The midterm clusterfark has drawn plenty of hot takes and instant analyses that range from insightful to self-serving to unbelievably stupid. But now that we have gotten past the initial blasts of the flamethrower, perhaps we should take a breath and sit down, and think about where we are as a movement and what we need to do as a party for 2024. There’s a lot to talk about, from procedural questions like how we intend to cope with the new world of extended mail voting to substantive imperatives like how we must repeal the 19th Amendment as it applies to single, liberal women who vote for their Democrat Daddy in appalling numbers. We need to ask questions about candidate selection, money, issue choices, and a bunch of other stuff. And we need to answer the question of what to do about Donald J. Trump.
My DMs and texts and chats and super-secret Townhall VIP email (Join with promo code KURT for a discount!) exploded – I mean, they went the full Nagasaki – during the 24 hours after the election, and most of it was along the lines of “I am so done with Trump!” It was not just a few people, and it was not only on back channels (Twitter was alive with Trump-roasting). It was a lot of people, and most were pretty damn hardcore. These were not Never Trump sissies or establishment shills – those losers don’t get to talk to me. These were people who, unanimously, were grateful for what Trump did.
But while Trump, like many others – RINOs, pundits, us voters – own a hefty share of this Jeffrey Toobin Zoom call of an election night, it’s all a little too simple, a little too easy to think that we’re good to go if only Trump gets up and goes. Trump is not the GOP's only problem. It was out of touch with most voters before he took over – hell, that’s why he was able to take over. And the problems with the GOP that led to Trump will not be fixed even if Trump vanishes tomorrow.
But Trump presents problems and we need to face them. Before we go further, we need to be clear because some folks are a bit sensitive when the subject of the ex-president comes up. Get over it. He works for us. We owe Trump nothing. He’s a politician. He owes us. I don’t care if he resents his unfair 2020 defeat any more than I care when a teenager whines that something is unfair. Life is unfair. No one was more unfairly maligned than DJT – I wrote a book defending him against the barrage of lies he endured. But I expect politicians to get it done, every time and every day, with no excuses, and the operative question is always, always, “What have you done for me lately?”
If a politician wants a friend, he can buy a beagle, and if he demands a pass when he starts to fail to cut it, here’s a gold watch and a handshake, enjoy your retirement. Trump was a great president in many ways. The economy boomed. We were energy-independent. We were at peace. He got the Middle East to make peace. And the Supreme Court – no establishment guy would have stuck with Kavanaugh as Trump did. Someday some iconoclast historian is going to look back and say, “Damn, I can’t believe how much Trump accomplished in the face of the full-scale assault by the establishment.” He saved America, or at least put off our fall a little longer.
But let’s not minimize his failures in failing to win this last midterm, and they are failures and they are just more in a line of them. He postures as the head of the GOP, and congratulations, Don – that means you get the blame when stuff goes sideways just like you get the credit when you win. In 2018 we lost seats, a lot of them. He gets a big piece of that demerit. In 2020, he lost the election – yeah, I know about the rigging issues because I lawyered in the aftermath, but the fact is that Crusty O’Senile is in the Oval Office and Trump isn’t, so Trump lost. And in 2022, well, we are still mopping up that mess. No, it’s not all his fault, but some of the fault was his. He picked some candidates who either lost or ran far behind what they should have gotten. He collected a ton of money and then spent barely any of it. He injected dumb drama into the election by hinting that he would announce the night before, issuing stupid nicknames for Ron DeSantis while we were busy trying to win, and did not slack off even after the disappointing loss. His cringe insecurity about DeSantis – and he should be insecure – is embarrassing. All that stuff hurt us in the midterms. And his rumblings afterward about how great he did with his picks were tone-deaf and infuriating. He can be exhausting – I know because many people tell me they’re tired of Trump drama.
That’s a fact, like it or not.
But the idea going around that all we need to do to get our Republican mojo back is to banish Trump is demonstrably wrong. It’s too convenient, and it puts off the deep and searching personal inventory we need to do as a party to figure out how we can start to get the checks in the boxes that have Rs next to them >50% of the time again.
There are two types of people pushing the “Ditch Trump” agenda. The first is folks who have looked at the facts and evidence and believe that Trump does more harm than good. Trump motivates a lot of people who might not participate otherwise, but here’s the hard fact – a lot of people hate Trump and they will never vote for him or anyone with his stamp of approval. For him or one of his endorsees to win, he would need to win an overwhelming number of everyone else in the general election, and from his poor performance in the midterm, there’s no indication he can do that consistently. That’s a legitimate view and not some establishment plot. Paul Ryan, who is a tool, did not make suburban moms and their emasculated husbands hate Trump.
The other kind of people demanding Donald’s defenestration are people who never wanted him in the first place. They include Never Trumpers, who are at best unserious people, and worse, invertebrate traitors shrimping the toes of MSNBC bookers for the chance at a three-minute hit with Joy Reid babbling about “Muh Democracy.” But they also include the Swallow Hard Trumpers, the folks who did not want him but got on the team anyway when he won yet never reconciled fully to him. The idea that ditching DJT will fix all our problems is super-appealing to both groups because it is super convenient. This prescription for a revitalized Republican Party gets rid of their bête noir and allows them to say, “See, I was right all along.” And, of course, the unspoken assumption is that after he goes, these guys would assume their rightful place as leaders of the party. Or re-assume their place, as they are often the same people whose inept leadership created the need for a Donald Trump in the first place. It’s like the climate change commies – “Gee, how lucky we are that there’s this crisis that requires you to do everything we always wanted to do anyway and put us in charge, or else the polar bears will catch fire!” Dumping Donald does not necessarily solve conservatism’s problem, but it sure solves theirs.
Of course, two other groups love the idea of Donald Trump running in 2024. The Trump diehards love it. Some make very good points about why he should run. Again, Trump did some great things and if he is the nominee we should eagerly support him. Other folks are a bit too into him personally. Like Grateful Deadheads following the band from concert to kush-kissed concert, they attend his (often hilarious) rallies, space-dancing to his greatest hits. They never tire of his act, though seven-plus years after he came down that escalator, a lot of other people have. They cannot tolerate hearing criticisms of Trump, whether from enemies or allies. The next two years are going to be very long for them.
And then there are the Democrats. They love the idea of Trump 3.0 because they know how to beat him. They adore the idea of making this a fight over the remaining voters who might vote for him; they have already banked at least 45% of the electorate who never, ever will vote for him. That’s why you see the Twitter bots, those 22-follower accounts that have been repurposed from accusing us of loving Putin, swarming any conservative who dares criticize the ex-president. The Democrats want him to run. That could be a strategic error – it was in 2016. But they sure don’t think it will be in 2024.
The only question that matters to us conservatives is whether we are better off with Donald Trump as a candidate or whether we are not. While he has not said it, some people worry he might go third-party if denied the nod (I doubt this, not least of all because he would have to personally fund it and he is notoriously parsimonious). But some Trump diehards promise to sit out the election if their guy cannot win the primary – they often cannot imagine he can ever lose and attribute all of his failures to establishment conspiracies and cheating, though cheating is kind of baked-in by now and if Trump cannot overcome it in primary good luck doing it in the general. We need to decide whether we think the people threatening to take their ball and go home outnumber the people who might be gettable by a different Republican nominee.
The Godzilla to Trump’s King Kong is Ron DeSantis, who turned Florida red and annihilated the Democrat Party in the hanging chad state without Trump’s endorsement. One thing is clear from the desperation evident in the Trump Faction's so far puny attacks on Trump’s rival, like assertions that Heavy D is in a secret conspiracy with Jeb! and Mitch and Ryan and Trump-endorsed maybe-Speaker Kevin McCarthy to return us to the days of cruise ship conservatism because reasons. They are scared of RDS and want to kneecap him now. But the attacks on the popular gov are not getting the same gleeful response as hits like “Low-Energy” got when applied to fungi like Jeb! The difference is that conservatives like DeSantis and despise Jeb!
Should Trump run and remain the GOP standard-bearer? Note that the idea of him instead assuming some sort of kingmaker role has kind of dissipated in the wake of his midterm failure to make many kings. Let’s have a primary and decide! Right now, the polls say he is the number-one choice for Republicans. He should not be pushed out by poobahs and pundits but, instead, he should be vetted by the people. A primary sharpens the eventual winner while testing all the candidates. Trump has to answer some tough questions. What has he learned from his mistakes? Will he screw up personnel again? Does he intend to subject America to years more of Trump drama, and what makes him think voters want that again? What, exactly, is his plan to win key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 2024 (It’s a fair question to ask DeSantis and any other aspirants too)? Here’s the thing – I do not see a clear path for Trump to get to 270 electoral votes in the general as of today, though that can change quickly, so that’s the big question he and every other candidate has got to answer because we cannot afford another term of these communist bastards wrecking our country.
Trump was always a prix fixe menu with no substitutions; you cannot have a Trump owning the libs without him also tweeting about Rosie O’Donnell. He saved our country in 2016. The idea that 2022 was all his fault is nonsense. It was only partly his. There were plenty of other malefactors and plenty of unrelated screw-ups that we need to identify and address in the next 24 months (particularly adapting to the new mail-in extended voting model). Trump should not be exiled by the establishment or the commentators just because a lot of the same people who never liked him anyway still want him gone. If he does not run, he should either bow out because he wants to bow out, or he should be tossed out by Republican primary voters at the ballot box. If he gets the GOP nomination, everyone should support him in the general. If you are a Nomination Denier, go subscribe to the Dispatch.
Trump will probably announce 2024 soon, and then we will see if his support is wide and deep or wide and shallow. But regardless, the GOP is going to have to answer the Trump question sooner rather than later.
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