Are Republicans already moving on from former President Donald Trump? Trump can either fight to stay relevant or head into obsolescence.
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He used to have an iron grip on the party. Those who defied him or criticized him were seen as heretics. The unlucky ones in Congress who supported his impeachment and removal after the January 6 insurrection in 2021 were primaried to political death in 2022.
Ordinary members of the GOP rallied around Trump. His hold on the party was seen as absolute.
What Happened to Donald Trump?
It’s different now. Sometimes Trump gets respect from Congressional Republicans and other times he is ignored, which for Trump is the worst outcome. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell rarely takes the bait and does not respond to the many Donald Trump attacks, even when the former president gave his wife, Elaine Chao, a racist nickname.
The Trump-led Red Wave That Wasn’t
Republican voters did not come out in force to the extent that would have pushed Trump-backed candidates for the U.S. Senate to victory in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, and New Hampshire.
Endorsements Don’t Carry the Same Weight
Then there was the race for Speaker of the House that comprised a series of headaches for Kevin McCarthy (and many other GOP members), even though he was endorsed by Trump. It took 15 rounds of votes and days of fraught negotiations to get McCarthy over the finish line. Some of Trump’s biggest supporters such as Representative Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert defied Trump and voted repeatedly against McCarthy.
Donald Trump as Retired Grandpa Who Has Lost a Step
Some pundits are left wondering if this is the high mark for Trump’s influence in the party and that he will only have a reduced impact going forward. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow on January 8 compared Trump to a “grandfather or uncle who, in his prime was the patriarch, the family’s force and compass. His counsel was sought and needed … But as the years passed, his power waned, his acuity dulled, his admonitions began to sound archaic.”
Running for President from the Country Club
Barricading himself in Mar-a-Lago, Trump posts on his own nearly irrelevant social network Truth Social. He leaves the house only to play golf. He has succeeded to become the target of numerous lawsuits and criminal investigations. Politically and legally wounded, he struggles for relevance.
It used to be a badge of honor to get invited to Mar-a-Lago, now Trump entertains fringe and extreme characters at his home such as the quixotic Kari Lake, white nationalist Nick Fuentes, and has-been Rudy Giuliani. Other retreads are reportedly advising the campaign like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon.
His Own Daughter Is Reticent
His own daughter Ivanka will not work on the campaign and said she will stay outside the “political arena.”
Look Out for DeSantis
And then there is a much younger and dynamic rival. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may run for president against Trump and could even win the nomination if he builds on his support from the success he is having in some polls.
Others Want to Elbow Trump Aside
Trump is not scaring off other Republicans either. Even some in Trump’s last administration such as Mike Pence, Nikki Hailey, and Mike Pompeo could take him on for president. Trump’s early announcement was supposed to clear the field, it did anything but.
Some Polls Are Handing Bad News to Trump
Thirty-one percent of Republican and Republican-leaners want Trump to run but over 60 percent would like DeSantis to throw his hat into the ring, according to a December poll conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University. Also, only 31 percent of registered voters give Trump a favorable rating when you examine the results of a Quinnipiac poll last month. This includes 70 percent of Republicans who view him favorably. That means 30 percent of the GOP do not support him and would likely put their weight behind another candidate for president.
What to Do Now?
Trump clearly has work to do. He must get out of the house and return to stoking support with public rallies. He needs to convince wealthy funders to stay by his side. He will have to make a dent in DeSantis’ support. Donald Trump could also use some endorsements for his campaign.
His next step could be delivering a rollicking speech at the CPAC annual conservative conference to be held in early March. He needs to win the straw poll there – a loss would be embarrassing. This means that Donald Trump needs a grassroots ground game movement among conservatives who attend CPAC. He requires the full support of rank-and-file Republicans to make his dream of a second term a reality.
Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.