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OPINION

How the Primaries Will Go

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

Ron DeSantis and whoever the governor of East Dakota – or is it one of the other Dakotas? – is are now in the 2024 race and Trump has to deal with that. Not with the Dakota guy – he's another joke of Asa-like proportions angling for a Cabinet post – but with the governor of Florida, whose hardcore conservative record and $8.2 million first-day haul have the president nervous. You can tell RDS is causing Trump PTSD by the even more incoherent than usual Truth Social meltdowns and the insane ramblings of his dumber super fans. And DJT should be nervous – Ron DeSantis has a good chance of winning the nomination, but it's no lock. Trump has name recognition and inertia and those super fans. He can win the nomination – some might say he is likely to, though I think it's an uphill fight for him despite his current poll position. But it's early and no one knows anything. 

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Well, except that the other candidates are treading water in a sea of mediocrity. This is a two-man race. Nikki, Mike, Tim, Vivek, and the rest of you are asterisks within footnotes. You are irrelevant. This is Trump v. DeSantis, and only one man is coming out of the Octagon intact. 

The most obvious course of events, though not necessarily most likely, is that this primary continues the way it has been going, with Trump on a glide path to victory. Distrust the polls all you want – and I want even when they tell me what I want to hear – but Trump's lead is dominant right now in the pluralistic sense. He's got about 50% of the GOP support and DeSantis has about 20%. That's good for Trump's chances in the primary, but in the macro sense, an ex-president with only half his party's support is a disaster. Even that desiccated old pervert the Democrats are propping up is doing better with his own party, much better, though his sole competition is that ridiculous Kennedy retread who far too many alleged conservatives are fawning over because he went on Tucker. Still, Trump is in the lead today, and he might be in the lead tomorrow and the next day. The GOP base could certainly decide that it wants more Trump and it could nominate him and get him good and hard. In that case, the numbers don't budge or Trump even moves ahead and by next fall this competition becomes a coronation.

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I'm not so sure that's going to happen. That's because I'm not so sure many of the folks outside of us Very Online People have really started to care yet. Oh, if you are on conservative Twitter you have seen the pitched battles between Trumpies and DeSantites. It's gotten ugly, but that's kind of how elections go. They get ugly. Unfortunately, it's also gotten stupid. There is a coherent case to be made for Donald Trump, and a lot of my good friends ably make it. I've made it. But it isn't "DeSanctimonious is an establishment globalist neocon who loves George Soros, Paul Ryan and all the Bushes and also he's disloyal and a meatball and here's a meme where Trump is kicking him!" That's just stupid and there's no sugar-coating it, and I won't. The reality is that these two share most of the same general policies. DeSantis has his policy track record and Trump would govern with a nearly identical template should he win – the big questions really are 1) can Trump win the general election? 2) can he govern effectively if he does? and 3) do we want to put up with another four years of Rosie O'Donnell tweet wars?

Those three questions are the foundation of the DeSantis primary campaign's attack on Trump – note that neither will bother with any of the other candidates because none of them really exist except as consultant fee-generation concepts. And since the substantive hits on DeSantis are so transcendently insubstantial, Trump's attack on DeSantis really boils down to "He's not me." And that's not unexpected – many of the people who want Trump as president want Trump, not the policies, but the man. Their goal is not to elect a Republican, much less a conservative. Their goal is to elect Donald Trump. 

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But do the rest of the GOP voters think that way? The other way this can go is that if the GOP electorate starts actually auditioning the candidates. Right now, Trump is the name at the tip of the tongues of the millions of Republican voters who have not really thought about the primaries yet. He's got the advantage of being the default candidate. But what happens when the people start looking closely? What if they ask those three questions? If that happens, Trump will have to work for it. That takes money, and it's not clear how much he will raise. That takes energy, and while he's no decrepit weirdo like Biden, he's old. He's 76, and 76 may be the new 66 but that's still 66. Plus, he might be in one or more trials, if not jail – the left is trying to frame him, and while no American politician has suffered greater injustices and fraud than Donald Trump, this corrupt and scummy campaign will still be a huge drag on his ability to campaign. 

The other way this goes is if the Republicans look at the candidates and answer the three questions – can he win, will he govern effectively, and can we tolerate his antics – "No," "No," and "No." If they do, they have decided that Ron DeSantis is the answer. Trump has about a 47% general election ceiling – over half of America hates him too much to vote for him, no matter how awful Grandpa Badfinger is. We do not know what DeSantis is. We do know that RDS clearly governs effectively and doesn't hire the Mooches, Omarosas, Wrays, and other losers that, with notable exceptions, Trump does. And RDS's views of Rosie O'Donnell remain, mercifully, unclear. 

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If they answer "No," they believe it is time to move on. But going for DeSantis does not mean you hate Trump – I like Trump. It does mean that you prioritize winning the political/cultural war over vindicating his wounded ego. This is not about 2020; it's about 2024 and not letting these perverts groom our kids. 

We will know in a few months if the GOP base is going to hand Trump the baton or a gold watch. We will see DeSantis's numbers rise, or they will stall, and we will know how this is going to go. If Trump is winning, look for the enemy to redouble its efforts to frame him to ensure he does not win in November. If Trump is losing, look for him finding a face-saving way to drop out of the race. Regardless, buckle up. 

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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