In 2024 politics, it could be that it’s not the votes you win, it’s the votes you lose.
Such is a calculation on the minds of many political observers these days as we’ve now passed the most important of the early state nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, with the results blaringly pointing to a 2024 rematch between 2020’s duo of Democrat president senile Joe Biden and the eternal go-getter, Republican former president Donald Trump. In a normal nominating year, party faithful on both sides would only be warming up for the semi-long slog towards determining their respective nominees.
But this year isn’t “normal”. In fact, 2024 has evolved (devolved?) into something that wouldn’t even qualify as an outlier. One could make a good argument that America will never see another political year like this one, for a lot of reasons. But first and foremost, it’s not every day (or year) that you’ve essentially got a contest between two party incumbents, even if the two are nearing (or have achieved) record-setting milestones for age and are weighed-down by baggage that would challenge the heartiest mule team to pull up a slope.
And it doesn’t look as though it’s possible to lighten the load, either. In fact, some pretty smart and informed people are predicting that something “big” is going to take place this year, an unanticipated event that will shake our country and culture to its foundations. The “baggage” may only get worse, in other words. This sums up the mystifying quality of the future.
Regardless of these so-called “Black Swan” occurrences, both major party nominees will face a number of Americans who would simply refuse to vote for them again. This type of negative Nellie in the Republican Party is infamously known as “Never Trump”. For the Democrats, there hasn’t been a moniker coined for the incumbent bumbler-in-chief, but for our purposes, we’ll nickname the faction “Never Biden”.
“[T]he main problem that Never Trumpers have with Trump is not so much his policies but his personal conduct (or misconduct as they see it — and I am not referring to Trump’s court cases, a campaign of political persecution that shows how corrupt the Democratic Party has become). A majority of Americans want a president that their children can respect and who is worthy of emulation. They don’t want a snarling, petulant, insult-hurling, verbally incontinent bull-in-the-China-shop in the White House.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of likability. It explains why Trump’s one remaining primary opponent, Nikki Haley, fares better in polls in a potential matchup with Biden than does Trump. One political implication of this is that Haley would likely have longer coattails than Trump, thereby giving Republicans firmer control of Congress and making it easier to implement conservative policy objectives.
“This is a tough time for Republicans. They will get the nominee they want. The question is: Can that nominee win the election? Without the participation of Never Trumpers, I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Therein lies the great conundrum commentators will spend days, weeks and months attempting to solve. That’s one of the reasons why the Never Trump dilemma is perhaps the greatest of mysteries, since there’s no way to unscramble it. One can argue both sides, cite statistics, look at past history and forecast moods and attitudes, but either way, there’s still a great chance that you would be wrong.
There have been so many past Republican candidates that the conservative grassroots rejected outright but still ended up voting for when the time came. Was John McCain well regarded? Or Mitt Romney? Both men likely had a measurable percentage of embittered non-participants in their respective elections. Were these stay-at-homes the biggest contributor to the GOP losses in ’08 and ‘12?
My problem with Hendrickson’s thesis is his implication that likability alone will be the most important factor – not only for the Never Trumpers, but also for independents and the few Democrats who could be open to turning away from the truly awful nominee of their own party. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Biden ran on a platform of conciliation, of extending an opened hand to Republicans and conservatives, of turning the other cheek and forgiving your enemies. It’s almost as though senile Joe views himself as a Jesus Christ-like figure who wanders the territory in a robe and sandals and heals lepers while making blind men see.
All of those things. Yet after his inauguration, the same old hyper-partisan jackass emerged and it didn’t take long before he was calling conservatives “MAGA fascists” and blaming the entirety of Trump’s voters for what happened on one afternoon – that being January 6, 2021.
In my view, Joe Biden has never been likable. To those who’ve paid attention, they saw Biden virtually destroy the reputations of Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas, among others. He’s not a nice guy, period. “Never” might be too soon in many instances where senile Joe is at issue. Likeability is one piece of the puzzle among many.
“Let the voters decide” is something practically all political candidates say, which, of course, contains a large grain of truth. No one can say, today, what is going to happen nine months from now. Kind of like the weather, there are charts and measurements and computations offered by individuals who’ve devoted their lives to analyzing politics, but until the day arrives, cloudy and cold might actually turn out to be sunny and warm.
For the most part, we’ll just have to wait and see who shows up to vote and who doesn’t. In the meantime, the respective parties will raise money for get-out-the-vote operations and desperately try to turn those “Nevers” into “Maybes” when the election gets close. History certainly suggests that most people make some sort of either/or choice in the voting booth. If this weren’t so, then wouldn’t third-party candidates have done much better over time?
So losing some voters is only natural. The question is… how many can you lose and still win?
Many folks I know are entered into an annual football pool where participants are tasked with picking the winners of each week’s NFL games and ranking them in “confidence” from sixteen (if there are sixteen games that week) down to one, hence the grouping is called a “confidence pool”. If you’re unfamiliar with the format, to make a long story short, which games you end up losing often matters more in the long run than the games you win.
For example, if you thought Green Bay had an excellent chance to beat the Bears on a given Sunday, you would put sixteen points on them. Others who didn’t believe as strongly only devote eight points to the favored Packer team. If Chicago wins the game, you’d lose sixteen points while the more cautious player “only” loses eight. Of course, it matters which games everyone wins, too, but you never want to be “minus” too many points.
It might even be said that the one who’s best at picking losers, wins. How weird is that?
The same logic certainly extends to politics and the “confidence pool” quality of this year’s campaign will definitely prove the point. The basic question is thus: Does Donald Trump have a greater number of those “Never” folks than does Joe Biden? Pundits will go back and forth for months debating the question, and we can bet that Karl Rove’s beaming mug will show up sometime, with his whiteboard full of figures apparently depicting both candidates “losing” so many percent of the electorate and advising you to hedge your bets based on how much distaste is out there for the respective nominees.
There are a huge and unquantifiable number of variables involved, too. Trump has already been president and the vast majority of conservatives or Republican-leaning voters acknowledge his solid record on issues as well as his penchant for putting up a good fight for the same. Similarly, “Never Biden” holdouts understand that voting for the old goat will guarantee that senile Joe will most surely pursue the same types of things, if only more earnestly.
The “experts” assert Donald Trump harbors a gargantuan ego, but isn’t Joe Biden the one who’s engaging in an invisible competition with his old boss Barry O. to spell out who was more successful in pushing through major socialistic transformation?
Plus, as has cropped up more recently, is there a non-traditional means to turn the “Never -----” crowd into true believers? Senile Joe Biden’s campaign and Democrats in general think, for instance, that an endorsement from pop star Taylor Swift could be the key to waking up millions of semi-brain dead youth voters and have them immediately take up the incumbent president’s cause. Swift has what, almost 300 million Instagram followers?
Does this mean that Biden would gain more supporters through an association with Taylor Swift, or would he simply lose fewer? Here’s thinking that the type of American voter who gives a squat about who Taylor Swift likes politically would’ve already been inclined to vote Democrat, since liberal party members are the ones who love abortion, supposedly “care more” about the rights of women and minorities, and want to soak the rich, right?
Didn’t senile Joe Biden want to cancel all those student debts with the simple wave of his executive pen? Couldn’t Taylor Swift dedicate a small percentage of her earnings from her current billion-dollar-plus world tour to doing the same if she really felt that way?
Unlike a “confidence” football pool, it’s probably not realistic to think Donald Trump can win by losing. It’s hard to tell how much the Never Trump non-votes will harm the Republican nominee on Election Day, but it’s equally arduous to see how “Never Biden” feeling would impact the incumbent. There’s a long way to go in campaign ’24. Will either candidate become more appealing to his detractors?
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