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Opinion Trump is out for vengeance — and to protect himself from prosecution

Former president Donald Trump speaks during the America First Policy Institute's America First Agenda Summit in Washington, D.C., on July 26. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

He was always going to run. Absent incarceration or interment, and perhaps only the latter, he inevitably would seek the presidency again. His narcissism, his megalomania, his delicate yet illimitable ego, would have it no other way.

Donald Trump craves the power. Even more, he craves the attention. And more than ever — after an unprecedented two impeachments, a humiliating reelection defeat that he can’t even admit, and amid multiple criminal investigations and civil suits — he seeks vengeance. The l’état c’est moi president who apparently tried to sic the IRS on his enemies (and perhaps succeeded), and who tried to extort Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden, can’t wait to get back on the job.

Trump won’t succeed, as his successive losses of the House, Senate, presidency and last week’s midterm results show. Too many Americans would crawl on broken glass to vote against him, no matter who his general election opponent may be. They have seen enough.

That goes also for many Republicans, particularly the sophisticated ones. Their views were succinctly stated by Marc Thiessen just the other day: “Mr. President, it is not in your interest to run in 2024. If you do, you will likely lose. And you will destroy what remains of your legacy in the process. Please, don’t do it,” Thiessen begged.

George T. Conway III: Trump’s luck may finally be running out

Legacy? Trump has none, other than his impeachments and the stain of Jan. 6, 2021. He’ll never be remembered for much else. Historians will perpetually rank him as among the worst — if not the worst — in the presidential pantheon. As they should, befitting a man who, despite having sworn an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, did his level best to destroy it.

Trump can’t ruin a legacy he doesn’t have, but he could easily wreck something else: the Republican Party. Which is why so many in the GOP are, at long last, so alarmed. And why Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, the right-wing donor class and so many Republican Party operatives seek an alternative. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, they hope, will save the day.

That’s unlikely. DeSantis is popular, to be sure, and won a victory last Tuesday far exceeding anything Trump could ever achieve. But the problem is that the GOP is no longer just a political party — it’s something of a cult.

One Republican pollster taxonomizes the party thusly: Ten percent are “Never Trumpers,” who have long despised Trump. (This might be high, because of people like me who re-registered as independents to escape the cult.) As many as 50 percent could be considered “Maybe Trumpers,” Republicans who voted for Trump twice, but are exhausted by him and would love to support someone else. That leaves 40 percent, the “Always Trumpers” — the cultish voters who will never abandon him, even if he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, or at the Capitol, or anywhere else.

The math means Trump can only be bested for the GOP nomination in a contest that’s one-on-one from the outset. Given the delegate rules, 40 percent could be enough to win a multicandidate race.

Who could beat Trump one-on-one? Certainly not the one Republican sure to run: former vice president Mike Pence, who’ll run for no better reason than that he has nothing else to do. Here I agree with Trump: Pence is weak. Sure, he did the right thing on Jan. 6, for which he deserves eternal credit. But it took a titanic struggle of conscience for him to do what his constitutional oath so manifestly required. And it took nearly two years for him to muster the backbone, as he did this week, to say he was angry at Trump — the man who all but set the mob after him.

George T. Conway III: Donald Trump’s new reality

DeSantis would have a chance to beat Trump one-on-one, but why should he try? He’s ambitious to be sure, but running against Trump would be a brutal mud bath. To beat Trump, an opponent would have to go after Trump hammer and tong, battering his ego to trigger him into narcissistic, self-defeating, unhinged rages. That would be fun to watch: Hey, Donald, where’s the wall? Where’s that check from Mexico? Why did you stand by your buddy Anthony S. Fauci for so long?

But does DeSantis have that in him? We don’t know yet. He’s not the accomplished orator some make him out to be. Most importantly, he’s only 44. He’ll be 48 when he serves out his new gubernatorial term in 2026. Why not just sit back and keep building his war chest? Even if DeSantis wins the 2024 nomination, he’ll wind up with the Always Trump 40 percent hating his guts. The alternatives for the GOP aren’t pretty: Another national defeat led by Trump, or intraparty civil war.

But if you think that’s great for the rest of us, I’ve got bad news for you. A big reason Trump announced his run is he fears criminal prosecution. He’s a desperate man, a threatened and rabid animal, who could face multiple indictments (the stolen classified documents, Georgia) over the next year.

He thinks running for president, and the specter of violence from his fringiest supporters, will protect him from the prosecutors. If he’s indicted, he promises “problems in this country the likes of which perhaps we’ve never seen before.” And he’ll make good on that promise: As Sen. Mitch McConnell said last year, Trump was “determined” to “torch our institutions on the way out” in January 2021, merely because he lost an election.

So just imagine what Trump would do to stay out of jail.

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