Opinion | Trump Is Finally Boring

Trump’s act is getting old — and it could hurt him if he runs for president in 2024.

Donald Trump speaks into a microphone at a rally.

Donald Trump recently sent out a press release linking to a half-baked conspiracy theory about the outcome of the Georgia Republican primaries, and it’s not as though no one noticed, but it didn’t have the impact one might have expected.

It’s as if the political world collectively said to itself, The 45th president of the United States promoted a ludicrous allegation of vote fraud to try to explain away an embarrassing political loss? Of course, he did.

The Donald Trump who never relinquished the mic after his famous descent down the elevator and shocked and outraged his way through four transfixing years as president of the United States has become a known commodity, indeed predictable and even monotonous.

It’s a blessing and a curse for formerly cutting-edge musicians to see their once radically countercultural material show up in TV ads for automobiles or other common consumer products. There’s no danger that Trump will ever be similarly laundered into the mainstream, or graduate into a beloved or respected elder statesman as almost all American presidents do at some point.

But he can become boring, which will put at risk one of the pillars of his appeal as the most wildly entertaining, madcap national political figure of our lifetimes.

Now, I say this as someone who thought Trump’s act might begin to wear thin some time in 2015. I was wrong then, and I may well be wrong again. At the very least, though, Trump can’t benefit from the shock of the new a second time, or a third time, depending on how you’re counting.

The rallies, once an innovation and still his campaign signature, long ago fell into a groove of familiarity — the stilted reading of scripted remarks off the teleprompter, interrupted by spontaneous riffs and ridicule of his enemies.

Perhaps, by now, the terms of abuse have become such timeless classics that fans would be disappointed not to experience them live, a little like going to a Beach Boys concert anytime over the last half-century and not hearing “California Girls.”

Yet you could have heard the same lines at any Trump rally at any place on any occasion over the last several years. The media is still Fake News. MSNBC is still MSDNC. Adam Schiff is still shifty and Chuck Todd still sleepy.

And, as you might have heard, Chris Wallace always wanted to be like his father Mike of “60 Minutes” fame, but sadly didn’t have the talent.

One can only conclude from this that the glory days of Trump nicknames are over. Perhaps there will be a renewed burst of creativity if he runs again in 2024, but for now, he’s content to rely on his greatest hits.

Much of his focus is backward looking. Republicans voters care, as they should, about the beginnings of the poorly predicated Russia probe that consumed so much time and attention during Trump’s first couple of years in office, but there’s no way they care as much as Trump does.

The former president said the words “Russia” or “hoax” innumerable times during a rally the other day for Rep. Liz Cheney’s GOP primary opponent in Wyoming. The casual observer could be forgiven for thinking it was an event primarily about the Mueller probe with some throwaway lines about Harriet Hageman mixed in purely for variety’s sake.

He talked about his two impeachments and, of course, his “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

There is wisdom in the famous William Faulkner line that the past is never dead, it’s not even past. It’s an adage that’s traditionally been best suited to Southern Gothic novelists, though, rather than American politicians, who usually benefit from putting an accent on the future.

Trump’s signature 2016 boast of “I alone can fix it” has effectively become “I alone can fixate on it.”

The candidate who brought relatively neglected issues that mattered to the average voter into the center of the political discussion in 2016, from immigration and trade to opioids, is now largely telling voters about the slights and ill treatment that matter to him in 2022.

All that said, there’s no doubt that rally attendees still enthusiastically enjoy Trump’s lines. And the party’s identification with him may still be so strong that seeking retribution for all the wrongs that were done or allegedly done to him — most especially his loss in 2020 — will be a profound motivator for primary voters in 2024, should Trump go again.

There’s also no beating something with nothing. If Trump’s rallies are stale, what hot new event in Republican politics is going to supplant them? The fact is that Trump at his most dull still may be more interesting than a conventional Republican at his or her most entertaining.

A Trump march toward the GOP nomination will elate his supporters and create a five-alarm fire in the press and among Democrats. But at least everyone this time around will know what he’s going to say next.