We’d all love to see Donald Trump tossed into the dumpster of history. But with the crush of “Trump is weakening” buzz in the media, Democrats should not delude themselves that Trump has lost his control over the GOP. The only way Trump’s clenched fist on the Republican party is going to be released is if he is taken down at the ballot box… and that is best done by a Republican in a primary.
Much had been made about the idea that “the biggest loser on Election Day was Donald Trump,” that the “red wave” never materialized because of Trump, that Republicans failed to flip the Senate because Trump's candidates far under-performed those who had not been hand-picked by him. It was all his fault.
Surely, surely, this must be the last straw, the
straw that breaks the camel’s back, the moment the Republicans finally… finally…break their cult-like submission to the Big Orange Loser.
Then again, maybe not.
Having written too many columns about other moments when Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party was alleged to be weakening, I am hesitant to conclude that Trump will be substantially diminished by mid-term elections in which the House of Representatives will still likely flip to Republican control.
Trump no longer calling the shots? Trump no longer requiring Republicans to kiss his ass? Not so fast.
There’s no question that Ron DeSantis flexed real muscle on Tuesday, and that the announcement of a DeSantis Presidential run would create a Succession-grade internecine war in the Republican Party. But Ron DeSantis just won a four-year term for Governor. Sure, he pointedly did not pledge to serve out that full term, but he cannot possibly announce a run for President anytime soon.
So, in the meantime…?
It is the media frenzy-du-jour, the notion that Trump is going to be sent packing to Republican Siberia because Mehmet Oz lost Pennsylvania. Let’s take a look at the chatter about Trump’s supposed weakness.
Republican Lieutenant Governor of Virginia Winsome Sears said that it is time to “move on” from Trump. Chris Christie said Trump’s political instincts were about “himself, not the party.” (Uh, news flash?) Peter King, the retired Republican Congressman, said “I strongly believe he should no longer be the face of the Republican Party.”
CNN ran a breathless headline: “Republican Senator Drops a Truth Bomb on his Party.” Then you find out that the Senator dumping the bomb is Pat Toomey, who indeed came right out and blamed Trump for the midterms. But Pat Toomey is retiring, and no longer has any reason to fear the wrath of Trump.
Then we read this juicy: “He transformed the Republican party, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the right guy to actually lead the party going forward into an era of governance and prosperity.” That quote came from the extremely conservative former Senator Rick Santorum. Key word: former. He, too, no longer lives in fear of Trump’s retribution.
Fox reported that a current GOP Congressman had said that "As one would expect, Trump certainly played a factor in the outcome of the midterm elections. As for 2024, there will be other worthy candidates who will put their names forward who may approach the conservative movement differently." Wow, rebellion! Oh, never mind. That Congressman only spoke to Fox on the condition of anonymity.
The right’s extreme-stream media ventured further into Trump angst than we’ve seen before. Laura Ingraham delivered a startling indictment of Trump, though never mentioned him by name:
“Going to 2024, the Republicans are going to be looking for candidates who are focused on winning – not just making a point or settling a score. So, to really change it, we’re gonna have to win and we have to win over voters outside our traditional base. That means young people, too. That’s got to be the goal for the next presidential election. The populist movement is about ideas. It is not about any one person. If the voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’re going to look elsewhere, period.”
Let's start our critique of Ms. Ingraham's assessment with her saucy contention that the "populist movement is about ideas.” Laura: you are talking about a political party that literally did not bother to
write a party platform in its 2020 Convention. Some would say that one reason the Republicans
fared so poorly in the midterms is that for they whined about inflation, they
offered no “ideas” about what to do about it. And the assertion that the populist movement “is not about any
one person” is breathtaking coming from Donald Trump’s personal Pravda, the news
organization that completed a six-year mission of turning the Republican Party into a
cult of Trump. Now a major figure on Fox News is egging Ron DeSantis to challenge the cult leader for the loyalty of the cult members, but still doesn't have the guts to call out Trump by name.
It is true that a small number of Republican Representatives in Congress were quoted on local talk shows musing that it would not be a bad thing to have the nomination sorted out in a primary race between Trump and DeSantis. Yes, speculation about Trump's influence is real and growing.
But the key fact here is that the loudest hue and cry about Trump being “weakened” is coming from retired politicians, second-tier players, people who remain so frightened of Trump that they speak on the condition of anonymity, or pundits hedging their bets.
Do we note anything missing from the pile-on?
Maybe every major player in the Republican Party?
Not one current major national Republican Party leader has condemned Trump for having a negative impact on the election. Sure, Mitch McConnell grumbled about “candidate quality” months ago, but that was then. Now? Crickets.
Note to anyone who thinks that now, finally, the Republican Party is ready to move on from Donald Trump: Wake me up when any of Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, or Kevin McCarthy walks up to a microphone and announces that the Republican Party should not nominate Donald Trump for President in 2024.
Ron DeSantis himself has wisely chosen to not say a word.
Despite stories of confidantes urging Trump to delay his big announcement, no comment from any pundit, politician, or family member appears to be discouraging Donald Trump from declaring that he will run again in 2024.
The minute Trump makes that announcement, the big
Republican politicians will have microphones thrust in their faces and will be
put on the spot: do they endorse Trump’s candidacy? That's when things will get interesting.
Some may try to run but they cannot hide. With their chance of leading their respective chambers of Congress in the balance, do we think Kevin McCarthy or Mitch McConnell is going to say that they are not going to support Trump in 2024? Mitch McConnell is a master of equivocation and avoidance and may try to say that he won't talk about 2024 until 2022 is over, or that 2024 is too far off to talk about, but the better bet is that they with both fall in line with obsequious curtsies of fealty. These guys fold tents faster that it’s done in a demo video on REI.com.
Sycophants like Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, Nicki Haley, and Mike Pompeo have already stated that they would not run if Trump decided to run. These people are all very ambitious, but they all want to inherit Trump’s base when he moves offstage rather than directly challenge him for it now. They may change their minds if DeSantis throws down the gauntlet, but for now they will retreat, cower, and salute the Trump flag.
So just imagine that Trump makes his big announcement, and then gathers expressions of support from McConnell, McCarthy, Graham, Cruz, Haley, Pompeo, Abbott, Marco Rubio, Kari Lake, Kristi Noem, Roy Blunt, Lee Zelden, Elise Stefanik, Steve Scalese, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, Matt Gaetz, and the full litany of members of members of Congress who voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election. Many immediately vow they will aggressively campaign for Trump if any Republican is so disloyal as to challenge the king.
That would be an imposing phalanx for any challenger to confront.Yet into this Republican valley of death rides...
Mike Pence, who may run on the belief that there are “moderate Republicans,” but he might as well be on a quest for the unicorn vote or the Holy Grail cohort. He may think he can challenge Trump for the right-wing base, but last time we looked, those were the people who wanted to hang him.
Liz Cheney, who vowed to “do anything” to prevent Trump from regaining the White House, widely interpreted as a threat to run for President. Such a campaign could prove a real nuisance for Trump, as Cheney would delight in broadcasting the details she learned from the January 6 Committee to Republicans who have never heard them before, via interviews on conservative forums and potentially primary debate stages. She might inflict wounds that would linger in the general election campaign… but given her status as pariah in Trump's party, she could not derail him from the nomination.
Which leaves us with Ron DeSantis… alone in being clearly positioned to have the stature and demeanor to challenge Trump for the base of the party now. But Ron DeSantis faces a very, very tricky calculus indeed.
The flurry of incoming from Trump aimed at DeSantis, featuring the creation of his first new nickname in years – “Ron DeSanctimonius” -- is Trump’s way of telling the Florida governor that he must be prepared for a scorched earth if he runs in 2024. Trump would sooner turn his base wholly and permanently against DeSantis than allow DeSantis to beat him. So DeSantis’s decision is fraught: if he runs against Trump for the nomination and loses, his career could be badly damaged. If he runs against Trump and wins, he may have infuriated the molten core of the Trump base… and it’s hard to see him winning a general election without that support.
Again: he just won a second term as Florida governor. By the time it seems appropriate for him to announce a candidacy, Trump will have been campaigning, locking up endorsements, and fundraising for months.
Ron DeSantis is a young man in Presidential politics. If he ran for President twenty years from now in 2044, he would be 66 years old. With time so clearly on his side, is it so certain that DeSantis would want to initiate an internecine bloodbath against Trump in 2024… a battle which could fracture the party and leave both candidates unable to prevail in a general election?
Trump is locked, loaded, and planning to announce his candidacy for 2024 this week. Trump apparently accepted that he could not make an announcement prior to the mid-terms, in part because he knew that the prosecutors pursuing him could take no action in the “quiet period” before an election.
Now, however, he sees urgency in such a declaration: he wants to toss his hat in the ring before the DoJ or the Atlanta DA bring indictments against him. Being a declared candidate gives him grounds for claiming that these investigations as politically motivated “witch hunts.” Trump’s calculus may simply be that running for – and winning – the Presidency is his best protection against the onslaught of legal investigations that inch ever closer to personal existential crisis.
Who knows? Maybe somewhere deep, hidden, and repressed in Donald Trump’s mind, he realizes that he actually did lose in 2020, and he desperately, desperately needs to run and win in 2024 to eradicate the psychological hell of being a “loser.”
So let’s be real.
We’ve been to this party too many times, and we’ve never once had a good time.
People thought that Trump was politically dead for his “grab’em by the pussy” video. For his appalling ignorance, sloth, and self-protecting political calculations during the Covid crisis. For Charlottesville. For separating immigrant children from their parents. For his own disastrous mid-terms. For the first impeachment. For losing the Presidency in 2020. For leading a bloody insurrection that was intended to topple our democracy. For urging a mob to violence against own his Vice President. For the second impeachment. For stealing top secret documents.
And now Trump will lose his iron grip on Republicans his candidates performed poorly in the midterms?
Well, it is entirely possible that for most Republicans, losing the battle for the Senate is a sin worse than lying, misogyny, sedition, or treason. But will it really cause him to lose his vice-like grip on the party?
I don’t think so.
Some Democrats who apparently enjoy high-wire acts believe that yet another Trump Republican nomination for President would create the very best odds that the Democrats would win. These may be the same people who felt Democrats should contribute to the campaign of election-denier Republicans on the theory that they’d be easier to beat. Perhaps this theory was vindicated by the midterms, but count me among those who would avoid any scenario that would risk Donald Trump regaining the White House. If he ever got back inside, this time he’d know exactly how to end democracy in America.
The Republican Party seems dimly aware that it is in a downward spiraling doom loop… where Trump has enough hold over the party to control it, but he is ever more toxic beyond it. Anyone powerful enough to damn Trump with the truth is too cowardly and concerned about their own power to do so.
The only thing that is going to take Trump out of the national picture – other than a precipitous decline in his physical health -- is when someone in the Republican Party takes him on… and brings him down.
The only true kryptonite that will be effective in destroying Trump is if someone in his own party beats him at the ballot box.
Ron DeSantis may feel that it is his time. Much has been written about how Chris Christie briefly appeared to have the Republican nomination for the asking as a rising star of the party in 2012. He decided not to run, and by the time the next cycle came around, scandal in New Jersey and Donald Trump rendered him a distant also ran. The lesson: run when you are hot… you may never be hot again.
What is becoming clear is the platform that a challenger could use to run against Donald Trump: electability. It’s not hard to imagine Ron DeSantis building a campaign for the nomination on the idea that he is actually a big fan of Donald Trump, that he believes in the changes Trump brought to the party, and that he believes in the same ideas… but that Trump is damaged goods and can no longer be elected.
Ron DeSantis is the man of this moment. If he passes on a run for the Presidency, we have to endure the existential threat to democracy that a third Donald Trump Presidential campaign represents. And if Ron DeSantis takes Trump on, there is no guarantee that he can beat him.
But I like to imagine this: it’s primary night in New Hampshire in 2024. The ballots are pouring in, and Ron DeSantis is soundly thumping Donald Trump.
Trump races to a microphone and begins to howl that the election is rigged, that it is all phony, that the primary election is being stolen, that Ron DeSantis is fake news, that Fox News is trying to destroy him, and he is the real winner.
This time, it would fall to the Republicans -- DeSantis, McCarthy, McConnell and the leaders of the Republican Party -- to say, once and for all, no. No, Mr. Trump. Elections in the United States are not rigged. You lost.
Imagine the sight of senior Republicans realizing that their only hope to get rid of Trump once and for all is to defend the sanctity and integrity of free and fair elections.
Ah, one too many ironies in the fire.
For now, Democrats should keep their eyes on the prize. A great worry is that the resolution of control of the Senate may cause Democrats to fail to focus ferociously on the Georgia run-off. However, Georgia remains an incredibly crucial race. In two years, we will once again be in an election, battling for control of the Senate, and having a secure seat in Georgia will be a cushion that means we are protected if we lose a state somewhere else. And sending Hershel Walker to defeat would be yet another humiliation for Donald Trump... and inch him closer to irrelevance.
Some caution that we should be careful what we wish for... that DeSantis would indeed be a more powerful 2024 Republican Presidential candidate than Trump.
For me, the choice is easy... as distasteful as Ron DeSantis is in so many ways, I do not think he would run for the White House with an agenda of personal vengeance and a determination to end democracy in the United States.
And I can't help but believe that a no-holds barred slug fest between Trump and DeSantis would result in a deeply fractured Republican Party that would be difficult to unify behind either candidate. An internecine war in the Republican Party would help Democrats.
Trump fading into the sunset?
I think not. We should be prepared for the darkest hour before the dawn.
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