During a closed-door speech Monday to the National Republican Congressional Committee, former President Donald Trump told the invited guests that “we” are coming back with “vengeance” in an apparent reference to his as-yet-unannounced decision to seek a return to power in 2024.
Given that Trump has resumed holding rallies nationwide, continues to dominate Republican primary polling and has, since losing to Joe Biden in 2020, repeatedly hinted that he plans to mount another White House bid, it’s not exactly a closely guarded secret that he wants his old job back. Equally unsurprising is the promise that a second Trump term would hold its share of political payback.
Trump, after all, has repeatedly spoken over the years about how exacting revenge is a guiding principle.
“If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even. Get even,” Trump said in a 2012 speech.
Seven years later, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon remarked that if the then president won reelection in 2020, “You’re going to get pure Trump off the chain. Four years of Donald Trump in payback mode.”
In further anticipation of a second Trump term, Bannon this week went after former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who had detailed numerous instances of what he saw as Trump's faulty judgment in a new book.
“When we come to power, don’t think you're going to be skipping away from this,” Bannon said of Esper.
Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham warned in October that a Trump victory in 2024 would usher in four years of reprisals.
“He’s clearly the frontrunner in the Republican Party,” Grisham said in an interview with ABC’s "Good Morning America."
“Everybody’s showing their fealty to him. He’s on his revenge tour, for people who dared to vote for impeachment. And I want to just warn people that once he takes office if he were to win, he doesn’t have to worry about reelection any more. He will be about revenge, he will probably have some pretty draconian policies.”
Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was one of 10 House Republicans who voted in 2021 to impeach Trump for "incitement of insurrection" for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol that year. That vote, Rice knows, effectively painted a target on his back because Trump is "driven by revenge."
“He is, of anybody I’ve ever met, he’s probably the most spiteful, vengeful person I’ve ever met,” Rice said in an April interview with “Meet the Press.”
Of the Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, just six, including Rice, are seeking reelection. The former president has endorsed GOP challengers in each race.
Trump’s “revenge tour,” as Grisham has put it, also takes aim at those who refused to go along with his false contention that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
On Wednesday, Trump issued a statement criticizing Republicans who still supported the reelection of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Trump wants Kemp defeated over the governor’s refusal in December 2020 to block the certification of the vote in Georgia and hand Trump the swing state's electoral votes.
“Today, the worst ‘election integrity’ Governor in the country, Brian Kemp, loaded the great state of Georgia up with RINOs. That’s right, he had them all. Chris Christie, Doug Ducey from Arizona, and Pete Rickets from Nebraska,” Trump said in a statement, adding that the grouping represented “just a continuation of bad elections and a real RINO if you vote for Brian Kemp.”
While most Republicans who may have to again work with Trump should he win in 2024 are careful not to publicly criticize Trump out of fears of retribution, Christie didn’t hesitate to return fire.
“Insightful commentary about three Republican Governors who were overwhelmingly reelected by their people from a former President who lost to Joe Biden. Maybe the ‘R’ in RINO really stands for re-elected,” he tweeted Wednesday.
Yet, according to polls on a hypothetical rematch between Trump and Biden, the 45th president appears to have a good chance at becoming the 47th.
For former Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, if those polls are right, Trump’s effort to weed out dissent from the GOP regarding the false claim that election fraud cost him the 2020 election will extend beyond members of Congress.
“His four years would be consumed with validating his lie,” Steele told the New Republic. “His four years would be consumed with retribution against those who, in his view, wronged him, and [he] would then corrupt the instruments of power in Washington, from Congress — because he’d have a compliant, complicit House and Senate Republicans who would do every bidding that he put in front of them — and then corrupt the various institutions that would be required to execute his revenge, which would include the Department of Justice, etc.”
In January, the former president offered yet another possible preview of how he’d settle scores if he wins reelection: pardoning those convicted for crimes committed on Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters attempted to block the congressional certification of the Electoral College vote.
“If I run and I win, we will treat those people from January 6 fairly,” he said at a campaign rally in Conroe, Texas. “And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.”
On Dec. 15, 2020, immediately after the Electoral College count confirmed Biden’s victory over Trump, former Attorney General William Barr tendered his resignation to the then president. The schism followed disagreements about whether the election had been marred by fraud and whether Justice Department could intervene to overturn the results.
“I told him that all this stuff was bulls*** about election fraud,” Barr told NBC News.
In his memoir, “One Damn Thing After Another,” Barr has since offered his own take about what ultimately guides the former president.
“That Trump, of all people, should consider himself an arbiter of ideological purity — a man whose political allegiances oscillated randomly for decades — is comical,” Barr wrote. “In reality, he has no concern with ideology or political principle. His motive is revenge, and it is entirely personal.”