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Opinion: It's dangerous to underestimate Trump

04.2012 Moderatorin Journal Michaela Küfner
Michaela Küfner
November 16, 2022

Donald Trump won't let anything or anyone stop him from going for a second presidency— certainly not voters. This poses a threat to democracy not only in the US but the world, says DW's Michaela Küfner.

Donald Trump's head, flanked by flags, chandelier in the background, he shields his eyes with his hand against the lights
Donald Trump, in the race againImage: Andrew Harnik/AP/picture alliance

Before Donald Trump had even uttered the words in Florida everyone was waiting for, he had called for donations for his 2024 candidacy on his website.

His announcement that he was running for president "in order to make America great and glorious again," was followed by minutes-long cheering by the political disciples who had gathered around him at his golf club in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. "Fake news media" were not welcome.

New York Times journalist Maggie Habermann, the leading US expert on all things Trump, has repeatedly and emphatically described the former president as a man who, in a pinch, always forges ahead. And here he goes again. For him, it seems only logical to run even though voters clearly rejected his candidates in the recent US midterm elections.

Republicans' longing for normalcy

It was particularly in the swing states, including Michigan, Arizona and Nevada — states that tend to vote one way one time and the other the next — that even Trump fans chose not to to give their vote to anyone upholding the lie of the "stolen" 2020 presidential election. Even leading Republicans have spoken of a "victory for team normal" in the congressional elections. But Trump has long been part of Republican normalcy. He even helped the rise of newly re-elected Florida governorRon DeSantis, now probably his biggest rival for the Republican candidacy.

Michaela Küfner
DW correspondent Michaela Küfner Image: DW

DeSantis has been dubbed a "Trump with a brain." But there is nothing Trump hates more than when someone dares to step out of his shadow. Outraged, he has described DeSantis as a  "hypocrite" since he started presenting himself as a potential rival.

Mike Pence, Trump's former vice president, is also gearing up for the race for the Oval Office. His book "So help me God" is due for release this week, along with several interviews in which he "reveals" the threat posed by Trump on January 6, 2021, the day of the storming of the Capitol.

A whole field of rivals in Trump's own party, poor results for his candidates in the midterms, and various ongoing investigations into his activities — including one for attempted election meddling in Georgia and another regarding allegedly embezzled top secret documents found at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort — all indicate that according to the laws of politics, the writing is on the wall.

Tendency to divide rather than unite

However, Trump has rewritten those laws again and again. Division is his political weapon. In his view, the court cases against him are simply ammunition, he can quote them as evidence of his "persecution."

Ron DeSantis, man showered with confetti smiles, waves, backed by US banner
Ron DeSantis is described as "Trump with a brain"Image: Marco Bello/REUTERS

About a third of Republican voters, according to estimates, believe him. They continue to stand united behind him, despite Trump disenchantment among the party ranks.

In the end, one third could easily be enough for a victory in the primaries for the Republican candidacy. And even if it isn't, Trump will have won because one thing is clear: he has shaped the Republican Party in his own image. It does not recognize itself. Trumpism has become a permanent fixture in US politics. Even independently of its political host, it feeds on the divisions in American society. The stability of the West and democracy in the world ultimately depend on containing those divisions. In the end, only the silent majority can defeat the political demon of Trumpism. The midterm elections have just shown that this majority still exists, across all political camps.

This article was originally written in German.

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