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Trump: The uncomfortably necessary figure for Republicans and the US media

Former President Donald Trump.
Former President Donald Trump. Copyright AP
Copyright AP
By Blanca Castro
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This article was originally published in Spanish

Although Trump's shadow continues to loom over the Republican candidates, there is a broad understanding that the former president remains key to winning the party's primaries.

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In 2016, a media whirlwind was unleashed which changed the US political landscape. Seven years later, in 2023, Donald Trump is once again in the global media spotlight.

This time, not only because of his controversial tenure as president, but because of his ongoing criminal - and civil - trials and his controversial intention to return and run in the 2024 presidential election.

The former president remains a media magnet and a focal point of political conversation within the Republican Party.

In an interview with Scott Lucas, Professor of American Politics at the University of Birmingham, he brings up Trump's memorable statement during the 2016 election campaign.

I could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York and people would still vote for me.
Donald Trump
Ex-president of the United States

Lucas points out that there are, in fact, some Americans who would back the former president no matter what the circumstances.

Trump's insistence on his innocence and his denunciations, claiming to be the victim of a media witch-hunt, have been echoed by his supporters. Instead of abandoning him, his supporters have become even more committed to his cause.

But Greg Swenson, president of the organisation 'Republicans Abroad in the UK', warns that while Trumpists remain aligned with the 'Make America Great Again' (MAGA) campaign, the possibility of a criminal conviction or simple indictments has eroded their standing on a broader Republican spectrum.

"In the primary process it is clearly helping him, but the trials and indictments are probably hurting him more than helping him in the general election. It is also diverting attention away from the other candidates," Swenson points out.

"At Wednesday night's debate in Wisconsin, six Republican candidates out of eight said, 'Look, even if he's convicted, I support him being president'. And that's because the political calculation for almost every candidate is that if you say Trump shouldn't be in office, you lose any chance of getting Trumpist votes. 

"And that's been the phenomenon in the Republican Party since Trump became president in 2016," says the professor, who highlights the role of the media in perpetuating Trump's dominance of the political narrative.

Trump and his persistent media dominance

But Lucas argues that the constant media attention around Trump "creates a feedback loop."

"What happens is that the media gives all the attention to Trump. If the media would actually level the playing field in terms of coverage of the candidates and the issues, rather than treating this as a circus with Donald Trump as the ringmaster, then you could have a real democratic process rather than one where the media effectively enables Trump's attempt to anoint himself as the Republican nominee," he says.

75% of American voters do not want a repeat of Trump vs. Biden.
Greg Swenson
President of the organisation 'Republicans Abroad in the UK'.

Neither Trump nor Biden for 2024

Despite Trump's continued influence in the Republican primaries, there is a growing sense in the nation that it is time to look forward.

Trump's shadow, though lengthening, has not stopped a large number of US citizens from yearning for a dramatic change of course. 

Swenson notes that three-quarters of American voters want to avoid a repeat of the Trump-Biden contest. This figure includes both Republicans and Democrats, suggesting a widespread demand for new faces and perspectives in politics.

62% of Americans have an unfavourable opinion of Trump; 52% say the same of Biden.
AP News Agency and the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago.
Carried out in August 2023.

Swenson speculates that even within the Republican Party, if President Biden does not run, many may feel it is time to move on. 

The prospect of running against a younger, fresher Democrat could influence the Republican dynamic. This reflects a shift in the national mood towards seeking new political alternatives and a desire to move away from the polarisation that characterised the Trump era.

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