“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
Or, in looking at the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, “close” -- meaning second place – could actually count for a whole lot more within the bigger picture. This was my thinking the other day as a fresh round of 2020 election related “charges” were directed against former president – and current 2024 heavy-favorite -- Donald Trump in Georgia, the latest in a long (and unending?) line of criminal accusations levied against the man who, just a couple years ago, was still president of the United States and living in the White House.
The famous statement above was allegedly coined by Hall of Fame player, coach and Major League Baseball manager Frank Robinson, though some iteration of the idiom has been used by many an American child when playing backyard ball with friends and siblings with pride and reputations on the line – and then coming up a little bit short. It’s a face-saving philosophy where “almost” is good enough under certain circumstances.
Needless to say, the 2024 Republican race has not shaped up the way many anticipated late in 2022 or even earlier this year, when Trump, besieged by a multitude of problems including age, his close connection to the January 6 “tourism riot”, the weight of the federal Justice Department and a host of viable-looking challengers seemed destined to flame out in his quest to return to the pinnacle of United States politics.
These days, Trump is maxing out in the opinion polls and not a single potential rival has stepped forward to claim the outright number two slot. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis entered the race around Memorial Day but hasn’t caught on with Republican voters. Explanations are many, but the most likely reason is because the establishment media has gone to extremes to depict DeSantis in the most negative light possible, perhaps because they viewed him as a bigger electoral threat to broken down senile Joe Biden than Trump – or anyone else – would be.
Are the not-Trump Republican candidates simply running for second place now? And if that’s the case, would being runner-up give him or her a leg-up on being the “alternate choice” if Trump was somehow unable to fulfill his duties?
“Nobody in the dating world wants to be a second choice of their desired partner. But in 2024 Republican presidential politics, it’s not a bad strategy.
“With former President Donald Trump holding a commanding lead in primary polls, yet facing four criminal indictments, his rivals’ best pitch may be as a reliable second choice — or, more crudely in dating parlance, ‘sloppy seconds.’ While hardly an inspiring, bumper sticker-ready pitch in the mold of Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again,’ or even George W. Bush’s ‘compassionate conservative’ 2000 mantra, their current ‘Trump-lite’ approaches seem even less likely to work.
“Under this scenario, Trump GOP primary rivals like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and others would effectively pitch themselves as solid and sturdy backup plans if at least some of the Trump charges stick in court — or even if multiple court appearances over the next 14 months-plus divert Trump from the campaign trail, rather than allowing him to press the Republican case against President Joe Biden full-time.”
Like so many other items in the news lately, a candidate openly running as a Trump “backup plan” would be unprecedented, but then again, so much that is going on around us is brand new to the American mindset these days. Partisans from both sides of the ideological spectrum have longed to go after the top dog of the opposition party for years, but never before have they resorted to attempting to convict and imprison the leader to deprive him or her of political viability.
In the past it’s usually been impeachment or simply allowing the person to skate because actually tossing the proverbial book at the figurehead would be “too divisive” or make the party in power appear to be unforgiving and ambitious. Recall the aftermath of the 2016 election when the victorious Trump was queried as to whether he would press his new attorney general (whomever that would be) to delve into Hillary Clinton’s multitude of criminal transgressions and make the campaign’s “LOCK HER UP!” chants a reality.
Ever the reluctant statesman, Trump answered that he most likely would leave Crooked Hillary alone to be judged by the public rather than ordering the Justice Department to pursue her scalp in an expensive – and likely fruitless – mission for “real” justice and accountability.
As was amply revealed by the actions of Joe Biden, Merrick Garland, Special Counsel Jack Smith – and tons of other liberals – Democrats have no such vacillations or patriotic restraints. The allegations involving Trump have gone from mere “investigations” that provide leftist cable TV news shows with plenty of content to full-on prosecutions with the end goal of sending Trump to prison, probably for the rest of his life.
This is well beyond simple Trump Derangement Syndrome. This is crazy, irrational… suicidal?
But it still might work. It’s easy to foresee a scenario where Trump is convicted under one of the Democrat witch hunts, to the point where envisioning Trump in handcuffs and being led behind the scenes is no longer difficult to imagine. Leftists and Democrats (one and the same) don’t care about optics. They’re so sure they’re right that nothing else matters to them. And frankly, Democrat voters only care about power, patronage, goodies, abortion and the LGBTQ agenda. Reasoning with the ignorant doesn’t tend to work.
So, the idea of positioning yourself as a “backup plan” isn’t necessarily a bad one for the non-Trump ’24 candidates. To be fair, last week Scott McKay (of The American Spectator) made a similar argument regarding Ron DeSantis, which I discussed in Tuesday’s column. McKay argued that Trump wasn’t necessarily a “sure thing” to be the GOP nominee, and that DeSantis had incentive to hang around to step in if needed.
Unlike David Mark (above), McKay didn’t describe it as “sloppy seconds”, but the logic is the same. No one, least of all a presidential candidate, mounts a campaign to finish in second. It requires an enormous ego to run for the highest office in the world, so to settle for the notion of not winning is arduous for any competitor.
But this year isn’t like any other. Both parties have candidates at the highest end of the political actuarial table in addition to the fact both are mired in “investigations” and “scandals” up to their armpits. Trump attracts scrutiny like honey beckons bears, so he’d be the target of leftist hate no matter what he did. Senile Joe Biden has been a sleazebag all his life but somehow evaded intense public examinations due to his typically playing second fiddle and hiding behind someone else.
Biden isn’t a “nice guy”. The other day, stupid senile Joe replied “no comment” when asked to provide comfort for the victims of the Maui wildfires, a subject that doesn’t take a whole lot of neurons to provide a few quotes of president-speak that sound good on the evening news.
Besides, being a “backup plan” would be considered a lofty position for all of the current not-Trump Republican candidates. As the first choice of most conservatives who aren’t choosing Trump, Gov. DeSantis is already considered the “backup plan” by a good chunk of the electorate. DeSantis hasn’t gotten the political love he thought he’d get from the start, but he’s got a bright future outlook regardless.
Business entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy is untested in the political arena, but few would object to viewing him as a Republican “backup plan”. Ramaswamy’s cutting edge ideas alone – such as requiring new voters to pass a civics test before they earn the right to vote – have drawn notice from change-hungry observers. He’s young – but his proposals are quite mature.
Everyone says former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley is running for vice president as it is, so in essence, she’s set her sights on “sloppy seconds” (Mark’s term, not mine) before the votes are even cast. With seemingly better options for runner-up finishers – as well as Trump’s running mate – Haley probably shouldn’t be seen as a consolation prize who’s ready for a de facto job promotion.
Needless to say, the Republican electorate wouldn’t accept the openly hostile (to Trump) candidates as viable backups, which rules out Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson and former Rep. Will Hurd from the outset. Likewise, the virtual unknowns in the race – Perry Johnson (?), Francis Suarez (?) and Larry Elder wouldn’t be well-regarded as fill-in candidates on the national level.
The others – Senator Tim Scott, former Vice President Mike Pence and North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum – would also fail the “backup plan” criteria for different reasons. Scott is a nice guy but isn’t combative enough for today’s Republican voters, Pence was already vice president and too many Trump voters wouldn’t go for it and Burgum… well, not enough is known about him.
Basically speaking, not every Republican candidate in this year’s field could be thought of as a potential “backup plan” if Donald Trump was rendered unable to serve as the party nominee. Sometimes even second place isn’t good enough, and “close” doesn’t always bring home the prize in horseshoes and hand grenades, either. We can only hope that in the long run, the voters will get to decide. Wait and see.
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