Should Donald Trump’s 2024 Republican presidential primary race rivals call off the search?
A search happens whenever someone or something is lost or missing. Alarms ring, a search party is assembled, people head out and look for the person or object in familiar and unfamiliar places and frustrations build when said target remains elusive. This is not making light of desperate situations, but searching empty spaces for something specific is often a waste of time and energy.
It’s especially true in politics, where the “search” conducted by candidates isn’t easily defined. The parameters include honing a message, voter surveys, focus groups, opinions by those supposedly “in the know” (like Karl Rove and other highly paid and usually wrong consultants) and, let’s face it, downright luck.
One year into the 2024 presidential race (for both parties), Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans are still searching for the tidbit of magic that will unlock the secret to voters’ hearts. They’re still at it, but time is running short. In an article titled “Trump’s GOP rivals keep searching for the right lane to catch up to cruising front-runner”, Dave Boyer reported at The Washington Times:
“The Republican presidential candidates have spent most of this year searching for that elusive sweet spot with primary voters, but with less than two months until the Iowa caucuses, nobody has laid a glove on front-runner Donald Trump.
“Mr. Trump’s rivals not only can’t touch him but they also can’t SEE him. The former president has refused to appear on a debate stage with them, correctly reasoning that he has nothing to gain against a field he leads by more than 40 percentage points and growing. Without Mr. Trump, the debates have had a make-believe feel, as if the survivors are debating the Great and Powerful Oz. And we don’t mean Dr. Oz… “Nevertheless, the candidates still standing have attempted to carve out their own lanes where they believe they can attract the most primary voters. Despite the lopsided polls in favor of Mr. Trump, it’s a fact that no voters have actually voted yet in the Republican primary. A miracle could happen. Really. Journalists want to believe. It would sell papers and clicks.”
There is the crux of it. Establishment media cable TV talk show hosts, their producers, writers and sponsors all want the thrill of the horserace to fill their quotas and justify their salaries, but Americans are not obliging them. The same is true for major establishment newspapers, though I wouldn’t include the Washington Times in that classification, and I’ve always found Boyer’s reporting to be fair and accurate.
But to the extent that any “race” still exists in the Republican Party, Boyer is correct in suggesting that each of the non-Trump GOP competitors is still engaged in a search to find a message (or “lane”) that sticks vis-à-vis the former president, the one whose “production” has been played before the entire country. It’s no secret that Donald Trump loves attention and media coverage, and that media hatred has helped drive not only his current campaign, but his entire political career.
Far be it from me to say, but Donald Trump has been more successful as a politician in “retirement” than he ever was as a real estate developer, golf club owner or personal products pusher. And his lengthy run as a tabloid celebrity and reality TV host wasn’t exactly a huge fame-maker either. Trump has been the butt of far too many jokes to ever believe he was famous because of his talent alone.
Trump’s name and brand provided him a platform for an audience. He’s done the rest. The establishment media and his political enemies continue to downplay his role in formulating his own message, but if there ever was a political candidate who refused to listen to the Washington professional class, it’s Donald Trump. Can you imagine Trump listening to a directive from some schlep on K Street to alter his approach to campaigning?
Trump has also taken much flak from observers and commentators about his legendary stubbornness and unwillingness to tone down his social media habits or to temper his public utterances so as to allegedly gain popular support. Who knows whether he’s done any of this. But despite what he’s done in the past, it’s working now.
It’s also true that the Trump haters will never come over to his camp. Here’s guessing Trump realizes that he’s permanently lost about 45 percent of the American electorate, so he doesn’t even try to implore them to change their minds. Would Whoopi Goldberg and the other hags on “The View” be open to a personal pitch from Donald Trump? No. If they softened their feelings towards him, they’d alienate 99 percent of their audience.
It's confronting this reality that Trump’s intra-party competition has attempted to gain electoral footing against him. They’ve tested just about every angle versus Trump the candidate and it’s only resulted in Republican support for the former president building to the tune of solid majority status within the party. Even more daunting, the search trail has gone cold, and the once optimistic pols are running short on hope.
Are there any lanes left available? In his piece, Dave Boyer took a brief look at each of the not-Trump hopefuls. I’ll add my impressions here.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. If there are any mysteries stemming from this year’s not-Trump candidates’ search for viability, Ron DeSantis presents the best case for being deemed an outlier. I’ve maintained that it’s not necessarily because of DeSantis himself – or his campaign strategy – but due to a classic situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Donald Trump himself, before he even officially declared his 2024 candidacy, declared that he didn’t believe anyone should run against him – and that to do so meant disloyalty. Many Republican voters, including myself, were open to primary competitors, if for nothing else, to force Trump to admit to his mistakes during his first administration (personnel? Hello?) and to ensure that he remained sharp on the topics that matter – and that it wasn’t just about seeking revenge for the 2020 debacle.
DeSantis came in late, didn’t hit Trump very hard initially and steadily lost ground as the frontrunner’s polling lead grew, which only bolstered Trump’s claim that it was a one-man race. The Sunshine State governor’s biggest problem was he didn’t have a “lane” to occupy. No wonder he’s still searching.
Conservatives seem to be once again behind Trump. Trump also receives most of the love from those who want the “old” Washington trashed and rebuilt using common sense as a foundation. DeSantis thought his Florida record would provide all the launch impetus he would need. He was wrong. Now what? Pray for that miracle Boyer was talking about?
Former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley. The former South Carolina governor has perhaps become this campaign season’s biggest surprise, that she gained any favor at all. From the beginning, Haley’s candidacy had “establishment” written all over it, and the main reason she’s had any voters look at her is because of her status as the only woman in the GOP field – and her over-spun debate performances.
Nikki’s “lane” changed from the “I’m a woman and not Donald Trump because he’s too old” lane to the “I’m a woman and I talk tough about foreign policy because I used to sit next to foreigners who hated us at the U.N. and didn’t blink” lane. Haley’s campaign should be sending big contribution checks to Vivek Ramaswamy in hopes that the young Ohioan stays in the race long enough for Nikki to use him as a punching bag in order to look authoritative.
To her credit, Haley has seemingly mapped out a position on abortion that makes some sense. But her anger over the notion of dumping indefinite money into Ukraine automatically dooms her for the long term. Her “search” for a message should include a miracle slogan that will remove the impression that she’s George W. Bush, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan all rolled into one.
Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. The field’s only 30-something, Ramaswamy came from complete obscurity to a position where most politics observers were forced to pay attention to him. Vivek’s message is parts populism and parts hard reality. His ideas are revolutionary – and welcome – yet he has no political experience and one can’t help but wonder how he’d convince Congress to go along with any of them.
Even Democrat Pete Buttigieg (in 2020) had been a mayor of a mid-sized Midwestern City. Ramaswamy has very little traceable record and a tendency to talk faster than he can manage. He sounds credible on foreign policy, but what does he have to back up his proposals? Who would he bring in to his administration? How would he go into meeting with world leaders and get them to bend?
Ramaswamy certainly has a future doing something. He’s half as old as Trump. Give it time, Vivek. Keep the search open – for another presidential nominating year.
Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. One can’t help but think Christie is only running now to take revenge on Donald Trump (and/or his son-in-law Jared Kushner) for firing the rotund, tough-talking New Jersey native in 2016. Christie was counting on a cushy position within Trump’s administration, instead he was shown the door shortly after Trump’s transition team took office.
No wonder Christie’s still searching for a “lane” to run in. The anti-Trump fervor, if there is any left, has appeared to go to Nikki Haley – or has stayed with Ron DeSantis. Christie’s biting sense of humor hasn’t resulted in debate “victories”. No one knows what a Christie administration would do about a multitude of issues.
Christie should search for the exit.
There are a couple other Republicans who are technically still candidates. Can you name them?
No one can say for sure why the remaining not-Trump GOP candidates are clinging to hopes of supplanting Donald Trump for the lead in the party’s 2024 nomination race. The search for a “lane” seems both fantastical and fruitless at the same time. The campaign will take its typical Christmas lull and resume in early January in Iowa. By that time, snow may very well obscure all the “lanes” to be discovered. Except for Donald Trump’s that is.
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