Donald Trump is making quick work of the competition for the Republican nomination.
That’s because his detractors can’t make the strongest case against Trump, which is that he’s unfit to lead the Republican Party and run for president again for a variety of fundamental reasons.
This leaves the other leading candidates to endure criticisms that are more circumstantial and, so, less effective. Trump’s detractors often argue that he can’t be elected, that he hasn’t delivered on his promises, that we can’t dwell in the past, that we must focus on the present, and that we need a new generation of leaders.
This is not the same as saying that Trump is profoundly selfish, easily distracted, and vengeful; that his conduct in office and afterward was poisonously stupid; that he creates his own private realities; that he will say anything without regard for the truth; or that he will say anything without regard for the truth.
This argument would be made against any other leading candidate with Trump’s strengths and weaknesses on the campaign trail, in TV ads, and in debates. But Republican voters have surrounded the ex-president with a protective shield. They are upset by even the most basic criticisms of Trump and will punish Republicans who dare to make them.
Trump is a leader and symbol that people feel emotionally vested in and protective of, so criticising him in the GOP is like to criticising the Pope at a meeting of the College of Cardinals or assaulting the King of England during a parliamentary discussion in the U.K.
Running away from him is like trying to fight with one arm tied behind your back; nevertheless, if you throw a punch, people would likely accuse you of being unduly aggressive and demand that your other hand be tied, too.
The electability debate has been very prominent here. That’s just another way of saying, “Gosh, we all love Donald Trump and wish he’d become president again, but it’s a real shame that it can’t happen.”
There are a number of issues with this strategy. For one, we can’t be sure it’s correct. Trump has a lot of issues and isn’t the safest electoral bet, but he ran a tight campaign against Biden in 2020, so it’s not out of the question that a rematch would be close as well.
Two, there hasn’t been any progress in the early general election polling. According to RealClearPolitics’ average of polling data, Trump is lagging behind Biden by only.9 percent. If the Democrats start firing their political guns at Trump seriously or if Trump is found guilty in any of the pending criminal cases, that might change in the coming year. However, Trump does well in the most widely used indicator of electoral viability.
By the way, it’s embarrassing for Ron DeSantis to bring up his electability while he’s polling worse than Biden and far behind Trump in the race.
Third, many Republicans aren’t going to believe he can’t win despite the polls or analysts’ predictions because of Trump’s 2016 victory against Hillary Clinton, which suddenly achieved mythological status in the GOP.
To sum up, a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult found that 62% of Republicans believe Trump to be the most electable Republican candidate, while only 13% hold this view of DeSantis. This generally parallels the degree of support that the two have in the primary, indicating that voters determine whoever they favour first, and then draw the conclusion that this is the electable candidate.
A voter in Iowa recently requested DeSantis to explain why, instead of Trump, they should vote for him. DeSantis’s response was a masterful use of obfuscation. The Florida governor claimed that he would be able to serve two terms, select good people, and deliver on his pledges if elected, all of which set him apart from Trump.
These are reasonable points to make, but they don’t really convince me. It’s less likely that Trump will be a lame duck president. In January 2025, most Republicans will be focused on how to get rid of Vice President Joe Biden, and they won’t be concerned about Trump’s standing until the midterm elections in 2026. Moreover, Trump is unlikely to ever be a true lame duck because the entire party is petrified of him.
Even while it will be tough to find similarly qualified cabinet secretaries for a second term, most Republicans do not believe that Trump appointed poor people during his first term. Mike Pompeo, Betsy DeVos, and Bill Barr, for example, were certainly not slouches. Most Republicans now believe that Trump has delivered on his campaign pledges, particularly with regard to his appointments of judges, his anti-abortion policies, his bombing campaign against ISIS, and his strict border policies.
Trump doesn’t dare make more direct criticisms of his handling of himself and people around him, and the DeSantis criticisms are like shadows on the walls of Plato’s cave.
Chris Christie’s downfall has been widely publicised. The Wall Street Journal polled a lot of Republicans and found that the most ardent anti-Trump candidate in the field was gaining ground in New Hampshire, but that he had an extremely high unfavourable rating of 73% among Republicans. Two-thirds of Republicans in a recent CNN survey said they would never vote for him. During the first Republican debate, Christie made the right point regarding Trump’s indictments, arguing that regardless of how you feel about the specific charges, the fundamental conduct is horrible. Despite this, voters gave Christie low marks for his performance.
The problem stems from the fact that Republican voters adore Trump and think he is being unfairly handled, a belief that has only grown stronger in the wake of the indictments. The dilemma is that it’s hard to lower Trump’s approval level to 75% without criticising him, yet opposing him increases the risk of being associated with those who unfairly treat him, which could end up hurting you more than Trump.
Trump is taking a stroll in the park while his detractors try to solve this mystery.