We’ve all heard the order at one time or another. Who can forget the demonic presence shouting “Get OUT” in the movie “The Amityville Horror” all those years ago? Or the “Get OUT!” scream in “Knocked Up” this century?
Though they’re probably not hearing demons – or in the middle of childbirth -- that’s the situation most of the not-Trump candidates face in the 2024 Republican presidential primary race, which essentially has two main drivers. The first involves those who want all but one of the not-Trumpers to voluntarily bow out, leaving the remaining soul to take on the former president by him or herself, theoretically leaving a “clean shot” for voters to either choose Trump to carry the GOP banner forward, again – or opt for the alternative “anyone but Trump” sole survivor. Is that fair? You decide.
The second cry of “get out” originates from Trump and his supporters themselves. The Trump people argue that the virtual incumbent is so far out in front that he should be left to his lonesome and therefore devote 100 percent of his attention and energy to honing an operation to defeat president senile Joe Biden and the Democrats next year, rather than wasting time on playing out the all-but-already-over primary process.
Whatever the impetus, the urgency of the “Get Out!” calls are amping up. In an article titled “Pressure mounts on lower-tier Republican presidential candidates to drop out”, Haisten Willis reported at the Washington Examiner:
“The Republican presidential primary is looking remarkably stable, a poor sign for every candidate but one, and pressure is building on lower-tier candidates to either make waves or leave the pool…
“[I]t may be hard to see a path to victory for a candidate who struggles to make the debate stage. [Tim] Scott isn't alone in that conundrum. Former Vice President Mike Pence is polling at 3.8%, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is at 2.8%, Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) stands at 0.8%, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is at 0.6%...
“For the moment, candidates are arguing who that alternative [to Trump] candidate should be. DeSantis remains in a solid second place but with support that is less than half what it was in the spring. Haley has surged into a solid third place of late on the heels of a rivalry with Ramaswamy and an escalating war with DeSantis. If the Nov. 8 debate stage includes only those three candidates, it could go a long way toward deciding who carries the non-Trump flag into 2024.”
That’s assuming there is a non-Trump flag to carry. Everyone knows the wind direction in politics can turn quickly, but this isn’t a “normal” year and this group of GOP hopefuls are, for a lack of a better way to put it, pretty “normal”. Except for Trump. Trump differs from the rest in just about every way. Some people take to the differences, others hate them. But until the Trump factor is confronted head-on, political observers shouldn’t expect much change.
Part of the frustration from those dying for a Trump alternative – or replacement – comes from an impossible to displace belief that Trump is doing as well as he is despite everything that’s happened in the past eight or so years to suggest he’s living on borrowed time. Even the most seasoned of politics watchers would admit there are elements of Trump’s continuing achievement that defy explanation.
But when you get down to it, Trump’s success in the primary race isn’t all that hard to fathom. I think last year, when many of the first pre-primary polls were being taken, conservatives and Republicans were waiting around one, to see if Trump actually was going to run again, two, if anyone else (meaning Republicans, at least) would toss their hat in the ring to challenge him, and three, when the race actually got underway this year (2023), whether Trump would be viable.
For those still trying to figure out how Trump is doing so well notwithstanding his multitude of legal problems, we shouldn’t forget that some of this wasn’t known back then. There were persistent rumors, FBI raids, rumblings from the Merrick Garland-led Department of in-Justice and lots and lots of establishment media speculation that Democrats were plotting to frog march Trump in front of judges like a common criminal, but there weren’t any guarantees that the former president’s enemies actually had the verve to go through with it.
That, and there was the non-stop drumbeat of corporate media sensation over the 2022 midterms with more than its share of focus on how well Trump’s endorsements would do vis-à-vis not only the Democrats, but the GOP establishment’s chosen darlings, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska (who was competing primarily against another Republican). How many times did we hear “Such and such was endorsed by Donald Trump and his opponents are trying desperately to tie such and such to Trump’s election denialism and the January 6th insurrection.”
“Oh yeah, then there’s abortion and how Republicans want to ban it everywhere after the Dobbs decision.”
Many an observer, including a good number of friends and relatives back then, speculated Trump couldn’t beat Joe Biden and that nominating Trump was akin to country-wide hara-kiri – or at least leaving the door open wide for the broken-down old dolt senile Joe Biden to waltz across the threshold for a second term. They said bringing back Trump was like conceding the election before any of the campaign signs were printed and fashioned in front yards.
Pollsters appeared to play out the beliefs, as survey after survey showed Gov. Ron DeSantis as competitive with Trump for the GOP nod. The others – including several candidates who didn’t end up running, like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – weren’t really in place to challenge the top candidates. I haven’t looked – but have any of them, except maybe for Nikki Haley, even noticeably gained since then?
Has anyone considered that it wasn’t Trump who built and then widened his lead – it was his competition that didn’t prove up to the job? Take DeSantis as the most shining example. The Floridian received the greatest share of pre-primary hype – much of it deserved – but he consistently denied that he was thinking about a run until well into 2023, months and weeks that could’ve been spent forging and reinforcing a message to base his campaign on.
All this time, Trump hammered DeSantis as being disloyal and peppered him with the stupid nickname “DeSanctimonious”, which, although non-sensical and kind of pathetic, became part of the vernacular. And the disloyalty charge, no matter how unfair, appeared to stick with a lot of people. Trump’s most intense backers didn’t need an additional excuse to dislike his intra-party challengers. And frankly, there was no reason, in my opinion, for Trump to do what he did. Fair criticism is just that – fair criticism. Name-calling and questioning your “same team” opponent’s integrity is quite another.
The notion of all-but-one not-Trump candidate leaving the field is not new and has been around since Trump himself announced his official run after the 2022 midterms. Trump himself admitted that his cause would be furthered by as many candidates getting in as possible – after the first one (Nikki Haley in February?) made the leap.
The question for those conservatives and Republicans who insisted that Trump was too toxic to possibly win again, was, who should be the one? Most of the backers went to DeSantis, but judging by the amount of money raised by Tim Scott and Nikki Haley and Mike Pence, the party establishment was torn, too. If the Trump haters couldn’t even agree amongst themselves, how could they expect the voters to do it for them? Plus, DeSantis was viewed in many swamp circles as being as bad (from a governing standpoint) as Trump himself, so Gov. Ron wasn’t going to be the not-Trump alternative.
So, what now? Who should “get out”?
Almost everyone agrees that all the candidates, except maybe for DeSantis, have zero chance of being president in 2025 (unless Trump adds one of them to his ticket and for some reason is not able to serve after the election). The Florida governor’s odds aren’t stellar, either, but it’s at least conceivable he could catch fire early next year if Trump massively screws up somehow.
Nikki Haley is a flash-in-the-pan candidate if there ever was one. As I’ve written on several occasions, Haley survives because she’s the only female candidate and carries the myth that she’s the most electable of the group because she’s “moderate” and can attract wishy-washy independents and single women worried about abortion.
These are meaningless flirtations that won’t last. Nikki isn’t imminently likable, a personal flaw that will catch up with her as her views become known and she’s no longer seen as an alternative to the bad orange man. But could you really see her as president?
None of the others have the stature to beat Trump. Vivek Ramaswamy is intriguing and seems to have a future in politics if he wants one, but to trust an unknown now with so weighty a task as reforming the country? Vivek has tremendous ideas… he just needs to age more. Anyone else?
I guess this means that everyone but DeSantis should get out. If the not-Trump forces are convinced they can still replace Trump, the highly accomplished conservative governor is the only one with the stature to do so. There’s a long way to go until Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Super Tuesday. Lots can happen, but not unless Trump’s competition helps him.
They should just “get out”.
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