Strange thought: Is Donald Trump throwing in with and vying to be the GOP establishment candidate in 2024?
The notion isn’t as preposterous as it might sound. Up until recently the former president was viewed as about as anti-establishment as anti-establishment gets, but his strange behavior regarding the battle over the House Republican caucus selecting a new Speaker – and his seemingly unshakeable support for RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel -- has shed doubt on whether Trump is one, still sane, and two, if he’s suddenly turned state’s evidence and decided to throw-in with folks who’ve opposed him since day one in his quest to Make America Great Again.
Why, for example, would a boat rocker like Donald Trump ever publicly lobby for a veritable dandelion like Kevin McCarthy to be Speaker? After all, McCarthy stems from the same establishment political bloodline that first spawned John Boehner and then birthed Paul Ryan – and Jeb Bush on the executive side -- and the wishy-washy Californian’s exhibited few signs that he’s changed over the course of time. Plainly speaking, pretty much everything the “rebels” said last week about McCarthy in their nominating speeches was true. Did Trump do his research before his statements or was he merely “rewarding” people who’d stood by him in his Don Quixote-like personal quests?
It's no secret Trump wants to be president again. Ever since he was unceremoniously ejected from Washington for registering legitimate complaints about the validity of the 2020 election count, Trump has been on a never-say-die mission to resurrect his political career.
Or was it all simply to exact revenge?
He’d largely succeeded, too, until his bizarre reaction to the 2022 results along with blunders such as dining with white supremacists and kooks and the ongoing look into his legal matters apparently brought him down to a rather questionable level of support to sustain a campaign.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest conservatives and right-thinking people have wholesale abandoned what many still think was the best president, well, since The Gipper – there’s no question the mood of Republicans has noticeably shifted away from #45. Most of these folks make up the core of Trump’s base, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. There’s a one-way door into their political doghouse and they ain’t putting in a second exit.
I’m not claiming conservatives would sit out or, gulp, opt for Joe Biden part two if Trump somehow fashions another comeback and wins the GOP nomination (through default?), but trying a different tack might be the only way Trump could reach the promised land. Could he really be trying to make nice with the party establishment by having rallied support for McCarthy?
It’s just one piece of the puzzle. In a piece titled “Trump Is Not Going Third-Party, But He Could Still Try to Blow Everything Up”, the always on fire conservative Kurt Schlichter wrote at Townhall:
“[Trump’s] loyalty is not to the party, and the same is true of his Only Trump supporters. He might not run as a third-party candidate, but he could certainly turn on the guy (or gal, or non-binary) who beats him for the nomination. The question is this: How much damage could Trump do to, say, Ron DeSantis in the general should he decide that if he can’t win, no one can? Would a Trump tantrum against whoever beats him for the nomination re-elect Joe Biden?
“Good question. That depends on the size of the Only Trumper contingent and whether their number of election boycotters is made up by the numbers of Tired of Trumpers brought back into the fold in November 2024. There is an unknown number of people who will never vote for anyone but Trump. And there is an unknown number who will vote for a Republican, but only one not named Trump. Those two variables are the key to the equation.”
Yes indeed. As it often does, politics boils down to simple addition and subtraction. I don’t think the Never Trump faction has grown measurably in years, but the quantity of Republicans and conservatives who were thinking about backing Trump in another primary battle has declined considerably recently. As I mentioned last week, my conversations over Christmas reiterated that good people would still vote for Trump if he got through the nominating process, but they’ve mostly moved on to hoping someone else prevails.
Somehow, I doubt anyone I know is hankering to move back to establishment-land, but they’re definitely post Trump, too.
Schlichter is right-on in his assessment of the “Only Trump” faction. There is a big contingent of right-leaning voters who would only vote for Trump – and are prepared to sit it out if he doesn’t advance very far. I’ve set the number at about 10 percent of the Republican primary electorate. This number may have shrunk in the past couple months, but it’s still there.
But the percentage of Republicans who wouldn’t go for Trump if there were viable alternatives within the GOP has also grown of late. These informed people have more like an “Anyone but Trump” orientation. Most of them appear to like Ron DeSantis, but I also think they’d take Mike Pence or Mike Pompeo – or even Nikki Haley – if Trump seems vulnerable. As I’ve argued a lot lately, I’m not one of the growing number of conservatives who think Trump will purposely take the party down with him if, at some point, he recognizes that his mission is hopeless and the only remaining option is for him to take the proverbial political cyanide pill. There won’t be any Trumpian Jim Jones-like effort to mix poison with Kool Aid and distribute it to everyone with a Republican pedigree or stated preference.
Trump’s pride, ego and respect for his legacy and the family brand name would prevent him from taking the drastic final step off the ledge to infamy. He may not always seem like one, but Donald Trump is a human being with emotions and feelings and a functioning brain (unlike other politicians we know) – and an active survival instinct. He’s not going to punch the political nuclear button to send the warheads screaming towards Ron DeSantis or any other one so situated and inclined to solve problems like illegal immigration and fair trade.
But Trump also doesn’t look to be attached to any particular constituency in the Republican Party any longer, a fact that is troubling to us conservatives who believed he was just as devoted to our cause as he was to the more populist-driven MAGA agenda. When Trump blamed pro-lifers for the 2022 midterm losses last week, he nailed a spike through the hearts of many who’d heretofore figured he’d given up his old flip-flopping ways and become a full-on convert to the pro-life movement.
Appearances sometimes deceive, which begs the question: Will Trump do anything, including beckoning the dark side (the swamp establishment), to win?
To answer my own question, I’d have a difficult time believing Trump would grovel at anyone’s feet, much less the Republican powers-that-be who proved so contemptuous of his outsider bid from the beginning. He will never forget how the lot of them actively worked against not only is primary effort seven years ago, but also his general election campaign – and then his presidency.
The establishment provided the media leaks that kept him constantly on the defensive. The Never Trump ranks are populated by neoconservative Bush-era Republican blue bloods who couldn’t accept that they lost and made up lie after lie about Trump’s non-conformist personality being the non-negotiable reason that kept them from supporting him.
Not only would Trump never go begging to the party higher-ups for support – he couldn’t do it. Ronna McDaniel was nice to Trump when he still held considerable sway with Republican voters, but now that he’s seen as damaged goods and weakened politically by many of her cohorts, she’ll bail on him, too, assuming she’s able to get herself reelected to her position at all.
Old establishment hardliners like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell would never – I repeat never – allow themselves to get back onboard the Trump train even if some sort of miraculous comeback takes place for the 2016 and 2020 nominee. Hate is hate and never is never where the establishment is involved.
Trump’s backing of Kevin McCarthy and other establishment figures such as Ronna McDaniel is certainly baffling and confounding to longtime Trump observers and supporters alike. But it more than likely doesn’t signal a wholesale sellout to the DC swamp on Trump’s part. As always, Trump is Trump and is highly unpredictable. What will he do next?
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