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OPINION

Trump Is Not Going Third-Party, But He Could Still Try to Blow Everything Up

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Donald Trump is the only announced candidate for the GOP nomination so far, but you would hardly know it if you are not one of the very online people. When he does break into mainstream consciousness lately, it’s no longer for re-setting the Establishment’s agenda like he did in 2015-2016 ("Oh well I never! He’s talking about illegal immigration! If this Trump person and his yay-hoos build a wall, then who will raise our children for us, Thurston?”). Instead, normals only hear about him because he’s accidentally dining out with the cast of “Sound of Music” – and not the Von Trapps – or because he’s still giving interviews to regime media hacks who hate him and mock him, or because he’s mortifying his less Kool-Aid drunk supporters by hawking cheesy electronic trading cards. 

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His nomination campaign is underway, sort of, and no one should be shocked that it is non-traditional. His most fervent supporters are filling social media not with praise of Trump but with insultingly dumb attacks on his only real rival, Governor Ron DeSantis (My favorite one is how DeSantis allowed former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush to attend his inauguration, proving to idiots that he is exactly like Jeb! Bush). They are joined by all the lefty bots who last week were on some other kick, be it calling the people questioning zillions to Ukraine “Putin lovers,” or inveighing against those wondering if the vaxx might not be all it was cracked up to be. If you like infrastructure, your wish has been granted – the wide-eyed MAGA diehards and the left are building bridges, united in a shared desire that Trump get the 2024 GOP nomination.

But that dream may not come true. Though Trump leads most polls of the GOP base right now, his lead has shrunk and sometimes he does not lead at all. People still appreciate him, and will vote for him if he is the nominee (I’d love another term of Trump, as would my wallet), but his accumulation of wounds (some self-inflicted) is getting hard to bear. Though he points the finger at others – including, bizarrely, anti-abortion Republicans – Trump owns a big piece of the red splash last November, as does Mitch McConnell (who Trump formerly backed) and Ronna McDaniel (who Trump refuses to tell to resign after losing five elections in a row – contact your state RNC committee member at www.HireHarmeet.com to make your views on re-electing her known). The base in 2024 is all about winning, and we miss it.

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The base is not in a losing mood – again, look at the base’s total rejection of McDaniel – and Trump’s not doing much winning right now. He's basically taking potshots from his largely unread Truth Social account and making rookie mistakes that, after over seven years since he came down the escalator, his supporters are tired of having to try to excuse.

There is a case for Trump, which I have described and which many of my friends still make passionately. You are not crazy for supporting Trump. It is not insane to think he could win the nomination and then the general. It is insane, though, to deny the reality that he might not win and the reasons why.

The problem for Trump is that his most coherent and compelling advocates are drowned out by the Only Trump diehards, who are simply beyond reason. They focus not on what Trump will do in a second term, except for offering meaningless and silly cliches like “Only Trump can drain the swamp because he knows where the bodies are buried!” They insist they are Trump supporters, not Republicans, and then hilariously proceed to call people who point out Trump’s shortcomings “RINOs.” Their social media accounts rarely invoke Trump’s remarkable track record as a besieged president. Instead, they attack DeSantis, who they correctly recognize as Trump’s primary primary threat. They allege the governor is a tool of the Establishment, which is sure news to the Establishment. 

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Heavy D is also, they claim, a pal of Paul Ryan (who Trump endorsed), Mitch McConnell (who Trump endorsed), Kevin McCarthy (who Trump eagerly supports for Speaker – and whose troubles have made his patron Trump look impotent) and others who tend to tick off the base. They fulminate about tools like Fauci and Wray and Milley and similar toads, all of whom share in common incompetence, institutional corruption, and that Trump did not fire them when he could have and should have. None of that counts, however, because reasons and 4-D chess and trust the plan. It’s not rational, and it’s exhausting. But mostly, it’s ineffective.

To win, Trump has to show the party – all of the party – that he can win in November 2024. This is not 2016, and a new round of sub-par nicknames for GOP competitors is not going to cut it. Ron DeSanctimonious? Really? “Low Energy” Jeb! was a killer line. This one is embarrassingly lame – low energy, as it were. And if Trump keeps this up, his forays into the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary will be a couple of massive humiliations, and that’s not even taking into account some frame-up indictment by some commie prosecutor that is sure to come.

What does Trump do then, if and when his dream of Term 2.0 is again shattered? Well, he will not run third-party – he may do something arguably worse. Why will he not run third-party? Because third-party runs are for losers, which he understands, and Trump’s main purpose in running is to ease the pain of his 2020 loss. Trump no doubt remembers his 2000 aborted Reform Party run, a vaguely humiliating exercise that only lasted a few months. Key to this is the issue of money. The Democrats’ disgraceful release of his taxes – I hope that norm-busting becomes a permanent suppository for them, and it will if the House GOP has the stones to insert it – showed that Trump does not have a ton of loose cash. The famously parsimonious tycoon is never going to liquidate his assets in a down market to fund an effective primary, much less general, campaign. Yes, he has a war chest, but that will vanish quickly and it is unclear if he could even refill it with small money donors since the big money donors are flying south for the winter – and for who they see as a winner. 

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Remember, Trump would not only have to pay for everything but also build an infrastructure. If he stops being a Republican, the party’s apparatus stops being available to him. Trump would have to organize, at the outset, even getting his name onto 50 state ballots. Let’s just say among his current staff, the same savvy crew of geniuses who couldn’t manage to prevent the boss from chowing down with Lil’ Himmler, there’s not one person I would trust to organize a six-year old’s birthday party, much less a modern political campaign. Hell, instead of a pony, these goofs would end up hiring a goat with mange, and they would probably find the clown off of Megan’s List.

Ditching the GOP would also mean that the GOP leaners all go away. Party loyalty, even to a party that treats its base like Bill Clinton treated his wife, is a thing. A lot of people sighed and voted for Trump because he was the GOP nominee and you support your party’s nominee. 

Trump will never make that promise. His 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?

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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. 

Follow Kurt on Twitter @KurtSchlichter. Get Inferno, the seventh book in the Kelly Turnbull People's Republic series of conservative action novels set in America after a notional national divorce, as well as his non-fiction book We’ll Be Back: The Fall and Rise of America.

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