Donald Trump’s 2024 primary strategy, explained
Against all odds, former President Donald Trump appears wellpositioned to clinch the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He holds a commanding lead over a growing primary field with seven months until the ‘first in the nation’ Iowa caucus, despite facing a slew of legal scandals that would debilitate any other politician.
While Trump’s approach to politics often appears more incoherent than intelligible, there in fact is a calculated strategy steering his primary campaign. It involves turning his intensifying legal troubles into martyrdom at the hands of the left-wing political establishment, while at the same time relentlessly attacking his top opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Though this strategy is largely devoid of actual policy, it has been effective thus far: Trump has consolidated the support of the majority of Republican primary voters nationally, doubling his lead over DeSantis, per RealClearPolitics’ average of primary polls. Bearing in mind that national data is best viewed as a general gauge, the latest polls in the first four primary states also find Trump with at least a 20-point lead.
Throughout the campaign, Trump will continue positioning himself as a victim of political persecution and making the case that President Biden and Hunter Biden — both of whom are also under federal investigation — are the figures who deserve more serious scrutiny. Regardless of the truth or falsity of this narrative, it allows Trump to maintain a solid constituency within the Republican Party that will continue supporting him, especially in light of the potentially multiple additional indictments he is likely to face.
Indeed, Trump’s martyrdom narrative will only become more entrenched if he is indicted in the special counsel’s probe, either for mishandling classified documents or for attempting to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. This is especially likely if the concurrent federal probes into President Biden’s potential mishandling of classified documents and Hunter Biden’s alleged influence peddling — among other investigations into the First Son —
fail to result in charges.
In a recent letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, which Trump posted on his Truth Social platform, Trump’s lawyers sought to reinforce the narrative that their client is suffering an unfair application of justice, versus the Bidens, who are being given a free pass.
To be sure, Trump’s lawyers well-know that the Attorney General must decline the meeting they demanded, as Garland took the appropriate step of recusing himself from the special counsel’s investigation into Trump to avoid the appearance of political interference, as he did with the probe into President Biden. But this fact is irrelevant to Trump and his team, whose primary focus is uniting Republicans around Trump by positioning him as a political warrior facing unjust persecution.
Throughout his political career, Trump has proven himself a virtuoso
at playing both the winner and the victim, and this is no exception. As Rich Lowry recently wrote for POLITICO, this role has allowed Trump to construct “an impenetrable political forcefield” with Republican voters — each success he experiences proves that he is on top, while any setback validates his victimhood and shows that his political enemies are threatened by his strength.
This positioning, taken together with Trump’s habit of persistently attacking his political opponents, has made him into an almost unbeatable primary opponent, as DeSantis is quickly discovering.
As Republican voters have embraced Trump’s self-contrived image as a political martyr, DeSantis, who was once viewed as the most viable non-Trump candidate, has simultaneously declined in the polls. In turn, DeSantis’ deterioration has motivated other Republicans to jump in the race
— a scenario that inherently benefits the former president, as it splits the non-Trump vote.
Even though DeSantis only officially declared his candidacy recently, Trump has been going after him for months with anything he feels he can make stick — ranging from DeSantis’ support for cuts to broadly popular entitlement programs, to accusing him of “grooming” high school girls, to calling him a “RINO globalist” and “Ron DeSanctimonious.”
For his part, DeSantis has only recently begun hitting back after months of tiptoeing around the former president’s barrages. The Florida Governor recently suggested that Trump was “moving to the left,” referring to his recent flip-flopping on issues such as immigration and spending, and has sought to implicitly contrast his record advancing conservative reforms with the chaos Trump brings.
“At the end of the day, leadership
is not about entertainment… It is about results, and in Florida, we didn’t lead with merely words…we have produced a record of accomplishment that we would put up against anybody in this country,” DeSantis said at a recent campaign stop in Iowa.
If history is any guide, DeSantis’ veiled shots will only fire-up Trump to double-down on insulting his former protégé.
To be sure, Trump’s 2024 playbook — insulting his challengers into submission and positioning himself as a political martyr and an aggrieved victim of the political left — is nothing new. And while it’s hard to say whether this strategy will continue to pay off as the campaign begins in earnest, it appears increasingly likely that Donald Trump will bludgeon his way to the top of the GOP ticket, once again.