It’s hard now to imagine former President Donald Trump as a political unknown.
That newcomer status and ability to dominate the conversation by disregarding traditional rules were key to his presidential campaign’s victory in 2016.
Today, Trump is perhaps the best-known entity in American politics, a lens through which most of the discourse of the past few years was filtered.
As Trump toys with a 2024 run, he must again wrestle with this new campaigning reality—as he did, without success, in the last election versus the current President Joe Biden.
Conventional wisdom suggests Trump—a natural self-promoter with a gift for grabbing attention—should cling to the spotlight for as long as possible in the lead-up to 2024.
But receding into the background for a time is the less obvious route to victory for a politician who thrives on the fervour of publicity, be it good or bad.
“In 2020, Trump delighted in mocking Joe Biden for ducking the bright lights and campaigning from his Delaware basement,” Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London’s Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek.
“This time, however, it might be Trump who finds that keeping a low-profile is the best strategy—at least between now and the Republican primaries.”
The 45th president dominated traditional and social media during the 2016 election campaign and for his four years in the White House, and he continues to have monumental sway upon the Republican Party.
Since his White House departure, Trump has stuck to the same talking points, such as his baseless claims of a stolen election. He has also spoken confidently of his lasting influence, and chances of winning should he wish to run again.
This type of rhetoric might suffice in satisfying his base for the moment, but it’s not certain to sate their appetite for the entire three years before the next election.
A wiser move might be to largely withdraw from the public spotlight before returning front-and-center later down the line for maximum impact.
“There’s something to Trump ducking out for a bit and returning for a ‘big reveal’. I think it would suit his showman instincts,” Richard Johnson, lecturer in U.S. politics and policy at Queen Mary University of London, told Newsweek.
“There’s also an inevitable fatigue that sets in with Trump’s interjections which make them less ‘impactful’ over time. A bit of a ‘recharge’ for his potential supporters might be in order.”
Gift said one obvious benefit is “fewer opportunities for him to stick his foot in his mouth.”
“Given the seismic jolt with which his presidency ended—including the still raw memories of January 6th—allowing more time for those images to recede into the backdrop might also make sense politically,” he said.
“Trump is such a known quantity, and his base of support is so strong within the GOP, that he has the luxury of focusing his energies on the general election rather than the primaries.
“By spending more time playing golf and less time on the rally circuit, it could make his political ‘comeback’ pack even more punch with MAGA voters.”
While believing such a plan could work for Trump, Gift doesn’t think the former president will go for it. “Knowing what the right political strategy is, and actually doing it, are two different things,” he said.
“Everyone knows that Trump is the ultimate megalomaniac who craves nothing more than seeing his image plastered over cable news. Can Trump resist the temptation to be in front of a camera 24-7? I’m doubtful.”
At present, Trump remains the frontrunner for the GOP candidacy, according to polling—should he wish to go for it. One poll even indicated him beating Biden if there were a rerun of the 2020 election.
But more than three years away from the next presidential contest, there is no guarantee that Trump will hold onto either lead.
Newsweek has contacted the office of the former president for comment.