Ghost Town Politics: Where Did Anti-Trump Republicans Go?

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Reclaiming power is depicted here by Donald Trump.

“Retired generals need to go silent during elections” and the “American people do not need military officers telling them how to vote,” said Jim Mattis, a former defence secretary under Trump who had previously denounced Trump as a threat to the Constitution in 2020, at a conference here at the Hoover Institution last week.

Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, who served on the same panel as Mattis, remarked afterwards, “It’s all Trump,” referring to the former president’s dominance in the first round of the Iowa caucuses. But Ernst said she was worried about “jeopardising our first in the nation” nomination position, so she couldn’t step in to attempt to stop him in her own state.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu was also present at Stanford. He informed me that he plans to support a Trump opponent in the coming weeks; but, he expressed his displeasure because Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds did not inform him before endorsing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and he thought her timing was peculiar. (I hear that Sununu has been far more critical of Reynolds’ choice behind closed doors, so he was just being courteous.)

Nikki Haley is likely to have Sununu’s support. Despite the growing support for Haley, it is still unclear if she had the political savvy and guts to unite the many groups necessary to pose a serious danger to Trump.

I will get right down to business, since I want to be courteous. Those in the know tell me that she has not yet contacted Chris Christie or her old adversary from South Carolina, Sen. Tim Scott. In order to win over her opponents and prevent Trump, Haley must put aside her animosity against Scott (a cursory text won’t cut it) and have an honest discussion with Christie before they divide the anti-Trump vote in New Hampshire.

All of these occurrences don’t amount to much on their own. But when added together, they show why the former president is almost certain to secure the Republican nomination and maybe reclaim the presidency as 2023 winds down. The anti-Trump movement’s performance has been dismal.

Maybe he was unbeatable all along. The defining bloc in this campaign is the Republican primary voters without college degrees, despite the obsession with covering who wealthy GOP funders fancy. The reason GOP leaders are afraid to go against Trump is because of his unbreakable hold on these groups.

Nevertheless, the following would be included in an impressionistic depiction of his process if one were to put brush to canvas.

Trump administration high-ranking officials would either remain silent, bicker over whether to publicly express their concerns about a restoration, or just fail to engage in the organised, strategic, and persistent manner necessary to reach out to voters. (I apologise, but one statement is insufficient; I am speaking out in support of retired general commander John Kelly.)

Republican leaders who aren’t interested in seeing Trump return would keep quiet, allowing him to do so. They’d all have their own reasons for doing so, some of which would be stronger than others.

Even if Republican members did rise up to try to obstruct Trump’s agenda, they wouldn’t work together, they’d argue over who was the greatest choice, and their objective would be undone.

In the end, the lacklustre field’s inability to muster the capaciousness needed to oppose Trump would be the ultimate measure of their timidity; they simply would not unify behind any alternative.

Oh, and the leading candidates challenging Trump would engage in incessant bickering throughout nearly every debate and would channel their negative advertising funds towards smearing each other instead of the former president.

You can argue all you want, but, to paraphrase the youngsters, “where’s the lie?”

Republicans who are opposed to Trump’s renomination are showing an unusual lack of enthusiasm with less than a month to go until the Iowa caucuses. Acceptance, explanation, hopelessness, and outright rejection are all on the table. But there isn’t much happening.

Well, with the exception of the surrender of Trump detractors who would rather not deal with his aides, conservative media, or the harangue they would receive during their Lincoln Day dinners. Even among the governors “that are supporting [Trump] don’t want him to be the nominee,” Sununu informed me, his frustration plainly visible. These Republicans are concerned with preserving their relevance within the system, to paraphrase a famous statement by Bill Clinton.

It is most telling, though, that a large number of party legislators, previous candidates, and prominent figures have remained silent.

On ABC’s “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos interviewed Republican Senator James Lankford (Oklahoma), who evaded questions regarding his support for Trump time and time again, instead referring to GOP primary voters. This was a clear insight into the future.

Even while Republicans like Lankford are clearly not thrilled with Trump, they will stay out of the primary and eventually claim they would back the party’s nominee—in this case, Trump—because that’s who the voters chose. Afterwards, Republicans will be asked if they continue to back the nominee in light of the fact that the standard-bearer is a felon in the event that Trump is proven guilty of crimes. If and when he receives a prison sentence, the identical question will be posed once again.

Party bosses vs. their constituents will be involved in a cumbersome, Access Hollywood-style showdown. Unlike before, it will be completely predictable this time.

But unlike in 2016, the people who are most worried about the danger Trump represents might not be able to do anything to stop him. It’s disheartening that our politically divided society is to blame that Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and former Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming publicly rallied behind DeSantis, Haley, and Christie, hurting them in the process.

Romney informed me that he did not believe Trump’s poll ratings would be negatively affected if nearly all Republican senators and governors declared their opposition to him, even in the general election. “They have a chance to improve. As much, if not more, than they despise Democrats, I believe the MAGA base despises our elected elites.

It should be noted that Romney is not quite persuaded that Trump will win. So, before you dismiss him as utterly bereft and convinced that his own party is hopelessly corrupt, consider this.

According to him, Haley had a good chance. A lengthy one.

While speaking with Sununu, I asked: “Where’s the movement?” in the event that she or another Trump alternative has a chance of winning.

It was “delayed,” he admitted, but he maintained there was still time. A domino effect of endorsements leading to coverage, which in turn leads to further endorsements, which leads to outstanding performance in the early states.

The reason he remains certain that Trump might lose New Hampshire is because he can see how the domino effect works and how quickly it can spread. Then Sununu sounded out the sound of falling dominoes: “Duh-duh-duh-duh,” imitating the staccato style of a machine gun.

Republican Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah likewise had a positive outlook, noting the large number of candidates who have withdrawn from the race.

The consolidation is occurring more organically than before, according to what Cox told me. “Race for second place is pretty much down to the wire.” Plus, it occurred “before we got a heavy hand pushing it,” he said.

According to Cox, Trump’s margins in the first states will be crucial. Is it even close to being vulnerable? Is it less than ten points?

A blueprint for Trump’s demise exists. That is how Biden won the 2020 Democratic nomination. Democrats were eager for a candidate who could challenge Trump (sound familiar?), and the instant he won the South Carolina primary, it sent a clear message that Biden was their man. Biden took unstoppable momentum into Super Tuesday three days later, bolstered by endorsements from other party leaders and his old opponents.

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