Even as he fights for a second term in November, President Donald Trump already has his eye on extending his stay in the White House for a lot longer.
“We are going to win four more years,” Trump said at a rally in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on Monday. “And then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign. We should get a redo of four years.”
Of course, what Trump is proposing is banned by the Constitution, which limits presidents to serving two terms. (If Trump lost in 2020, he could, theoretically, run again in 2024). There is no “redo” provision in the Constitution for extraneous circumstances surrounding a president’s first term. And even if there was, Trump’s allegation that he deserves a third term because “they spied on my campaign” wouldn’t pass any sort of smell test.
What Trump deems “spying” was actually an FBI counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. On Tuesday morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the final volume of its bipartisan investigation into Russia’s activities in 2016. It concluded, among other things, that:
* Russia interfered in the election with the express goal of helping Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.
* Campaign chairman Paul Manafort was regarded as a “grave counterintelligence threat” whose “presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.”
* Roger Stone was tasked by the campaign with finding all he could about what information WikiLeaks had about Clinton and Democrats more broadly, and “Trump and the Campaign believed that Stone had inside information and expressed satisfaction that Stone’s information suggested more releases would be forthcoming.”
* Two (more) Russians who took part in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with the top brass of the President’s campaign had “significant connections to Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services.”
What Trump appears to be hanging his entire spying allegation on, at least at the moment, is a guilty plea last week from an FBI lawyer who admitted to changing an email in regard to the surveillance warrant for former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. (The man claims he made an honest mistake and had no malicious intent.) That plea, when put against everything in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report – as well as the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation – seems to pale in comparison.
Of course, all of this puts more thought into Trump’s claim on Monday than the President himself actually did. He knows that his base loves the idea that he is the victim of some “deep state” conspiracy. And he loves to troll the media with unconstitutional ideas like serving a third term. (His base also loves his media trolling.)
Trump, if pressed, would almost certainly dismiss his promise to “go for another four years” after winning a second term in November as one big joke that the lame media just doesn’t get. It’s how he has repeatedly handled the controversy that’s bubbled up when he’s suggested in the past that he might run for more than two terms.
While I hesitate to suggest there’s any real strategy behind Trump’s proclamation – being a troll isn’t a strategy – I do think that he is absolutely obsessed with his own legacy and what will happen to Trumpism when he leaves office (whether voluntarily or involuntarily).
By constantly mentioning that he might run for more than two terms, Trump is putting the idea into Republican voters’ minds that maybe another candidate with the last name “Trump” might be the best choice for the party in 2024. Like Donald Trump Jr., who has been open about his interest in running for office, or Ivanka Trump, the only one of Trump’s children who has an official position in his White House.
But all of Trump’s talk about third terms is dependent on him winning a second term, which at the moment looks unlikely. If Trump loses to former Vice President Joe Biden in the fall – and costs Republicans control of the Senate as well – the name “Trump” might well look very different (and far worse) come 2021, much less 2024.