Felipe Noguera has 40 years of experience as a consultant, has worked in most Latin American countries, lived in the United States, and has been closely following U.S. policy for a long time. He was the first Latino elected as president of the International Association of Political Consultants (IAPC) and founder of the Latin American Association of Political Consultants (Alacop). With Joe Biden's low approval ratings and inflation at its highest in 4 decades, Donald Trump remains the leading figure in the political battle. Noguera analyzes the current moment and says that the great crisis within the Republican Party represented by the irruption of Trump still dominates the scene and affirms that today the Republicans are divided between the Trump supporters and those who do not want him but are afraid to face it. "We are facing a kind of primary in the shadows or a vicarious primary. It looks like it is the congressional primary, but it has a lot to do with the presidential primary," he says.
In these primaries, Trump decided to back his own candidates in states such as Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, where he wins and loses. What are his intentions with such a determined support and no success guarantees?
The first thing I would say is that Trump is not like many other former presidents who disappear and want to return as political leaders. In the United States, former presidents often build their library, their think tank and get involved in risk-free causes such as building homes or helping with international conflicts. The ultimate example of that is Jimmy Carter, who many think was a lousy president and is the best former president America has ever had. Trump clearly does not see himself in that role. I would not be surprised if he also has a legal strategy in place.
What do you mean?
With the different issues he may face, the more power he has, the better because no one is going to want to mess with him. My suspicion is that Trump's case is similar to former presidents who have stayed in the limelight because otherwise they would have been eaten alive. But he also has that megalomaniac characteristic of believing so much in himself that he might want to run again in 2024. In politics, your electoral performance has two components: One is your electoral capacity, and the other is your ability to make others lose. So, his rivals are afraid that he will make them lose. Because it can hurt if there is a third candidate who steals some votes. My interpretation is that there is a certain opportunism regarding measures taken by Trump that are currently seen as right, such as his policy decisions regarding energy, which Biden reversed and have now cost the country because of the war in Ukraine. The same can be said regarding his Twitter account: he was banned from Twitter for one year and a half, but here he is. That is why I believe that Republicans need to think twice before battling with him. And I think that is what he wants.
In Georgia, Trump faced Gov. Kemp only because in 2020 he had not backed up his allegations of fraud but exposed himself to a huge defeat: his candidate lost by 50 points. Isn't it an expensive price to pay?
If you analyze it strategically, Trump's message goes beyond Georgia. Every Republican who sees him may think: If Trump is able to get into a state where he can lose by 50 points, then he is capable of anything. Trump wants to make it clear that if he is betrayed, a price will be paid. And that works because Republicans are holding back a lot. They say, "Well, if Trump doesn't run, I might sign up. If not, he is going to destroy me."
In addition, there is another aspect in which he was coherent about. As he had fought with all the conservative Republican candidates he defeated during his presidential campaign, he made a strong commitment to win over these sectors by appointing judges, not only on the Supreme Court, but on all levels. He appointed a large number of judges and that is going to have an effect for years or decades. That will also prolong his power.
The novelty of these primaries is that it not only clashes with the establishment, but also with former collaborators such as Mike Pompeo in Pennsylvania or Mike Pence in Georgia.
There were those who knew how to take it, who put up with Trump trying to show their differences, and there are people who now want to make a certain profit. I think Trump does not like that very much. Pompeo is a politician who wants to be president without any doubt. He was No. 1 at West Point, he was in the CIA, he was in the State Department, he was a representative, he was one of the leaders of the House, his "cursus honorum" was spectacular. Pence is not very prominent, but the vice president always tries for the presidency. There is also the case of Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who was ambassador to the United Nations and resigned without confronting Trump. She can be a candidate for vice president or president. Then there's Kellyane Conway, the pollster, campaign manager and chief White House adviser, who left a few months before the end of Trump's presidency because she could not take it anymore. That kind of people could do very well if Trump says he will support them. Of that group, Pompeo and Nikki Haley are the most notorious. But Trump does not expect anyone to grow alongside him.
The Republican nominee can only appear if Trump steps aside, or could he also be someone who steps up against him?
Yes, I think someone could step up against Trump. But this time his rivals have the lessons of 2016 on the table, when they were fighting him one by one, they were around 16 and they lost. Now, it may be that some expect him to step aside, but others may say: let us put together something well organized and, even if we lose, we will leave something well planned for the next stage. Those people can be recognized in the future as the creators of the post-Trump era.
Biden's falling popularity and unprecedented inflation figures give outside observers the impression that Trump has everything to come back.
In American history, there is only one president who was defeated when he ran for re-election and then won an election: Grover Cleveland, in the late nineteenth century. There are people who are re-elected and there are those who leave and return, but no one is removed and returns for votes. In Argentina, there is another case of a politician who lost and left and now wants to return for votes, and that is Macri. So, Trump and Macri are both trying to do something that has hardly ever been done. That is because it is one thing to leave by will and another, to be thrown out by electors.
Among Republicans, there are still no candidates who have expressed their ambition to run for presidency. Only De Santis has shown interest and, despite weakened, Trump's seems to remain in the leadership.
However, there are missing pieces. Many are waiting to pevent Trump from being thrown against them. I do not think some of those who ran against Trump in 2016, like Ted Cruz and Marcos Rubio, have abandoned their aspirations. They are still young. We shall wait.
Trump reportedly stood up to the party establishment and managed to transform the Republican party. Regardless of whether he is a candidate or not, do you think that the transformation he managed within the party will survive him?
Something might survive, but I do not see him becoming an heir. There could be an important part of the transformation he produced that might survive. But there is also the portion that just caused disruption. The Republican Party has at least two views: one that is more religious or conservative, and another that refers to what they call a Republican Rockefeller, which takes a more liberal stance, having a socially open view towards the world. They have a big divide between the supporters of globalization and those in favor of a closed country. Trump breaks with both views but does not establish a third one. He breaks with the view of a party that was beginning to resemble the Democrats. He supports the end of political agreements and state regulation. He supports protectionism and the limitation of trade with China, while many that agree with him believe that the current mess was caused for imposing limitations to our energy sources when there was so much to grow with fracking and shale gas.
How do you see the impact of media companies on the American political battle?
Everything has been fragmented quite a bit. Until four or five years ago, Fox dominated the cable battle. As a foreigner, Fox seemed like something very right winged, and CNN had a left-wing feel. They seemed equivalent but Fox had three times the audience. At first Fox was skeptical of Trump but as Trump grew it became the biggest supporter. Tucker Carlson seems to be an academic and is characterized by explaining with apparent calm logic the most extreme statements. Now Carlson and Laura Ingraham are the central figures. Fox has a stable space because many conservative talk shows and local radio shows are produced in the United States and nationalized by Fox. Other networks such as CNN and CNBC have become fragmented. I will not say that they are marginal, but they have lost weight. Perhaps some also still long for Trump firing words on Twitter because that put an order to the discussion and the battle.
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