. It was always a cult of personality that tapped into fear and resentment of liberal elites and people of color. To judge from his Las Vegas speech, nothing has changed. (Who do you think lives in “Democrat-run cities”?)

Is Trump finally becoming a serious candidate? You’ve got to be kidding. If Trump really wanted to fight crime, he would simply turn himself in.

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