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Why Trump Says He ‘Just Might Have to’ Run Again

He doesn’t want to be remembered as a loser, sure—but he also fears prosecution.
March 28, 2022
Why Trump Says He ‘Just Might Have to’ Run Again
March 26, 2022: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Banks County Dragway in Commerce, Georgia. (Photo by Megan Varner / Getty)

At a rally on Saturday in Commerce, Georgia, Donald Trump all but announced his 2024 run for president as he lobbed more verbal missiles at Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, and secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. Both men refused to cave to Trump’s 2020 post-election pressure to overturn his defeat in Georgia. And now both men are seeking re-election, starting with the May 24 primary.

As for himself, Trump doubled down on his Big Lie: “The truth is I ran twice, I won twice, and I just did better the second time. And now, we just might have to do it again.”

What makes Donald run? Why surrender his refuge at Mar-a-Lago, where Republican candidates make pilgrimages to stroke his ego for endorsements and where club members rain adoration upon him? Why not just go on claiming the mantle of the victor-victim?

Two motivations appear to lead the pack of emotional wolves that maraud Trump’s brain. First, as his niece Mary Trump has said, he owns “the most colossal and fragile ego on the planet.” His frail self-image fears external confirmation that he’s a loser. Restoration would represent redemption.

Second, and likely more important, is his fear of federal prosecution. The presidency brings immunity from it under Justice Department memos. (As Kimberly Wehle has explained, those memos lack legal grounding.) Although Attorney General Merrick Garland has appeared reluctant to prosecute Trump, he remains exposed to federal prosecution on a variety of charges—including charges related to Jan. 6th—absent a return to the White House.

Even then, we should note, there is no current legal obstacle to state- or local-level investigations and prosecutions, like those underway in Atlanta and perhaps still in Manhattan, though Trump might be counting on the Supreme Court to invent such an obstacle for him. For present purposes, however, it seems clear that Trump has more to fear from any indictment by the Justice Department, with its far greater resources, and with the venue for any trial in Washington, where he cannot count on a follower or two to be on the jury to hang it.

We received a strong whiff of Trump’s fear of federal prosecution last week via a disclosure from Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks. Trump yanked his endorsement of Brooks’s Senate candidacy, and Brooks quickly revealed the reason: He had refused the ex-president’s multiple entreaties since September 2021 to help overturn President Biden’s election—now, deep into Biden’s term—and hold an emergency election in which Trump would run.

That was a bridge too far even for an extremist like Brooks, a man who wore body armor to Trump’s Jan. 6th rally on the Ellipse, and who said, just before the violent siege of the Capitol, that it was a day for “American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Still, when Trump solicited Brooks’s support to help put the former president back into power before 2024, Brooks says he replied that “‘rescinding’ the 2020 election was not a legal option. Period.”

That a Trump acolyte would say no to his patron illustrates both how preposterous Trump’s request was and how anxious he is to return to the White House—suggesting his desperation for the immunity that it entails.

At Saturday’s rally—which reportedly saw the smallest audience Trump has drawn in Georgia since 2016—the former president’s quasi-“I’m running” announcement reflected his fallback plan if a return to power can’t happen now. Trump’s 2024 prospects would open wider by eliminating a Georgia governor and secretary of state who remained faithful to their citizens’ votes in 2020.

And so Trump attacked the two incumbents as RINOs. He told Saturday’s crowd in Georgia that “Brian Kemp is a turncoat, a coward, and a complete and total disaster.”

Let’s be clear. Kemp hardly has an unblemished record in defense of democracy. He supported and signed Georgia’s new election law that makes it harder to acquire an absentee ballot, erects new voting barriers, and empowers the state legislature (Republican-controlled since 2005) to replace (Democratic) county election boards, which it has already done. Many of the supplanted board members “happened to” be black.

Trump congratulated Georgia last year for enacting the measure that Kemp championed. But issue alignment is never enough with Trump. Kemp’s primary opponent, former Georgia Senator David Perdue, said on December 8—two days after Trump endorsed him—that he would have done Trump’s bidding in 2020. That signaled that if elected governor, Perdue would do so in 2024 if Trump lost Georgia’s vote.

Of course, Trump’s strategy is not without risk. A March 2-6 Fox News poll of registered Republican voters in Georgia shows Kemp leading Perdue, 50 to 39 percent. If Perdue gets skunked in the May 24 primary, the diminishing candlepower of Trump’s endorsements will be further demonstrated.

That won’t aid Trump’s 2024 ambitions. If his prospects dim against rising rivals like Ron DeSantis, an epic internal battle will ensue—a battle in Trump’s head between his fear of prosecution and psychic panic at the prospect of being certified a loser yet again.

Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former Supreme Court advocate, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.