The last two months of 2022 were tough for former President Donald Trump.
The anticipated "red wave" in the midterm elections dried up almost everywhere except for Florida, where Trump's closest hypothetical rival for the 2024 Republican nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, won reelection by 19% and extended coattails to victorious Republican candidates statewide.
Elsewhere, high-profile Trump-endorsed candidates lost key races that allowed the Democrats to retain the Senate, several governorships, and numerous lesser state offices.
The Republican majority in the House turned out to be a five-seat sliver rather than the widely predicted flood of dozens of new members.
Many Republicans were quick to blame the former president for placing personal loyalty above good political sense, and detected weakness in what appeared to be his flagging political capital. Pundits of all stripes proclaimed his defeat and hailed his political demise.
Some urged DeSantis to use his massive reelection victory to declare a presidential candidacy and claim the mantle of succession. The New York Post proclaimed the Florida governor "DeFuture," while several polls showed DeSantis beating Trump in theoretical primary battles.
A number of top Republican donors announced that they would transfer their largesse from Trump to the Florida governor in anticipation of a possible primary challenge.
Some leading America First politicians and, lately, evangelical leaders broke with Trump and announced that they were "done" with the former president.
Even members of Trump's immediate family were said to be stepping away from his future political plans.
In the weeks that followed, things only seemed to get worse.
Trump's announcement of his reelection bid, though determined and measured in tone, was received coolly and in some quarters dismissed altogether.
If successful, it would be only the second time in American history that a president held office on two nonconsecutive occasions, the only other incidence having been Grover Cleveland in 1892.
The House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, issued criminal referrals, a legally insignificant but symbolically damning gesture.
A dinner meeting with the hip-hop artist Ye (Kanye West) turned foul when he showed up at Mar-a-Lago with a belligerent antisemite whom many were quick to associate with Trump's supposed prejudices and lack of judgment.
As multiple civil and criminal investigations of Trump continued to grind their way forward, a New York court found his principal company guilty on multiple counts of civil fraud.
Shortly thereafter, the Supreme Court ordered the release of the former president's tax returns, which showed significant claims for business losses and years in which he declared no taxable income.
Trump's own legal maneuvers against opponents past and present floundered, most recently with a $1 million fine levied against him and one of his attorneys for bringing what the judge described as a "frivolous" lawsuit intended to "seek revenge on political adversaries."
A Quinnipiac poll released on Dec. 14 showed Trump with a 31% approval rating, a figure lower than at any time during his presidency or since he left office. The poll also indicated that 57% of Americans believed Trump's new presidential run a bad idea.
Nevertheless, a bevy of polls taken after the new year reveals that Trump has rapidly recovered and is increasing in viability.
A Morning Consult poll conducted Jan. 13-15 showed him leading DeSantis by 17 points — 48% to 31% in a theoretical Republican primary including both men among a selection of other likely candidates.
A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll conducted the following week expanded Trump's lead over DeSantis to 20 points, with Trump beating the Florida governor 48% to 28% in a field of other likely contenders, and 55% to 45% in a one-on-one match.
An Emerson poll released on Jan. 24 showed Trump extending his lead over DeSantis still further, to 55% to 29% in a multicandidate Republican primary. The same percentage expects that he will be the party's nominee regardless of the respondent's personal preference.
Importantly, Emerson also showed Trump defeating Biden 44% to 41%, while the Morning Consult poll taken ten days earlier had Biden up by three points.
Trump seems energized. He promises "MANY GIANT RALLIES" on his Truth Social platform, and may soon return to Twitter, which restored his account after Elon Musk took over.
With the House in Republican hands — and with most of its Never Trumper members gone — congressional investigations of him will cease and be replaced by what may well be damning investigations of the Biden administration.
Meanwhile, DeSantis has remained mum on his future plans and shows no sign of building the national-level campaign infrastructure, grassroots fundraising networks, or personal staff he would need to challenge Trump for the nomination or defeat Biden.
It is still early days, but despite all the reversals, 2024 could be Trump's to lose.
Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University. Read more — Here.
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