It was wholly predictable (nearly) two weeks ago when former Trump U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley officially entered the 2024 Republican presidential field that her moment in the spotlight would be fleeting.
And it has been. Haley’s made the rounds in the early states ever since trying to gin up excitement for her candidacy, but thus far, she’s drawn more news buzz for her suggestion that all politicians over the age of 75 be tested for mental competency – and also for inspiring longtime CNN host Don Lemon’s well-merited near firing – than for any of her more relevant policy views or leadership qualities.
You know it’s bad for a presidential hopeful when the talkers squawk about something you said but it has very little or nothing to do with what you really meant. Does anyone even know what Nikki’s 2024 campaign slogan is? Anyone? Anyone? (Okay, it seems to be “Strong and Proud”)
In other words, Haley’s presence hasn’t changed much in the Republican political scheme of things. Donald Trump continues to lead in the very early horserace polls and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is the clear second choice among the GOP faithful. DeSantis’s standing has slipped a bit in recent weeks, which brings into question whether Trump should be left on his own to fight the good fight and everyone else just bow to the inevitable.
“Looking at this election and what’s at stake, I would urge DeSantis, if his poll numbers don’t radically turn around in the next month or so, not to run for the presidency in 2024 and to throw his support behind Donald Trump...
“DeSantis should remain—as he promised he would—the superb governor of Florida that he is, a shining example to other governors across the nation of what they can do in their states. He can then run for the presidency in 2028, when he will still be a young man. Of course, there is another possibility, if too much bad water hasn’t already flowed under the bridge. DeSantis could run now as Trump’s VP...
“Trump would be our 47th president were he to win in 2024. He looks to be in excellent health but at that point, he will be 77. Regrettably, things happen. It would be good for the public to know that the younger but extremely competent DeSantis was standing by in such an eventuality, unlike the situation we have now.”
Such a scenario would be comforting, but we’re a long way from determining a 2024 GOP winner and even farther from deciding who the nominee should run with. DeSantis hasn’t even officially declared he’s in the hunt yet, and his hiring of staff or fundraising won’t provide the necessary clues, either.
It’s natural for Trump to be opening up and maintaining a polling lead. Folks are distracted by the ongoing awful performance of the current president, and, as the old saying goes, “wantin’ (a new chief executive) ain’t gettin’”. Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis is going about his business in Florida – last week he was pushing for ground-breaking school choice – and the relative silence regarding his 2024 plans generates uncertainty.
If I were advising DeSantis, I would tell him not to read too much into the current polls. But if he does get in, and Trump employs a scorched-earth win-at-all-costs strategy to beat him, it could very well spoil Simon’s conception of a dream Trump-DeSantis GOP ticket.
A look back to 2016 helps here. It shouldn’t be overlooked that the running mate Trump tapped in 2016 might have, in part, agreed to be on his ticket because the primary winner hadn’t trashed and destroyed him personally during the heat of the campaign. Trump tread lightly with then Indiana governor Mike Pence in the lead-up to the Hoosier State’s primary because the candidate didn’t want the mild-mannered Midwesterner to endorse Ted Cruz and possibly throw the crucial rust belt state to his bitter rival.
Recall that if Cruz had won in Indiana in early May, 2016, it might’ve changed the dynamic of the entire race. Trump must’ve understood this and therefore didn’t go all-ugly on Pence for not backing him outright. Pence previously announced that he was remaining “neutral” on the presidential nomination question. An ill-timed jab at Pence might’ve been enough to tip the balance in the wrong direction, but Trump, in a rare moment of self-discipline, refrained.
When it subsequently became clear that Trump would secure the necessary delegates to win the nomination at the party convention, the candidate shifted gears a bit, taking a more conciliatory tone towards his former rivals and sought to unite the grassroots after a pretty darn brutal few months of campaigning. It was clear the hurt on all sides would linger for a good long while, with no one really sure how – or when – to start repairing the damage.
Deliberations over a Trump running mate were part of the consideration back then.
If Trump had tried asking any of his former primary opponents to join his effort, who knows how they would’ve reacted. Trump couldn’t ask Ted Cruz to team-up, and if he had, the Texas senator might’ve told him to go to…. well, you know where. Being repeatedly called a liar and a political shyster by your opponent doesn’t bode well for congenial relationships, and neither does getting in pissing matches over a wife’s physical appearance. Trump spared little on his march to victory.
Several former GOP presidential candidates indicated they wouldn’t attend Trump’s Republican National Convention, including Gov. John Kasich – and the Ohioan’s state was hosting the extravaganza. The list of on-purpose no-shows was lengthy and included former party presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, both of whom Trump managed to infuriate with his get dirty political attitudes.
Much has been written about Trump’s campaign style and his willingness to sink to the depths to define his opponents in the most unflattering of terms. Politics is an ugly business, though hashing over differences in tax rates and the size of the federal budget – or whether to discuss changes to the big entitlement programs – shouldn’t be dragged down into the mud. Democrats will sink as low as they can get away with, but should GOP primary competitors do the same?
Trump eventually won back many of the folks he’d ticked off – even Ted Cruz endorsed him in the fall of 2016 – but the feelings endured. Trump turned his rhetorical weapons on Hillary Clinton and things seemed “normal” again. But there was no question that the wounds from the intra-party campaign hadn’t completely healed, and it affected Trump’s presidency.
Trump made enemies of the GOP establishment congressional leaders, and egotistical lifelong pols like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell seemingly took delight in thumbing their legislative noses at the outsider president once in office. Beginning with the debate over repealing and replacing Obamacare in 2017, Trump’s agenda stalled in large part because the Republican Congress wouldn’t cooperate. Remember how John McCain single-handedly tanked the senate’s last-ditch effort to do something about the “Affordable Care Act”?
The moral of the story here? Trump might still surmise he can win the Republican primary battle by making his opponents seem like monkeys in a circus, but it won’t benefit him in the long run. If he wins the nomination – and then the general election – he’ll become a lame duck president on day one. Like it or not, he’s going to need the willing collaboration of the Ron DeSantises, Mitch McConnells and maybe even Nikki Haleys of the world to be effective.
This is something he’d better keep in mind as he goes about his daily campaign routine. This isn’t 2016 anymore. Trump has many, many, good things to base an issue-oriented content loaded campaign on. He can still be himself without alienating more people in the GOP that he’ll trust later to help him.
Trump can’t afford to burn the bridges behind him this time. Unfortunately, there are already signs that he didn’t learn from his experiences of recent years. Just last week (according to a report from John Solomon at Just The News) Trump said DeSantis is beholden to the party establishment and called the Floridian “Jeb light”. Considering Governor Ron has garnered impressive conservative support for the hypothetical race, it wouldn’t take much for Trump to alienate a significant percentage of Republican voters this time around if he keeps up the rancor.
And, you can’t sugarcoat it, either. Some of Trump’s gripes are just plain stupid – and false.
Turn your otherwise worthy challenger into the devil and it’ll unleash hell on your own campaign.
It's not just that Trump is doing this – it’s how he’s doing it. He’s already going low, too, stating that DeSantis is “against” social security and Medicare, a scare tactic Democrats falsely use to frighten uninformed seniors, as well as linking the 44-year-old to Karl Rove and Paul Ryan.
Why not concentrate on all the good things Trump did – and continues to do, like visiting East Palestine Ohio last week and donating tons (literally) of water and food instead?
The fact that Ron DeSantis governs as a conservative and still gets along with card carrying members of the establishment doesn’t mean he’s indelibly linked to the elites. DeSantis’s humble background and impressive career record precludes easy definition and labeling. Trump should be careful in his campaign tactics – they may come back to haunt him.
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