by Joel Kotkin
Wednesday, 26
October 2022
Idea
18:30

From Boris to Trump, yesterday’s men won’t go away

Political comebacks are becoming the norm, not the exception
by Joel Kotkin
Who’s coming back in 2024?

Boris Johnson may not be the UK’s next Prime Minister, but he could easily become the Tory choice after the party’s likely drubbing whenever the next general election happens. Or perhaps earlier, if the party disintegrates ahead of schedule once again.

Johnson’s return, although now delayed, will reflect a growing political tendency around the world to keep bringing back the old warhorses of bygone eras. Even in Israel, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, seems primed to return to the office he held for a record-breaking 15 years.

The most important retreads, however, are in the US, where the two likely presidential contenders are President Biden, who will be well over 80 at the time of the election, and Donald Trump, who is already 76 years old. Neither one of these figures are particularly popular — their approval ratings tend to be in the low 40s or below — but they have nonetheless captured much of their party apparatus.

The reasons for this phenomena are complex, but reflect a torpor in our political culture which, like Hollywood, feels more secure with reruns than original ideas. Well-known politicians, even ones like Donald Trump, benefit from constant news coverage that newcomers can only fantasise about. The big money people often follow the media and notoriety, and usually back candidates with significant name recognition.

President Biden, the ultimate political retread, epitomises this trend. He was virtually nobody’s favourite candidate in 2020 yet the oligarchs who dominate Democratic politics feared the rise of the openly socialist Bernie Sanders and his slightly less dogmatic rival Elizabeth Warren. In the end, party grandees and big money interests took the less risky option and picked the cognitively deficient ancient mariner from Delaware as the party candidate.

In the general election, Biden was a somewhat calmer alternative to the toxic Donald Trump. His campaign was simple: hide in the basement, say little or nothing of substance, and let Trump suck up the news cycle. But now, it look as though we are going to have a repeat. Trump still inspires huge amounts of support among the GOP base, and he can count on 30-40% of the vote. What we could witness, ultimately, is a rerun where both candidates are disliked by a strong majority of Americans.

Trump is a master of self-promotion and seeks to reduce everyone else to a footnote, something the Democrat-friendly media is sure to emphasise. This is not a good strategy in the midterms, in which the media will make Trump the issue rather than the clearly incompetent man occupying the White House, as Barack Obama has pointed out. On the other hand, when on the ballot Trump may serve as the best means for the Democrats, bearing the burden of an unraveling economy, to keep control of the White House. 

Of course, not all retreads are from the Anglosphere. Xi Jinping, already 69, has essentially appointed himself dictator for life. In Brazil, Lula is likely to be re-elected — after serving in prison for corruption. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin remains in office at the age of 70 and may stay there unless he is purged from within. It turns out that old politicians are hard to get rid of, whatever their politics, except by death.

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Aaron James
Aaron James
1 month ago

Couple issues with this ‘Agenda’ themed article. First is Trump is not a retread, not a Political War horse – he did not spend 47 years in Politics climbing the greasy pole of power like Biden, like the Bush’s, Like Boris, and the rest of the Professional politicos the writer lists.

Trump came out of the blue to Politics. Jumped into the Presidential race because he saw the Nation being destroyed by Neo-Con warmongers, tax and spend lefties, QE mad MMT guys, anti-Americans, Commies, Education Deniers, and other degenerates.

He set up MAGA – “Make America Great Again”, to return America to the Constitution, for the workers, instead of the Lefty, finance, tech, Urban wealthy Postmodernist Freedom Hatyrs.

Then he won the 2020 election but was cheated out of his place in the White House, so merely is coming back to get the position he earned. Trump is after Making America Great Again – not the wealth and Power

(Like the Obamas and Clintons and Bushes, Pelosi… who parlayed their positions into Hundreds of Millions of Dollars.) Trump just wants to set things right again, and then go.

”, Biden was a somewhat calmer alternative to the toxic Donald Trump.”

I believe this gratuitous bit of Never-Trump is necessary to say, if a writer wishes to get published today, because they all do it…….

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Aaron James

This is so funny! How any sane human being can actually believe these words, let alone write them in public…

David McKee
David McKee
1 month ago

Things seem to go in cycles. A generation ago, it was political dynasties – the Kennedys, the Nehru/Gandhi family, the Bushes, the Clintons….
So why have we gone from dynasties to retreads?

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Arguably the common factor with many of these individuals is their overwhelming self-regard and narcissism. There is though also an element of political nous. They unashamedly recognise and use a populist agenda which does gain traction. That populist agenda often has lies and distortions but also some kernels of truth. It cannot be entirely dismissed. They can be great campaigners, at least the first time.
But where these narcissists run into trouble is whilst that populism may win some elections its ability to then deliver proves much tougher challenge and contradictions unravel. Xi and Putin may wield almost absolute power but are increasingly stuck down a cul de sac too (which of course means they have and may lash out seeking populist distractions). The playbook then uses for why they are failing typically seeks scapegoats and conspiratorial excuses.
The other thing that seems to happen is these narcissists deep character flaws and insecurity mean they cannot govern in a stable manner. Campaigning and governing do seem to require different skills and temperament. Few are great at both.
There is perhaps something in Pareto’s Lions and Foxes theory of elite power, however of course he developed this before mass democracy. As we’ve seen in the UK recently, it may look and feel chaotic, but perhaps the fact PMs can and are changed so quickly once it’s clear they are deficient illuminates a strength not a weakness in western democracies.

Jeff Andrews
Jeff Andrews
1 month ago

You could have put Hilary Rodham Clinton at the top of your list, but it would never get published.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
1 month ago

At least in America, there’s a sense of nostalgia for the way things were thirty or forty years ago, hence the popularity of “Make America Great Again” and the phenomenon of Trumpism. The Democrats problem is that a significant portion of their younger generation are almost as loud and obnoxious as Trump is while hawking unappealing, negative, alarmist, and frankly preachy narratives about race, climate, gender, wealth, and everything else. They’re great at telling everyone whats wrong with America, with fossil fuels, with the world in general, but they have no actual solutions that anyone outside their ideological bubble thinks will work. Nobody in either party has a clear vision of a ‘better future’ or how we get there. Nostalgia is all either of them can come up with to sell to the people. That’s either because A.) there is no path to a better future and our civilization really is doomed and on the verge of falling apart or B.) the solutions exist but they would involve tipping over the apple carts of a lot of wealthy and powerful people who would rather drag us all into totalitarian hell before they give up their, or their family’s, wealth and power. I can’t claim to know which is true, but I know which one history suggests is more likely.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

nostalgia? 3 syllables? No.. not in America…

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
1 month ago

There are many people who could scupper any chance of Boris returningv as last of the Conservatives – the people of his constituency. The seat is fairly marginal and it is likely that a wipeout of the Conservative party would include Boris.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago

“Johnson’s return, although now delayed, will reflect a growing political tendency around the world to keep bringing back the old warhorses of bygone eras.”
Wishful thinking I fear. These warhorses are finished. Dead and buried. They just don’t realise it yet. If you enjoy a good laugh, go to Conservative Home – The inhabitants are utterly delusional. It’s straight out of Downfall. In their bunker, defending The Reich with divisions that don’t exist.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

I see that I have been downvoted. If you have an argument then put it forward, but don’t go all Paypal on me.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

“don’t PayPal me”
Hahahahahahaha!!! Must recycle it!

David McKee
David McKee
1 month ago
Reply to  polidori redux

Must be a very different Conservative Home to the one I see – filled with realistic, tough-minded articles from all parts of the Conservative Party family.

polidori redux
polidori redux
1 month ago
Reply to  David McKee

Indeed it must be. All I see is bleating from the faithful.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 month ago

One is a self serving liar, and dishonest, charlatan with a brain, and the other is ditto without a braiin.