Boston Herald

Donald Trump’s 2024 primary strategy, explained

- By Douglas Schoen Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

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.

 ?? REBECCA BLACKWELL — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., hours after being arraigned in New York City on April 4.
REBECCA BLACKWELL — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Former President Donald Trump speaks at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., hours after being arraigned in New York City on April 4.

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