The conventional wisdom in many circles is that once President Trump leaves office and moves to South Florida, he will start campaigning for his re-election in 2024. But based on what I’ve seen happen with Trump-like populist leaders in Latin America, I don’t think he’ll succeed.
You might think it’s a stretch to see the Trump phenomenon through Latin American eyes. But that’s exactly how it should be viewed.
Trump is a democratically elected authoritarian populist like so many we have seen in Latin America. He has much more in common with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, or Argentina’s Juan Peron, than with any U.S. presidents, Republican or Democratic, in recent history.
Like Latin America’s elected caudillos, Trump is a narcissist who is always creating conflicts to energize his base, and blaming others — in his case, Mexican immigrants, the mainstream media, big tech, the deep state, etc. — for his country’s ills. And like his Latin American counterparts, he thinks he’s above the law.
Trump has even tried to carry out the ultimate trick in the Latin American populist’s handbook: an auto-golpe, or self coup. No other U.S. president in recent history has failed to recognize the outcome of an election that has been certified by the Electoral College and recognized by the Supreme Court.
But here’s what we’ve learned from Latin America’s experience with populist leaders who, once out of office, seek to return to power: In most cases, they have a hard time coming back. At the most, they succeed in picking a proxy whom they hoped to control.
If we look at the recent cases of Argentina’s former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Bolivia’s former President Evo Morales and Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa, they all left power with a base of highly committed supporters.
But, as in Trump’s case, their base rarely surpassed 40 percent of the electorate, which was not enough to win. Like Trump, who has averaged a 56 percent disapproval rate, a majority of the population had a negative image of them.
And once they were out of office, they were hit by new revelations of corruption and a barrage of lawsuits, which either prevented them from running again or pushed up their negative ratings.
So they had to pick somebody else to run for president in their place. Some of them were able to pick docile allies, but others soon saw their hand-picked successors turn against them.
Many U.S. political pundits think that Trump will be the Republican candidate in 2024 because — as the reality TV showman that he is — he will continue making headlines and stay center stage for the next four years.
In addition, he’ll have lots of money: He has collected more than $207 million in donations since the Nov. 3 election. Gullible followers who believe his false claims that he was victim of electoral fraud have sent him donations that they believe will be used for legal costs to overturn the election results. Trump’s baseless fraud claims are a good business.
But Trump will face formidable obstacles to return to power.
First, he will be 78 years old in 2024. While Americans elected 78-year-old president-elect Joe Biden in 2020, it was a highly unusual election. Many Americans who voted for Biden did so because they wanted to get rid of Trump, and not because they were mesmerized by Biden’s charisma.
Second, Trump may decide not to run because he may be afraid of being defeated and going down in history as a loser twice over.
Third, even if he sets up his own Trump TV network, he won’t have the podium he had in the White House. Fox News, Trump’s biggest media megaphone, has already abandoned him over his ridiculous claims that he won the election.
Fourth, and most important, Trump, in addition lawsuits, will face myriad damaging revelations as more of his former aides speak out. His disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left a world record of more than 300,000 Americans dead, will come back to haunt him.
Granted, Trump will probably announce he’s running in 2024, in hopes of receiving more donations and of becoming the kingmaker in the next elections. But I doubt that he’ll ever move back to the White House.
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera