Will Trump’s obsession with being a ‘victim’ work with Republicans in 2024 race?

Republicans will have to decide in 2024 if they want a victim as their nominee or someone else.

The contest between Donald Trump and the rest of the field will have a number of themes depending on his adversaries — past vs. future, populism vs. traditional conservatism, unconventional vs. conventional and definitely, no matter what, victim vs. someone who rejects the label.

There’s no one who wants to be known as a victim, except for the former president of the United States. “I am a victim,” he said in his announcement speech. “I will tell you, I’m a victim.”

Trump has created a dynamic for his supporters where the more victimized he is, the better. 

He’s a victim because he’s strong and has stirred the hornet’s nest in a way no one else would dare. 

He’s a victim because the system is rigged against him and anyone who challenges it. 

He’s a victim because he’s so closely identified with his supporters, who have been, likewise, allegedly treated unfairly by large-scale economic and social forces. “We will be attacked,” he told his fans at his announcement. “We will be slandered. We will be persecuted, just as I have been.”

Pompeo served as Secretary of State under Trump.
Pompeo bashed Trump in a tweet following the former president’s announcement that he would run in 2024.

Trump’s self-described victimhood accords with his populism, which tends to see people, writ large, as being victimized by a corrupt elite. 

It’s also clearly a deeply ingrained aspect of his persona. One might assume that someone who has become so rich, famous and powerful would be filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, but Trump has always believed, whether as a businessman or candidate, that he’s being treated unfairly.

This is, in part, a negotiating tactic. If he always maintains that he isn’t getting his due, it increases the odds that he’ll get his due or — better still — more than his due.  

In all of this, Trump has the advantage of having been actually treated unfairly in the Russiagate investigation. It gives Trump the credibility to characterize any other allegation or investigation as simply 2017 redux. 

The way Trump uses victimhood accounts for his bizarre ability to reverse the usual political physics of events. Until the day before yesterday, having the FBI search your residence as part of a federal investigation would have been a major blow, if not the end of the target’s presidential ambitions. It helped Trump. An indictment might help him (at least in the short term) even more.

Rationally, it’s not clear why being the victim should work for Trump the way it does. Consider his grievance about the 2020 election. One natural way for a committed Trump supporter to react to the allegedly stolen election might be to conclude that Trump was too naïve or unprepared to deal with the level of cheating and deception used against him in 2020, so the party had better get someone tougher and better in 2024. 

Many GOPers have blamed Trump for midterm losses.
Trump has fallen behind Ron DeSantis is many new polls.

Of course, very few look at it this way. The belief that Trump was robbed in the worst act of treachery in American history and, at the end of the day, could do nothing about it but bitterly complain sits uneasily with the notion that he’s a uniquely effective fighter. 

If the Republican tide ever turns completely against Trump, the designation of victim won’t be so appealing anymore — in fact, it will once again seem whiny and weak. This is certainly what former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was counting on when he tweeted the day after Trump’s announcement, in an unmistakable swipe at his former boss, “We need more seriousness, less noise, and leaders who are looking forward, not staring in the rearview mirror claiming victimhood.”

Trump must consider his former secretary of state taking potshots at him as yet another item in the long, growing catalogue of his unfair treatment. The ultimate indignity would, of course, be if Republicans denied him the nomination, at which point Trump would transform from I’ll-fight-and-die-for-you victim to unadorned loser.

Twitter: @RichLowry

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