Could this rhetorical strategy lure a competitor into the race? There are, at the very least, several data points that support the (correct) theory that Trump is a loser: his party received a historic boost in the 2018 midterm elections and, more importantly, he was not re-elected in 2020. But there is a problem with pointing this out: most Republicans believe that Donald Trump won the election and stole it by a sinister conflagration of Democrats, Communists, Venezuelans and tech leaders — or at least that Biden’s victory was somehow illegitimate.
Trump’s insistence that he won the election could, I suppose, be taken as supporting evidence that he fears being called a loser – although the real roots of this pathology seem to be psychological and not the product of Trump’s political ups and downs. Anyway, that cake is done: Republicans lost the opportunity to convince their voters that he lost in 2020 in the fall of 2020. Reminding voters that he lost to Joe Biden, a man, like the notes Leibovich, Trump once called “the worst presidential candidate in the history of presidential politics,” only matters if Republican voters believe he lost. Most of them don’t, and they’re unlikely to back a rival that does.
It is generally accepted that Trump’s rivals in 2016 belatedly tried to hit back at Trump in this way. “The problem with 2016 is that people waited until they were at their political weakest point before they started hammering Trump,” said Tim Miller, former aide to Jeb Bush and current writer at The Bulwark. “Could it have worked for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz if they had started in September? I don’t know, but it helps not to be on your deathbed.