Republicans Busy Doing Nothing Quickly About Their Trump 2024 Problem
Donald Trump is running for president again. He's officially launched his 2024 campaign, and he's even started campaigning, which is an important next step in the process. But what if Trump wasn't running at all? This is the apparent magical thinking that's animating the Republican Party's putrefying corpse.
McCay Coppins at The Atlantic reports that "Republican officials—even the ones with MAGA hats in their closets and Mar-a-Lago selfies in their Twitter avatar—will privately admit that Donald Trump has become a problem." They sound like aging Phish fans in the 1990s who realized they've wasted their lives.
Coppins describes the obvious reality: Aside from being a corrupt treason-fascist, Trump is a big loser who presided over three horrible, no-good election cycles for Republicans. Dumping him is the obvious move, but it's just so hard. Republicans are struggling to act like they're in a production of Hamlet but with more Nazis.
But ask them how they plan to [move on from Trump], and the discussion quickly veers into the realm of hopeful hypotheticals. Maybe he’ll get indicted and his legal problems will overwhelm him. Maybe he’ll flame out early in the primaries, or just get bored with politics and wander away. Maybe the situation will resolve itself naturally: He’s old, after all—how many years can he have left?
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Yes, they're going with the "maybe he'll just die" strategy. It's Operation: Hamberders Will Do Our Job For Us.
Republicans are treating Trump as an unstoppable force in the Republican primaries and refusing to move against him. For context, by the end of February 2019, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, and Amy Klobuchar had officially launched their presidential campaigns. Admittedly, Republican candidates for the 2012 nomination didn't start declaring until spring of 2011. Maybe they're just slow pokes.
Trump has railed against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for even considering a run against him, so while Republicans wish he'd just go away, they're actively avoiding a direct confrontation. Considering Trump regularly engages in stochastic terrorism against his political opponents, their cowardice is perhaps a reasonable precaution.
Other Republicans hope that Trump's lifelong lawlessness will eventually catch up with him. That seems especially naive, and as his former lawyer Michael Cohen points out, he'd just use any indictment "to continue his fundraising grift."
In 2021, many powerful Republican donors had vowed to block Trump from ever returning to the Oval Office. However, now they've taken a more cautious "wait and see" approach.
Just like in 2016, Republicans hope that Trump will defeat himself, but while "hope" is a winning campaign slogan, it's not an actual political strategy. Republicans also fear — just like in 2016 — that even if Trump lost the Republican nomination, he'd run as a third-party candidate and fatally fracture the party.
That leaves some Republicans singing the song of the truly desperate: What if Donald Trump was an entirely different person all together?
When I asked Rob Portman about his party’s Trump problem, the recently retired Ohio senator confidently predicted that it would all sort itself out soon. The former president, he believed, would study the polling data, realize that other Republicans had a better shot at winning, and graciously bow out of 2024 contention.
“I think at the end of the day,” Portman told me, “he’s unlikely to want to put himself in that position when he could be more of a Republican senior statesman who talks about the policies that were enacted in his administration.”
I let out an involuntary laugh.
“Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part,” Portman conceded.
"I let out an involuntary laugh" is a polite way of saying, "I laughed in this fool's face." What's less humorous, however, is the fact that the last time Donald Trump ran for president, lives were destroyed and people literally died. "What harm could it do," they actually said, to let the old man exit the White House without ever conceding? He'd go eventually, wouldn't he?
Trump is desperate to strike again in the US, and much like George W. Bush, Republican are failing to act.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."