Republicans, conservatives, and Trump supporters everywhere breathed a sigh of relief recently when Liz Cheney, soon-to-be ex-Congresswoman Cheney, declared that, if Donald Trump is the Republican nominee in 2024, she “won't be a Republican”. Whether she is a Republican now is highly doubtful, but the prospect that the party could be definitively and permanently cleansed of her baleful influence is, well, invigorating! It got me thinking that a Trump run in 2024 could bring major upsides for the conservative movement, whether or not he was victorious over his Democratic opponent.
First, we must admit that a Trump candidacy in 2023-24 carries with it major risks. Trump almost certainly will be dogged by lawsuits and criminal charges. He may spend much of his time in kangaroo courts. He may even be behind bars. That's an unconventional launching pad for a presidential run.
Trump is also widely disliked. One can argue that he won in 2016, and won/almost won in 2020, despite his high negatives, but it's hard to imagine Trump getting more than the 46-47% of the vote that he's previously received. Ergo, Trump could easily lose the 2024 election, and a loss would mean that Democrats would have two terms in which to sink their fangs into America's throat, politically, culturally, and economically. The damage they could do just through federal judicial nominations would be immense.
Perhaps more important than Trump's toxic reputation with voters, however, is the near apoplectic fury that he provokes among establishment left-wing politicians, like the ones currently running the country. Even supposing that Trump wins in 2024, therefore, that win would mean little if Beltway leftists circled the wagons, mounted a soft coup, and refused to recognize the election results. But that would be hypocritical, you say? Ha! Many “progressives” would do virtually anything to prevent Donald Trump from taking office as president again. It would be naive for conservatives to imagine that, if we win fair and square in 2024, the Left will roll over and let Trump and Trumpers rule the roost.
Having said all this, nominating Trump in 2024 would have advantages that Republicans and conservatives should also weigh carefully. Trump has activated and energized the Republican base, and in fact, he has enlarged it, as no Republican candidate before him ever has. He turns off some voters, and he brings in others. It is difficult to measure whether his candidacy would be a net plus or a net minus from the perspective of voter engagement, but it is certainly conceivable that nominating anyone other than Trump would cause Republican turnout to sag.
Trump has also built a movement and a brand that is reshaping the American right. He's emphasized issues, like the border crisis, crime, and trade fairness, those typical Republican politicians have long preferred to ignore, and he's injected a strong dose of patriotism, nationalism, and populism into conservatism. Most Republican voters seem to find this refreshing, and in the long run, there's no reason why many of Trumpism's themes can't be appealing to Democrats and independents, too – which is precisely why the Left has used scorched earth tactics to destroy Trump personally so that many swing voters never even bother to listen to what he has to say.
Lastly, and circling back to the long denouement of Liz Cheney's political career, a Trump nomination offers Republicans the opportunity to purify their party and the conservative movement of pesky RINOs, who simply can't abide Trump as a man and as a leader. There's no question that, when Trump was president, he was hamstrung by the opposition, overt and covert, of Republicans just as often as he was by Democrats. He made countless appointments of supposedly loyal and conservative cabinet officials, advisors, judges, and generals who later turned out to be swamp monsters par excellence. However, if Trump is re-nominated in 2024, there is a good chance that these milquetoasts and establishment types will head for the hills, having finally despaired of returning the GOP to “normalcy”. Liz Cheney will lead the exodus, but she will have plenty of company.
In short, a vote for Trump in 2024 will be, as much as anything else, a vote to repudiate the “moderate”, go-along-to-get-along faction of the Republican Party, and thus a vote to infuse the GOP with populist vitality, not to mention a genuine ideological commitment to transforming the country along conservative lines and defeating the Deep State. Nominating Trump would represent an effort by Republicans to achieve “addition by subtraction”: to bolster the GOP and the conservative movement by ridding it of dissident elements.
“Poppycock!”, the Left and the mainstream media would say. You can't expand a political movement by expelling its members.
The truth, though, is that many parties and groups have undergone similar processes of division and self-purification, including the Democrats themselves (think: the Dixiecrats and George Wallace). Who can say, therefore, that the permanent exile of the Never Trumpers from the GOP might not be exactly what the party needs to redefine itself, and raise itself to undreamed heights?
I, for one, thank Liz Cheney for giving her so-called Republicanism a firm expiration date, and I look forward to her self-banishment. May she and her ilk find comfort elsewhere, and may the Republican Party and the conservative movement prosper in their absence!
Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: www.waddyisright.com. He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.