Former President Donald J. Trump now faces the choice deciding whether he will achieve greatness. He can either go down in history as a one-term president defeated in a disputed election, or he can become a historic figure like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, all presidents who changed the direction of our nation. But to achieve greatness, Trump has to master his personal demons and sacrifice his short-term ambitions for the greater good. He is in the Garden of Gethsemane trying to decide what to do in the 2024 presidential election. (In the Christian tradition, Gethsemane is the place where Jesus struggled with whether to sacrifice himself on the cross and where he tried to find a way out of what he knew deep down he had to do. The word in Hebrew means “the place where the oil, which lasts, is squeezed out of the olive, which rots.” Is that metaphorical or what?)
Trump now faces a similar choice that will determine his place in history. He could run in 2024, in which one of two things would happen — he would win, or he would lose — but, either way, he would become a footnote in history. If he ran, Trump would either lose and become a one-term president defeated and then re-defeated in a comeback try, or, if he won, he would become Grover Cleveland 2.0. Cleveland also was defeated and then came back to win reelection the second time around. Ho hum. Not much of a upside for Trump to run, as, even if he won, he would become Grover Cleveland 2.0.
No, to achieve greatness, Trump needs to step aside and endorse his successor. In this way, he will become the founder of a movement, not just another ambitious politician. After the midterm elections, Trump should announce that he is not running in 2024 but that he will declare his endorsement for his successor after the debates. It is too early to decide right now: The Republicans have an impressive slate of prospective candidates, but Trump needs to get out of the way and let the country get to know them. (READ MORE: The World Has Lost a Major Conservative Force — What’s to Follow?)
I personally tentatively favor the man who was formerly a congressman and the secretary of state during the Trump administration, Mike Pompeo. I think that foreign challenges from the new “axis of autocrats” consisting of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, countries that the war in Ukraine has brought together, represents the biggest challenge that lies ahead for us, and Pompeo is more of an expert than either Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or President Joe Biden on international issues. But other potentially attractive 2024 presidential candidates are DeSantis, former UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Trump needs to make his own decision about whom to endorse in due course, but, if his track record of successful endorsements in recent elections is any indication, the person he endorses will probably win the nomination. It is too early to make that endorsement right now, but Trump needs to step out of the limelight — or, more accurately in his case, the line of fire — and let the country get to know the other “MAGA Republicans.” As Cruz said recently, “The whole world will change depending on what Donald Trump decides [about 2024].”
For that reason, Trump needs to rise above his personal obsession with publicity in order to become a figure worth remembering in history. He can achieve greatness only by sacrificing himself so that his vision and his policies, not his personality, are the issue in the next presidential election and for generations to come. “Trump without the craziness” isn’t a great bumper sticker, but the voters would relate better to Trump’s policies if all his personal melodrama were absent. The country needs to get past this larger-than-life Falstaff who has sex with porn stars and takes classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and instead start wearing buttons that say, “I’m a proud MAGA Republican.” That means Pompeo or Haley or DeSantis or Cruz needs to carry on and expand the tradition. Trump’s best play now is to be a kingmaker, not the king himself.
What’s the counterargument? Like any alpha male, Trump wants to go out a winner, and so he will be sorely tempted to run again in 2024. The only way that he can win the bigger game of history, however, is by stepping aside and endorsing his successor. Who would remember Jesus of Nazareth if he hadn’t had disciples who gave his message everlasting life?