‘The Donald’ returns to Washington for first time since leaving office – have we only seen act one of Trump’s America?

There was a small but noisy crowd waiting to greet Donald Trump for his return to ‘the swamp’. 

“Indict Donald Trump” they chanted outside a hotel hosting the America First Agenda Summit where the former US president was the star speaker.

Mr Trump has not set foot in Washington DC since January last year when he’d used the presidential helicopter one last time to leave the White House rather than attend the inauguration of his successor.

Anti-Trump protesters outside the summit
Anti-Trump protesters outside the summit

Now nearly 18 months on, he was back, and watching him was like going back in time. The style, the catchphrases, the untruths? They were all there.

“I ran a second time and I did much better; we got millions of votes. And you knew what? That’s gonna be remembered for a long time. What a disgrace it was but we may just have to do it again!” he said.

“Four more years!” the crowd chanted.

“Never forget, everything this corrupt establishment is doing to me is all about preserving their power and control over the American people,” he said.

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“They want to damage (me) in any form but they really want to damage me so I can no longer go back to work for you. And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

“We gather today on the verge of a historic midterm election,” he said. “The American people are poised to reject the failed reign of Joe Biden… in a momentous landslide. This is an incredible opportunity.”

The former US president has yet to confirm that he is running again for the presidency, but he has been in constant campaign mode since he left office.

His rallies, across the country, are consistently dismissed as background noise by many, but they prove too that he is still a leader for his followers.

Guests react as Mr Trump delivers his remarks
Guests at the event react as Mr Trump delivers his remarks

The evidence from the inquiry into the Capitol riots on 6 January 2021 has been genuinely revealing.

Testimony under oath from White House insiders, one-time loyalists, Republican Party loyalists exposed the extent of Donald Trump’s involvement those riots.

He rallied the mob, he chose not to tell them to stand down and he dismissed advice from his own people, even his family, insisting then, he still does, that he won the 2020 election.

But if there was a view that the riots and the two impeachments would disqualify Trump, was that well wide of the mark? Have we only seen act one of Trump’s America?

Donald Trump talks about lifting weights as he speaks at an America First Policy Institute agenda summit in Washington DC. Pic: AP
Donald Trump talks about lifting weights as he speaks at an America First Policy Institute agenda summit in Washington DC. Pic: AP

It certainly says something about where the United States is right now that Donald Trump can feel comfortable to be poised to run again.

The midterms are just a few months away and Joe Biden is in trouble.

In a YouGov poll this month, more than half of Americans (54%) said they disapprove of the way Mr Biden has been handling his job, with only 37% approving. He has been a disappointment for many who chose him.

Joe Biden. Pic: AP
The midterm elections are just a few months away and Joe Biden is in trouble. Pic: AP

It presents a real opportunity for the Republican Party which is now weighing up a second act of the Trump show.

Or is there another candidate who can develop Trumpism without Trump?

Watch for announcements from former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and many others.

Trump’s one-time wingman, Vice-President Mike Pence just happened to be in Washington on the same day as his former boss, now eyeing his own run.

All the potential candidates are aware that they need Trump’s base to stand any chance, such is the enduring power of ‘The Donald’.

Donald Trump
The former US president returned to the US capital, and watching him was like going back in time

The biggest banner outside the Washington hotel where Mr Trump was speaking said simply: “LOSER”.

The fact is that Donald Trump was the loser last time around. It’s a fact established by investigations, by audits and by Mr Trump’s own staff who told him at the time to concede.

So why does he continue to look back to the 2020 election? Because he knows that he has convinced so many millions of people to believe that he was the rightful winner.

A recent poll suggested as many as 70% of Republican voters believe the election was stolen from Trump.

But within the Republican Party itself, they want to move on – to focus on the future. They will rally around him for another shot at the White House if he drops his obsession with the past.

If he doesn’t, then another candidate who can develop Trumpian policies with coherence and less controversy will emerge. And that candidate will become Trump’s biggest challenge.

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