Donald Trump remains the favorite for the 2024 Republican nomination — and reports of his political death by petty pundits are exaggerated, to put it generously. But even if the nation is blessed with a second presidential term, Trump won’t be around forever. And ever since Trump won the most important electoral victory in modern American history six years ago, patriotic Americans have wondered: Can the “Donald Trump moment” survive beyond Donald Trump himself?
Wonder no more. The first true heir of Donald Trump — the person who matches not only his America-first positions but also his incredible raw political talent — has arrived. In Kari Lake, the America First movement doesn’t just have the next governor of Arizona. It has a budding national (or even global) superstar.
“Trumpism after Trump” has become a familiar routine. For years, professional conservatives have lectured voters about the need to translate President Trump’s winning style into a “serious” policy agenda. But this charisma-free vision of politics misses the essential core of Trump’s appeal. Kari Lake reminds us exactly what that is.
In a great many cases, this post-Trump ideology is little more than wish fulfillment—the dreamer’s fantasy of a political movement that takes everything the dreamer likes about Trump while cutting loose everything they dislike about it. In fact, the most common dream is better described not as “Trumpism after Trump,” but as Trumpism without Trump.
According to these establishment luminaries, Donald Trump was too crude, uncouth, and belligerent. He spent too much time on Twitter jousting with his critics, and too little time poring over the most recent Conservatism Inc. white papers. Trump traumatized these nerds by blowing up the polite version of politics that they wish existed; the fake image broadcasted in Aaron Sorkin TV shows.
When these people dream of a political future, they fantasize about Trump’s policies (or a stale, watered-down version thereof) offered by a figure as boring as they are, someone less combative and therefore more “respectable.” This person, they believe, will win electoral and policy victories without spurring the liberal opposition’s anger and intensity. He won’t get them denounced as “fascist” by the media or their former friends.
These people mean well, but they misunderstand Trump and they misunderstand America.
A person sporting Donald Trump’s America First agenda will never be respectable, because the guardians of “respectability” in American life refuse to grant it. For the ruling elites of America, to be an authentic challenger to the regime is to automatically be regarded as disreputable, dangerous, and a “threat to democracy.”
.@DarrenJBeattie Discussing "Trumpism After Trump" And The Reality Of Truly Challenging The Regime
"But there’s no getting around the pain box. If you’re challenging the Regime, you are going to face the storm." pic.twitter.com/tSp2FTZDeD
— The Columbia Bugle ?? (@ColumbiaBugle) September 16, 2022
For America’s ruling elites, all authentic challengers to the regime are automatically disreputable, dangerous, and a “threat to democracy.” The elites don’t fear bespectacled policy recommendations about the tariff rate or border security, important as those may be. They fear a popular leader’s charismatic challenge to their authority.
The only way to be an America First politician, then, is to be so charismatic and so politically talented that one can evade, outflank, outfight, and embarrass the unanimous opposition of the ruling class. Donald Trump wasn’t the first candidate to articulate a platform that might be called “America First”. He was the first candidate to win with one.
And now, the 2022 midterms have birthed a new nationwide star for the MAGA movement, in the person of Kari Lake. Lake, over the past year, has conclusively shown that she can match Donald Trump beat-for-beat in energy, charisma, and iconoclastic leadership.
To be sure, Trumpism is about policy, too. Donald Trump’s shift of the Republican party away from globalism is enormously important, and fortunately, Lake matches that shift in every way, with her pro-borders, pro-American message.
But any idiot can adopt a policy position, or fake it. Nobody can fake charisma. Kari Lake’s skill in handling of the media cannot be learned in a week, or even a year. It can only be built up over a lifetime, and for most people, it can never be learned at all.
Consider this recent example of Lake parrying a reporter who tried to suggest her tough-on-crime positions were somehow racist.
Can you imagine Mitt Romney doing that in a million years? The reporter didn’t even get the chance to finish his question! For many politicians, cutting a journalist off so brusquely would seem forced, or evasive, or nasty. But Lake comes away the total master of the situation. She is the one focused on the important issues, and she has a ready explanation for why fighting crime is anything but “racist.” If anything, it’s the reporter who looks like an ass.
Or consider this already-legendary clip of Lake facing down the press over their beloved attack of calling her an “election denier”:
Let's talk about "Election Deniers."
I brought receipts. ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/0vzg0ecdx3
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) October 18, 2022
Plenty of Republicans have awkwardly defended the position that 2020 was a stolen or otherwise deeply unfair election. Plenty of them have tried to make the point that, hey, Democrats have disputed plenty of elections in the past, including as recently as 2018. But none have done it with the panache of Lake. Every part of her response is superbly choreographed: She doesn’t whip out her stack of papers on the first pass, but only once it’s clear the press will not leave the issue along. Rather than simply having the examples memorized, she has the stack of papers to sift through — the use of the papers as a prop lends her point rhetorical force, and makes it clear that she’s not fabricating or twisting her examples as so many politicians do. Lake’s silencing of a reporter at 2:17 of the above video — with a point of a finger and a single firm “excuse me” — is an assertion reminiscent of Trump at his very best.
Another moment powerfully reminiscent of Trump is this clip of Lake sparring with ABC over the 2020 election. Watch from the 1:00 mark:
WATCH: The Media just won’t learn their lesson. They continue to try and stump me, but I know their game better than they do.
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) February 3, 2022
Can’t you imagine all that ridicule of the lying press’s falling ratings in the voice of Trump himself?
In virtually every exchange with the press, Lake doesn’t just come off stronger, but looks outright masterful. For instance, this brilliant exchange when she endures a question about whether she’s leave Phoenix to run for vice president in 2024.
“First I wasn’t skilled enough to be governor, now I’m so skilled you say I’m just running for VP.” It’s a brilliant and rapid assault on the press’s obsessions, and few would be able to pull it off with Lake’s speed and precision.
This is Lake versus the press, regardless of the day and regardless of the issue. Whether it’s abortion:
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) October 2, 2022
Or guns and January 6 with an Australian reporter:
Kari Lake SAVAGELY Turns Tables on Lib Reporter on Second Amendment— He Did NOT See it Coming
— Benny Johnson (@bennyjohnson) February 10, 2022
Or the border:
TEASER: The Arizona Repugnant begged me for an interview. 2 WEEKS later & they STILL refuse to cover my border plan bc I use the word INVASION… is @azcentral covering for the Cartels?
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) May 18, 2022
And to top it all off, Lake carries just the right amount of contempt for the press as well. She knows that almost all independent and conservative voters find the press loathsome, and makes it clear she shares their loathing. She has no fear of the media, only disgust at their shameful antics.
“I’ll do an interview with you… as long as it airs on CNN+, does that still exist?”
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) June 23, 2022
Kari Lake, on her ongoing, daily war with the media: “I’m not afraid of them. They’re not very smart. The people that are being hired right now in the media aren’t very smart. It’s pretty easy to outwit them.” pic.twitter.com/mQkZwV1Exb
— Ron Filipkowski ?? (@RonFilipkowski) October 11, 2022
Lake scores one touchdown after another, running circles around a clueless media that simultaneously loathes her yet can’t resist her (sound familiar?). And she does it all with a campaign distinguished for being ad-hoc and following none of the conventional rules:
Lake calls herself her own campaign manager, believes political consultants “don’t know what the hell they’re talking about” and refuses to call big donors who are accustomed to being courted. She ignores advice from the Arizona political class and says she’s not a “huge believer” in running TV ads, where campaigns typically spend most of their budget. Her “body man” works full-time as a realtor, her husband is her videographer and, until a few days ago, she had an old-school website that looked like it was designed during the early days of the Internet.
And while other candidates use polling data to shape their strategy, Lake hasn’t commissioned a single private survey since she won the primary— choosing instead, she says, to go with her instincts and interactions on the campaign trail.
A politician who breaks even the most basic rules, offends the donor/consultant class, and who campaigns almost wholly on instinct—sound familiar?
Just like Trump in 2015, Lake casually manhandled her primary opponents on the debate stage, even borrowing Trump’s predilection for ridiculing an opponent’s pathetic poll numbers.
#AZGov Primary debate@KariLake: “There’s a reason we don’t always invite Scott, because he’s polling at zero percent”@ScottNeelyAZ: “NO! One percent, but the polls lie!”@KariLake: “…and this is what happens”
Moderator: “Scott, please”@KariLake‘s face: ?*is this a spoof?* pic.twitter.com/1GB01UuUK6
— Liberal.News (@LiberalDotNews) July 1, 2022
The only thing stopping Lake from looking even more like Trump is the cowardice of her opponent, Katie Hobbs, who has simply refused to debate at all rather than risk a Hillary-style humiliation.
.@Karilake: "I will debate her (@Katiehobbs) in the women's restroom, I will debate her on the street corner, I will debate her on a stage, I will debate her In a park, I will debate her in a theater, you name it. I will debate her anywhere." pic.twitter.com/FgxYCXqqFo
— Kari Lake (@KariLake) October 14, 2022
Lake is distrusted or even hated by the same conservatives who hated Trump six years ago. These armchair pundits, some of whom even cast ballots for Evan McMullin (*barf*), have since rebranded as serious populists who understand the issues that propelled Trump to victory better than Trump himself. Kari Lake is as much their enemy as Trump was in 2016.
Kari Lake has the authentic, grassroots appeal that conservative think-tankers, writers, and movement lackeys fear. Her immediate connection with the electorate based less on policy promises than her charismatic presence makes her a politician they cannot manage.
As a result, Lake hasn’t received glowing cover stories in conservative magazines. The conservative movement has ignored her existence—or worse yet, have begged Arizonans to reject her. Two months ago, the National Review described Lake’s campaign as follows:
The front-runner for the Arizona gubernatorial nomination is a full-on election truther who is wielding her lurid conspiracy theories as a weapon in the primary.
She and the chairwoman of the Arizona GOP, Kelli Ward, want to immolate the state GOP on a pyre of insanity and ridiculous lies, and may well succeed.
One month ago, the National Review begged Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin not to campaign on Lake’s behalf. Now, with Lake poised to win, the Review’s Jim Geraghty gloats at the prospect of her humiliating Democrats.
On the flipside, while establishment and even “populist” organs on the right view Lake warily, the left is obsessed with her. They can’t stop talking about her, and it’s not because she is funny. It’s because she terrifies them.
Just like with Trump, idiots on Twitter share shocking and appalling videos of Lake’s “extreme” rhetoric, only for the videos to go viral with an enthusiastic response from ordinary members of the public.
DANA BASH: DHS says less than 1 percent of migrants encountered at the border have a criminal record
KARI LAKE: I have to disagree with you on that figure … we have murders coming in, we have people with rape records
BASH: The stat that I just cited comes from DHS pic.twitter.com/7Rdq8jEgbw
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) October 16, 2022
The regime lives in dread and terror of Kari Lake, and she’s not even governor yet. In the years to come, their dread and terror will only grow.
A star has risen from the Arizona desert.