Donald Trump stormed to the Republican presidential nomination and won the presidency by articulating grievances shared by vast numbers of Americans — grievances about illegal immigration, the “exporting” of American jobs, the tyranny of political correctness, etc. Other conservative politicians shared these concerns, but I doubt that anyone could have galvanized the public around them as effectively as Trump did.
But that was then, this is now. So the question becomes whether Trump remains the best public figure to articulate these grievances — and the new, related ones that have arisen since.
The question is especially pertinent because, unlike in 2015-16, Trump now has a new set of grievances — one that is personal to him. His main grievance, of course, is that his alleged landslide victory in 2020 was stolen. There are also his grievances about the two impeachments, about Anthony Fauci, and so forth.
To the extent that Trump, in his public appearances, fixates on the past and on the personal, he diminishes himself as a spokesman on the current problems that beset America and, in my view, as a viable nominee in 2024. To what extent does he so fixate?
For now, the question is best answered by considering the speech the former president delivered to North Carolina Republicans last week. This, after all, was his first major address in some time.
To hear the media tell it, Trump’s speech was largely a litany of personal grievances. For example, the Washington Post called its story on the speech “Republican leaders say they want to focus on the future, but Trump is far from done with the past.” The first paragraph states:
As Republicans gathered Saturday in two battleground Southern states to chart a course forward after losing the White House and both chambers of Congress, former president Donald Trump was partially fixated on the past as he aired grievances, repeated falsehoods and promoted culture war issues that have captured his imagination.
Similarly, CNN’s headline was “Trump dwells on 2020 during North Carolina event aimed at helping Republicans in 2022.”
These reports aren’t exactly false, but they are misleading. Trump isn’t done with the past, but the focus of his speech was on the present. That’s clear, I think, from this transcript, especially the first half of it.
In addition to praising various North Carolina politicians and personalities, Trump talked about defending the border (first and foremost), combatting the cancel culture, rejecting critical race theory, supporting the police, the two pipelines (the American one Joe Biden nixed and the Russian one Biden went along with), the relatively poor job numbers under Biden, inflation, and so forth. Only late in the speech did Trump discuss the 2020 presidential election.
And what does the Post mean by “partially fixated on the past”? I always thought that one is either fixated on something or not. What the Post means is that Trump’s speech wasn’t really fixated on the past, but the paper wants to pretend it was.
To be clear, I don’t consider Donald Trump the best person to bear the standard against Joe Biden and the Democrats. I believe there are other strong Republican leaders who can forcefully present our conservative grievances. Maybe not as effectively as Trump aired them in 2016, but probably as effectively as he can now, and without all the baggage. And with better prospects for an effective presidency.
But there’s no excuse for the mainstream media’s misleading coverage of Trump’s North Carolina speech or, more generally, for its consistently dishonest coverage of the man himself.