Donald Trump is Winning the GOP Primary without Even Trying: Former President Donald Trump is running away with the Republican 2024 presidential primary without even trying.
This is one of the most remarkable – and bizarre – presidential primaries in modern American history.
Nothing Sticks to Donald Trump
Last week, Trump was formally indicted in Georgia for trying to overturn the 2020 election results in that state.
He was photographed and fingerprinted. His mugshot immediately became iconic.
When Trump eventually leaves US politics, this will be the cover shot of endless books on his role in our national life. He has now been indicted ninety-one times.
Last week was also the first GOP presidential primary debate. It was on Fox News, and Trump skipped it. Trump counterprogrammed the event with a bizarre, rambling interview with disgraced ex-Fox pundit Tucker Carlson.
Amazingly, neither of these events had any real impact on the race. Trump is cruising to re-nomination without even trying. He is still forty points ahead, and he is not even campaigning.
The GOP Debate was a Missed Opportunity
The debate itself was inconclusive and frequently ridiculous.
The more serious candidates on stage spent too much time fielding irrelevant questions from the Fox hosts and dodging outlandish barbs from outsider and bomb-thrower Vivek Ramaswamy.
Trump and American progressives had a curious moment of overlap in mocking the whole thing as ridiculous.
There is a vague consensus that former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley emerged as the most coherent, honest adult in the room. But she does not have the popularity or name recognition to take on Trump. Perhaps she will be a decent candidate in 2028.
The real story is the inability of the most obvious Trump alternatives – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, or South Carolina Senator Tim Scott – to get any traction. These three are the most likely to beat Trump, yet they have been unable to make meaningful inroads all year.
Pence had a decent night, but Scott was bland, and DeSantis – the erstwhile Trump-killer – continues his bizarre national flame-out after last year’s hype build-up.
The first primaries are just four months away. Donald Trump will likely skip further debates if the polling does not change. If one challenger does not break from the pack in the next few months to consolidate the anti-Trump vote in the GOP, it is nearly impossible to imagine that happening in 2024. Time is running out.
Donald Trump Should be Beatable
The most remarkable element of all this is Trump’s obvious vulnerability. Trump is beating his nearest rival, DeSantis, by forty points: 55% to 15%. But if the rest of the field consolidated around one Trump opponent, that figure would likely have over forty percent of the primary vote.
That is, Trump is mathematically winning this year’s GOP primary for the same reason he won 2016 – the inability of his opponents to merge into a blocking coalition.
The votes for such a coalition are likely there. And DeSantis was the candidate who was supposed to bring the anti-Trump bloc together. But he is falling apart, and none of the remaining candidates seem to have the reach, staff, and message to fill that role.
Besides the basic math, Trump is also vulnerable due to his many indictments. The public wants to see Trump prosecuted before the election, and a guilty verdict on any charge before the election would be a massive boon to Trump’s likely general election opponent, current Democratic President Joseph Biden.
Trump’s most devoted, cult-like voters will stand by him no matter what, but US elections are still decided by the small slice of independents and undecideds in the middle. These voters will almost recoil from electing a convicted felon.
Does the GOP Have the Guts to Dump Trump? Nope
This is an obvious line of attack in the GOP primary – don’t choose the guy facing ninety-one felony indictments! – but remarkably, Donald Trump’s opponents are giving this advantage away. Most agreed during the debate that they would still vote for Trump if he were convicted.
This was depressing moral cowardice but also a huge missed opportunity. Trump’s rampant criminality is his most obvious weakness. Indeed, DeSantis’ whole campaign is premised on providing trumpism with Trump’s personal debasement. Yet none of the candidates – expect for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – is really working this theme.
You Get What You Campaign For
Trump is almost certainly going to be the GOP nominee in 2024, and he will almost certainly lose the 2024 general election. Re-run candidates for president rarely win, and 2024 is very much a re-run election. It is the same two candidates offering the same two platforms to the same voters. Trump lost by 4.4% last time, and his voter base is old. His core voters are passing away, while young voters tilt Democratic. Biden will probably win by over 5%.
It does not have to be this way. Trump could, like Nixon, resign in disgrace to avoid prosecution and spare the country a divisive political fight. He could make room for a normal GOP candidate campaigning on his signature issues. But he will not. In fact, it is reasonable to assume Trump will try again to overturn the election again if he loses. The next fifteen months will be very toxic.
From the Vault