I still remember a saying I learned in my high school days – “A real friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” (Walter Winchell)
My girlfriend at the time wore the words on a t-shirt, and I will admit, I didn’t understand exactly what was meant by them because the concept of the rest of the world walking out on anyone made no sense to me… unless you’re Tonya Harding before the 1994 Olympics, of course.
But the “walking out” concept is gaining favor among those who oppose the candidacy of Donald Trump in his third attempt to capture the Republican presidential nomination, only this time, the players in the consolidate-against-Trump movement say real friends (to conservatism and victory) must get out of the candidate field – now -- thus allowing the “anyone but Trump” voting bloc to unite behind one challenger before it’s too late. Would this constitute the rest of the world walking out for the saying’s sake? In a piece titled, “Republican courage now means dropping out, not staying in”, Hugo Gurdon wrote at the Washington Examiner before the Labor Day holiday weekend:
“Republicans don’t have the luxury of time. If the party is to avoid disaster and avert another four terrible years of President Biden, its hopefuls cannot wait until Feb. 3, the date of the South Carolina primary, to rally to the candidate most likely to defeat Trump.
“At present, that is still DeSantis. It may become Haley. But whoever it is must be decided on long before Iowa. The party needs to find its non-Trump champion before the end of October and thus give that person at least three months before the cornfield caucuses and gain momentum to top Trump in New Hampshire. It is to be hoped that over the next six weeks or so one of today’s rivals breaks out and becomes the obvious choice. But whether or not one of them does, they all have to acknowledge there is no merit in what the Wall Street Journal aptly called ‘vanity projects.’
“Campaign success or failure usually come gradually. A candidate who drops out on the eve of Iowa knowing he or she is headed for fourth, fifth, or sixth, will be doing Trump a favor, but no one else. That would deserve their party’s scorn, not thanks.”
Such goes the thinking of the anyone-but-Trump crowd. They don’t care a lick about which not-Trump hopeful ends up the main 2024 challenger to the former president, they’re entirely homed-in on making sure Trump isn’t the nominee because they’re thoroughly convinced he’ll lose to Biden in the general election. So, the Trump boobirds’ main chore now, is, not only to persuade the legions of Trump backers to jump ship for someone they likely deplore, but also to get all but one of the not-Trump candidates to agree among themselves to exit and endorse one candidate.
I see the naysayers’ argument. I just don’t think it’s doable. Too many egos involved. And if it did happen, the scenario would make for a heck of a movie at some future time. But even then, I don’t think it would work.
As Gurdon indicated in his piece, the most likely “winner” of the not-Trump derby would be Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, probably because the mid-forties Sunshine State executive was the hottest candidate commodity coming into the 2024 race vis-à-vis Trump.
But it’s also my impression that the other Republican candidates aren’t that fond of Ron DeSantis, and their personal dislikes may very well prevent them from “doing the right thing” according to the anyone-but-Trump advocates. In advancing this opinion, there is precedent from eight years ago, when the establishment-oriented candidates refrained from dropping out in favor of Senator Ted Cruz (who’d established himself as a pretty clear main challenger to Trump) and then, when they did actually leave, held back from endorsing Cruz against Trump.
It appeared as though they held Cruz in the same contempt that they did Trump.
Granted it’s been a long time since the opening days of the 2016 campaign, but I don’t recall hearing words of support from any of the droppers for the still-viable Cruz (except for eventual running mate, Carly Fiorina). Praise for the Texan certainly wasn’t going to come from Jeb(!) Bush, the humiliated symbol of the disgraced and dying element of the Bush GOP establishment as first founded by his father and extended by his brother.
Fellow candidate Ben Carson withdrew after Super Tuesday’s results revealed he was no longer in the running for the top prize, and the pediatric neurosurgeon endorsed Trump, a move that surprised a lot of folks (myself included) since Carson’s conservative social views were closer to what Cruz promoted than were Trump’s. Marco Rubio exited after tanking in the Florida primary a couple weeks later, but he was non-committal as to whom he would support. Chris Christie got out after New Hampshire, and he endorsed Trump (some people forget that, right?).
John Kasich stubbornly refused to bow out and the Ohioan actually stayed in the race the longest, finally calling it quits a day after Cruz himself hung it up after Trump handily won the Indiana primary in early May.
Some conservatives, myself included, all-but pleaded with the non-Trump candidates to clear the proverbial field early on in the race so as to give Cruz’s straight-down-the-line conservatism a shot at Trump’s populism mano-y-mano, but it never happened. Looking back, however, it didn’t really matter, because Trump would’ve won anyway, the New Yorker’s support being much broader than Cruz’s.
The same phenomenon appears to be happening again in the 2024 race, with Donald Trump having opened up a sizeable lead, riding a wave of populism, conservatism and good ol’ fashioned American patriotism. Like in 2016, Trump isn’t campaigning on a true conservative platform. He doesn’t make a no-holds-barred pitch to make government smaller, though he does promise, if elected, that he would purge large swaths of deep state bureaucrats and bring accountability to the federal agencies once again.
The difference being Trump’s governing record from his four years in office convinced many of his 2016 detractors that he could be trusted to govern as a conservative in practically every aspect except government spending and certain aspects of the conservative cultural agenda. Don’t expect Trump to get out in front and condemn corporations (like DeSantis has done) for getting too involved in social politics. I could be wrong, but Trump’s main focus is the Democrats and the DC establishment now.
But DeSantis is different. His solid and undisputable record against big “woke” corporations (like Disney), teachers unions, Big Tech and the left’s abortion industry have endeared him to cultural conservatives as well as those demanding tight fiscal discipline from their candidates. In essence, then, Ron DeSantis is this year’s Ted Cruz. I haven’t looked closely, but I’m guessing their campaign platforms would look similar.
Would the current group of 2024 Republicans leave the race and get behind DeSantis so he’d have a clean shot at Trump? Sorry, but I just don’t see it happening, and a big reason why is because, like with Cruz in 2016, the current group doesn’t agree with much of what the Floridian represents. Here’s a look at them individually:
Vivek Ramaswamy. As the preeminent “outsider” insurgent in the 2024 race, Ramaswamy believes he could emerge as the lone not-Trump candidate by virtue of his age, bulging intellect and willingness to say “revolution” while the others are still so wary of any term that reminds skittish folks of “insurrection” and January 6. Vivek has positioned himself as someone who supports Trump in most ways (“He was the best president of the 21st century”) but believes it’s time for the next generation to step up.
If Ramaswamy got out, he could endorse Trump outright, not compromise with the establishment and Never Trump backers to form a sizable not-Trump opposition to back DeSantis. Likewise, should he be the last candidate standing – besides Trump – I don’t see the others joining with Ramaswamy due to his realistic foreign policy views. Would Nikki Haley throw-in with Ramaswamy to stop Trump? Never is a long time… but never. Nikki Haley: I could see Haley getting out early, but I doubt she’d be amenable to backing DeSantis, since the Florida governor’s foreign policy vision is much closer to Trump’s than hers. As stated in the previous paragraph, Nikki would eat off her left arm before saying publicly that she’d endorse Ramaswamy. He’s got no “foreign policy experience and it shows”, remember? Tim Scott could be a possibility to get out early, but not likely before Iowa, where polls show him semi-competitive for second place (behind Trump, of course). Here’s thinking that Scott, too, would consider endorsing Trump to preserve himself as a veep possibility, and beyond that, a highly favorable cabinet position. Ben Carson became Trump’s HUD Secretary. Would Scott follow in the doctor’s footsteps?
As I’ve written before, Chris Christie will stay in the race at least until New Hampshire, where polls show he’s competitive for second place. A runner-up finish in The Granite State would give Christie at least a temporary boost as the not-Trump alternative, and besides, the rotund one wants to prolong his quest to be the leading anti-Trump voice. Would Chris endorse DeSantis? I don’t see it happening.
The others – Mike Pence, Doug Burgum, Asa Hutchinson, and the lower-tier hopefuls – will eventually bow out, but not necessarily to back a lone not-Trump candidate. Pence and Hutchinson are basically anyone-but-Trump types and Burgum is non-committal. If any or all of them decide to quit, there wouldn’t be many ripples in the news buzz lake, though Pence’s exit would make quite a splash if he were to outwardly endorse DeSantis. We’ll see how it unfolds.
The anyone-but-Trump conglomeration can keep hoping that the non-Trump 2024 candidates will get out of the race and agree to support a lone challenger to the frontrunner. It’s a nice thought, but probably unrealistic. The days and weeks ahead will reveal the path forward.
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