Donald Trump is back. Not that he has ever gone away. The really hard thing to imagine — to be honest, as Trump would dishonestly say — is that he will ever go away.

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But he is definitely back, having announced after months of not-so-subtle hints that he is running for president for a third time. And anyone who could bear to sit through his announcement speech knows that the fact checkers are already back hard at work, and that as long as Trump is around, they’re not going away either. 

If you missed the big event Tuesday night, I can fill you in easily enough. This speech was much like every other Trump speech — except he tried really hard not to talk so much about rigged elections or the fake news or to call Nancy Pelosi “Crazy Nancy.”

But come on, it’s Trump. What he did, just as he did in his inauguration speech six years ago, was to tell us of a lost and doomed America — a hellhole — that only he can rescue. What he did was exaggerate and, yes, lie about his record and about Joe Biden’s record. What did you expect?

It was a typically long and rambling speech — so long and rambling that even the hometown MAGA audience seemed to lose interest. And in an odd piece of timing, it came only days after Trump-backed candidates cost Republicans the chance to take back the Senate and also limited their gains in the House. 

Democrats should thank him for that— because, as it turns out, a lot of Republican leaders have decided not to. Maybe the really interesting thing about the midterms is how few Republican losers have fallen back on the rigged-election trope.

I’m not sure what that means. Some are ready to predict that this latest bit of Trump is, finally, too much of Trump. 

Maybe. I’ve written him off too many times myself to write him off just yet.  The critical question, it seems to me, is whether what’s left of the Republican Party — including Trump’s cultish base — has learned enough to want to stop Trump, the only president, after all, to have ever inspired an insurrection.

Watching the speech, I could see that Trump hasn’t learned much, if anything, from history — let’s agree that those who have never read history have no idea how or why they’re doomed to repeat it — or to have learned much from anything else, for that matter. It’s the rest of America that needs to learn.

You can feel some rumbling. Even the Murdochs’ New York Post is calling him Trumpty Dumpty. Even a Trumpist Republican like Sen. Josh Hawley, who gave the infamous raised fist in support of the insurrectionists on Jan. 6 and was then seen fleeing the Capitol, tweeted, “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new.” 

And yet, I’ll guess, Trump will still be favored to win the nomination, even if it comes down to a challenge from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who famously fights the culture wars even more ferociously than Trump. I mean, Trump never had the gall to go to San Antonio to trick two plane-loads of unsuspecting asylum seekers and drop them off in Martha’s Vineyard. 

And if DeSantis, or anyone resembling him, were to beat Trump in a brutal primary campaign, Republicans would simply be trading in Trump for a newer model of Trumpism. You could call it Viktor Orbanism.

Of course, none of this had to happen.

I think it’s fair to say that all the Trump enablers, starting with Fox News, share the blame for Trump’s two failed impeachment trials, for allowing Trump’s demagoguery to go basically unchallenged from the right, for the Jan. 6 insurrection, for the promulgation of the Big Lie and now for Trump’s return from Mar-a-Elba.

The time for Republicans to dump Trump — well, any time would have been good — was immediately after the 2020 election, when he lost to Biden, whose major campaign promise, sadly unfulfilled, was to return America to post-Trump sanity.

And if not immediately after the election, then certainly the time to dump him was after the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

You may remember Mitch McConnell’s speech just minutes after Trump’s second impeachment trial — and the second one in which McConnell boldly voted not to convict — in which he slashed Trump from his orange head to his presumably orange toes. 

“There’s no question,” McConnell said of Jan. 6, “that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” 

Those who assaulted the Capitol believed, McConnell said, they were acting on Trump’s instructions and that the insurrection “was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole, which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on Planet Earth.”

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In other words, McConnell drew an Alamo-like line in the sand, which hardly anyone, including McConnell himself, was brave enough to cross.

Would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Trump was responsible for the Capitol assault. And then, almost immediately after saying it, he went to Mar-a-Lago to kiss Trump’s, uh, ring and promise never to say it again.

McCarthy voted not to impeach, just as McConnell voted not to convict. McConnell shot down the idea of having an impartial investigation of the Capitol assault. When Pelosi appointed a House committee, McCarthy did all he could to sabotage it.

Most Republicans have stuck with Trump out of fear, even though they should have known that they would end up exactly where they are today. Didn’t Liz Cheney warn everyone?

But as “The Wire’s” Omar Little famously said, “Come at the king, you best not miss.” I think Machiavelli said it first, but Omar said it better. 

I’m waiting to see how many Republicans are brave enough to come at the king. You don’t have to be a math champion to know that 2024 is still two long years away. And you don’t have to be a psychic to know that Trump jumped in the race so early only because he hoped it would discourage all those prosecutors who are busily closing in on him. 

You’d like to think that enough Republican voters understand returning Trump to the White House means an unchecked Trump and a revenge-laden presidency that would inevitably follow. You’d like to think that independents watched at least some of the Jan. 6 hearings or read some of the post-election books. You don’t have to look very hard to find the truth.

The New York Times just made it clear what would come next by breaking a story on what has already happened. Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly told the Times that Trump wanted the IRS to investigate his enemies, starting with former FBI director James Comey. And so it came to pass.

This is the electoral math to pay attention to. According to exit polls, 25% to 30% of voters in three big swing states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — said they were voting against Trump. Democrats didn’t lose control of a single state legislature and picked up at least three. That hadn’t happened in a midterm for the party in control since 1934. 

Meanwhile, election deniers lost each swing-state race for top state election official. The economy, stupid, may have been the No. 1 issue. But post-Roe abortion rights and the Big Lie threat to democracy were the Democrats’ two strongest issues. And some Republicans are already nervous about 2024. And why wouldn’t they be?

If you look closely and see, for instance, that election denier Lauren Boebert’s race against Adam Frisch is still undecided, you might think Republicans would know better than to ever nominate Trump again. 

You might think that. Or you might look back at the past six years and wonder whether Republicans are doomed — by their own lack of courage — to repeat themselves. Again.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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