I continue to be surprised that plenty of intelligent and typically perceptive political observers, such as for example my friend Jon Chait, believe that Ron DeSantis has a good shot of being the Republican presidential nominee in 2024.
Donald Trump is holding the GOP hostage, and anybody who doesn’t believe Trump will shoot the hostage if he doesn’t get what he wants is making a judgment I find incomprehensible:
Have enough of Trump’s constituents grown more savvy about his shtick? Are they likely to abandon him for alternatives? Voters evolve, but I’m not sure that the midterms have provided enough evidence to know whether there are significant fissures in Trump’s base. Independent and moderate voters clearly didn’t care for the MAGA fire-breathers Trump supported in the midterms, and that dynamic will also be at work in the 2024 presidential race.
But Trump isn’t thinking about expanding his base or finding ways to reach independents that would make him and his movement a sure bet for 2024. And that’s why Trump and the GOP are in a hostage video together. Trump controls a bloc of voters that might allow him to wreak havoc and possibly undermine other candidates while not doing a thing to expand the Republican franchise. The GOP wants to put the party on a firmer and more potent national footing, but Trump hamstrings them.
So what’s the takeaway from Trump’s closely watched presidential announcement? It’s a recipe for internecine warfare within the Republican Party, and there’s no easy way out.
Somewhere between a third and half of Republican voters are hardcore Trump loyalists. In a hypothetical scenario in which someone were to challenge Trump for the nomination and actually win it, Trump would absolutely tell these people not to vote for the usurper in the general election, assuming he wouldn’t mount a third party challenge just for the sheer vengeful nihilistic thrill of doing so, which is in turn another hell of an assumption. And if either of theses scenarios were to play out, the Republican party would be wrecked electorally, for years and possibly decades.
Which is why nothing like this — short of some accident that removes Trump from the scene — can happen. Trump is going to be the nominee, which is probably going to be an electoral disaster for the Republicans. It’s true that people in general are growing very tired of his act, but people in general don’t pick the Republican presidential nominee: the madding base does. And stopping him from getting the nomination — assuming that doing so is even possible, short of spectacularly extra-legal interventions — would produce an even bigger electoral disaster.
It’s enough to make a cat laugh. Still, the ultimate danger here is that if a legitimate election is all but guaranteed to be a disaster for an authoritarian anti-democratic political movement, then the obvious solution to this conundrum remains obvious.