OPINION - There is now no doubt — the Donald Trump show is back

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

The most disconcerting element of watching The 47th last autumn at the Old Vic, a satirical comedy on Trumpian politics, is that Bertie Carvel’s brilliant turn as Donald Trump left me disappointed. This was despite Carvel expertly capturing the former US president’s bizarre finger pointing, his other tics and inflections, and his billionaire presidential swagger. And he had Trump’s voice down perfectly.

It was simply that the real Trump is so much more creepily shocking in his actions and cartoonish appearances, with that sweep of orange hair, that no one can outperform this particular showman. The play, for those who have not seen it, centres on the 2024 US election and Trump’s return. Democracy is on the brink, chaos and cruelty rules, and then the storyline spirals into comic farce, with a military coup.

The return of Trump still seemed a nightmarish joke, even though there were many warning at the time it was a possibility. Surely the common sense of American voters, including Republicans, would prevail? The reports were, I thought, strikingly like the overhyped claims by Boris Johnson supporters that he would return after the local elections.

With Johnson I was proved right — there has been no further insurrection by him in Westminster. With Trump, I fear I am wrong. The next US election looms and Trump’s return to the White House looks horrifyingly possible. Several factors appeared to have swung in his favour. Joe Biden’s insistence on running in 2024 could prove to be Trump’s main advantage, even if Democrats say the opposite. Biden’s approval rating has dipped to just 36 per cent. He will be 82 when — and if — he begins a second term in 18 months’ time. His faltering public speeches and frail appearance, however exaggerated by Republicans, will cut through to an American public.

Secondly, it’s not just the Democrats who have failed to find a fresh, younger candidate — the Republicans are flailing too. Two recent polls have put Trump a staggering 36 points ahead of his nearest rival, the Florida governor Ron DeSantis, to win the Republican nomination. DeSantis continues to flounder. And thirdly, and this is where the mind does boggle, Trump’s indictment last March relating to charges of paying hush money to the porn star Stormy Daniels has boosted his campaign and popularity in the Republican fan base, according to polls. And even being found liable for sexual abuse and given a fine for $5 million for defaming his victim, E. Jean Carroll, could further galvanise supporters outside New York State, who will remain convinced — wrongly — that they were nothing more than show trials, as Trump insists.

On Wednesday night Trump all but launched himself into the nomination race, now just nine months away, in an interview with CNN, where every old Trump trick, flash of nastiness and downright lies were in action. Again, he falsely insisted the 2020 election was rigged, and went further by pledging to pardon most of the Capitol Hill rioters.

The spectacle was shocking, given the threat he has posed to American democracy. He made ridiculous claims about how he would end the war in Ukraine in one day, going on to rule out tighter gun control and said ending the national access to abortion was to be celebrated, all of which will have cheered the Republican Right and probably a desperate Vladimir Putin.

Another poll last weekend which pitched Trump against Biden for the White House placed him at 49 per cent ahead of the President at 42 per cent. Polls, especially this early in the game, can be ignored. But as the New York Times sagely noted yesterday, no one should risk treating Trump running as a candidate as a joke. He is not only a “serious contender” but a “formidable one”, the newspaper warned. Those in the conservative media are just as concerned. The Wall Street Journal warned the sexual assault ruling would not stop Trump’s popularity, while in the UK, writing in the Spectator, Niall Ferguson has bet that if a recession hits the US next year, Trump will return to the White House. That’s before we see what AI disinformation will do to the election.

We may find his actions repulsive, but Trump has enduring appeal for many. The Republican nominations take place next February in Wisconsin. There is still plenty of time to derail him, but it is looking increasingly unlikely. No one should be in any doubt: the Trump show is back.

Proof that camping is the secret to happiness

I could not be more delighted to discover that happy campers are actually a thing, not just a corny punchline. Having spent my honeymoon crossing California in an old VW campervan (admittedly escaping to a luxury hotel for the odd night), my choice of romantic holiday feels vindicated.

A survey has discovered that 48 per cent of those who go camping feel happy almost every day. For those who don’t go camping, only 35 per cent feel happy every day.

Admittedly, I have not survived a full night in a tent for two years and am not sure I will return. But aside from my honeymoon, there were countless excursions to Glastonbury and adventures every summer with my sons after we invested in a bell tent. Maybe those who camp share a gung-ho attitude to life, a wish for adventure whatever the effort. I am still happily married after 20 years. Now I know it was the VW camper that did it.

Bennifer bickering is no story

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez’s second turn at marriage together is under the spotlight again after a series of supposedly ‘strained’ appearances in public. In one, she is caught tersely commanding her husband to “Look more friendly. Look motivated.” This week she was angrily gesticulating at Affleck before they reverted sharply to beaming smiles for the cameras.

Oh please, bickering couples is the ultimate sign of a normal relationship. And hiding stress from friends or the public is merely good manners. If only more couples would follow suit.