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Donald Trump’s Enemies Need Him

We all need to pray that Donald gets run over by a bus. Otherwise, he'll either get the nomination and lose the general election or, in primary defeat, run as an independent. Either way, we end up with six more years of a guy who can't function without his afternoon nap.


Just kidding, Joe can't function, period.


Donald Trump’s Enemies Need Him

He brings them a sense of purpose—not to mention ratings and in some cases money.

William McGurn, WSJ

April 10, 2023 6:00 pm ET


A Jules Feiffer cartoon in the Village Voice once depicted a man suffering from liberal ennui. The man shifted uncomfortably in his chair and explained how he was bored all the time, had no appetite, no interest in life, no sense of humor, no capacity even for outrage.


The punch line? “I need Nixon.”


The cartoon ran in September 1974, a month after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency rather than face impeachment. Suddenly legions of satirists, activists, politicians, pundits and celebrities were left without the man they had denounced, battled and tried to bring down for years. Many, like the poor fellow in the Feiffer cartoon, didn’t quite know what to do with themselves.


Donald Trump is the new Nixon. Yes, his significant early lead in GOP 2024 primary polls reflects a large constituency that wouldn’t abandon him, as he once put it, if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone. Still, Republicans have other candidates they could nominate and it wouldn’t lead them to a crisis of the soul.


Not so for Mr. Trump’s most ardent foes. Some of them—the Lincoln Project comes to mind—have made a small fortune off Mr. Trump. At least two online journals, the Dispatch and the Bulwark, got started as expressions of conservative opposition to Mr. Trump. And would former Rep. Adam Kinzinger ever be in the news if Mr. Trump weren’t there to attack him?


Mr. Kinzinger is a small fish compared with others invested in Mr. Trump. The New York developer and former reality TV star might have been a newbie to politics, but he was made for television. In the year leading up to his election in 2016, the tracking firm mediaQuant estimated Mr. Trump generated $5 billion in “earned” media, the industry term for free advertising.


Much of this coverage was negative. MediaQuant, for example, says his percentage of negative publicity was roughly twice that for Hillary Clinton. Another way of saying that is that Mr. Trump was ratings gold for his professed enemies at CNN and MSNBC. After the long dry spell that followed the 2020 election and Mr. Biden’s swearing-in as president, media outlets are again looking for Mr. Trump to spin his circus into ratings gold—as his arraignment last week did.


Mr. Trump was also good for his friends at Fox News—perhaps too good, given the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems against it. But those who hate Mr. Trump need him far more than those who love him. A 2017 headline in the Independent, a left-wing British newspaper, summed up the dynamic: “Trump’s attacks on CNN helped their revenues far more than his praise helped Fox News, new figures suggest.” The New York Times accused CNN president Jeff Zucker of creating a monster with all the attention the network lavished on Mr. Trump. Then again, the Times’ own coverage also contributed to the frenzy with both the quantity and the combative tone.


Or look at Alvin Bragg. Without Mr. Trump, Mr. Bragg would be remembered merely as Manhattan’s worst district attorney. But the former president—with a supporting cast out of a Tom Wolfe novel, including a porn star and a lead witness with a perjury conviction—gives Mr. Bragg the chance to redeem himself as the Man Who Got Liberty Valance . . . er, Donald Trump.


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Then there are the Democrats, who have been running against Mr. Trump for so long it’s not clear they would know what to do against another Republican candidate except shout “Jan. 6” in response to any statement about taxes or spending or the Biden administration’s incoherent foreign policy.


Joe himself won because he wasn’t Mr. Trump, and he spent the presidential campaign pleasantly resting in his Wilmington, Del., basement while the press fixated on Covid policy and the Trump White House drama. When he was elected, he rightly told the nation it was a time for healing.


But no one’s been less willing to turn the page than Mr. Biden. In addition to blaming Mr. Trump for his own fiascoes—first it was inflation, last week it was the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan—he routinely demonizes Mr. Trump’s supporters. Mr. Biden depends on Mr. Trump for his own sense of moral heroism, so much so that if the GOP nominated someone else, Mr. Biden would campaign against Mr. Trump anyway.


Donald Trump has any number of supporters in the Republican Party who would love to see him return to office. But many of these people would likely be satisfied with a victory by someone like Gov. Ron DeSantis.


Not so Mr. Trump’s detractors, who, like the subject of Mr. Feiffer’s cartoon, would find themselves wistful without Mr. Trump to kick around. They may not want him to win, but they sure need him to run.


Write to mcgurn@wsj.com.

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