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Trump Is the Strongest 2024 GOP Nominee
because he'll sabotage anyone else.
The conventional wisdom right now is that Trump is going to be a weak general election candidate. He lost the popular vote in 2016, lost the election in 2020, got blown out in the 2018 midterms, and helped wreck GOP fortunes in 2022. He’s deeply unpopular with independents and Democrats and supercharges Democratic turnout.
He’s also facing an array of criminal indictments and might not even be able to campaign if he’s in jail or has to appear at a string of court dates. That’s why many Republicans have been hoping for a DeSantis primary win, and are now touting Youngkin as DeSantis’ star starts to fall amidst revelations that he eats pudding with his fingers. (Yes, the political press is worthless and cares more about eating habits than fascism. I just report, I don’t endorse.)
It makes sense that other things being equal, another candidate who didn’t commit treason might be a better general election candidate than Trump, who did. There’s one problem, though. Trump will sabotage the campaign of any other GOP nominee.
The political press hasn’t really talked about this a great deal, and Republicans aren’t obviously interested in trumpeting it, but everyone knows it’s the case. Trump never concedes. He always says elections he loses are rigged against him. He said 2016 was rigged against him, even though he won, because he didn’t win by enough. Before 2020, he said he wouldn’t concede if he lost, and then he didn’t concede, and tried to stage a coup. Trumpist Kari Lake in AZ is following the same playbook; she’s still claiming the senate election she lost was stolen from her.
So what happens if DeSantis wins the primary, pudding-fingers and all? At best, Trump refuses to concede, says DeSantis stole the election, and spends the general election contest whining to his followers that the GOP is a bunch of traitorous cheaters. At worst, Trump insists on running third party.
Trump might not pull *that* much support from the GOP; perhaps he’d finally alienate his base. But even if he cuts, say, 3% from DeSantis’ general election tally, that coudl easily be enough to throw the election to Biden. And it’s pretty easy to imagine a Trump 3rd party run pulling as much as 10-15% of the electorate. Biden 48%, DeSantis 35%, Trump 12% would have catastrophic down ballot effects; the GOP might even lose the Senate despite an extremely favorable map.
Again, you don’t see a lot of discussion of this scenario. But it’s probably why Trump rivals like DeSantis and Haley are so afraid to criticize him. It’s not just that they need his voters in the primary. It’s that they can’t afford to alienate Trump personally; they’re all desperate to keep him on board in the general.
Trump’s erratic, treasonous electon denial is one big reason he’s not a strong general election candidate. But his refusal to accept election results also makes it almost impossible for the GOP to get rid of him. He’s primed his followers to continue following him even when he loses elections. That’s a disaster in the waiting for any Trump GOP rival who manages to defeat him.
Trump is a bad general election candidate, but current polls don’t really show him doing that much worse than DeSantis. He won in 2016. He could easily win again if there’s a well timed recession. Rolling the dice and maybe losing another presidential election isn’t great. But the other option is rolling the dice and maybe having Trump tear the party apart permanently. If the GOP establishment doesn’t seem to have its heart in the fight against Trump—well, it’s probably becuase they’ve looked at the stakes, and have mostly given up.
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