The Invisible Primary Has Started. Here's How Trump Could Lose.
Plus the Capitol Police are honored by Congress.
1. Happy Talk
Perpetual optimist Bill Kristol thinks that a big Warnock win tonight could begin a cascade of events that leads to a Great Awakening for democracy just 23 months from now.
Drink it in, my friends. Because it could happen. As I sit here with the Time Stone examining the 14,605,000 possible futures that are currently open to us, that is absolutely one of them.
And it’s not a long shot, either. Each of the items on Bill’s list is fairly likely. I’d call this something like a 1-in-10 scenario. Happy!
On the other hand . . .
Even if we get this happy scenario, it isn’t going to feel good.
For one thing, none of these Never Again Trumpers will make nice with people like you and me. In fact, they’ll have to kick down at every opportunity to signal that they’re not admitting fault and are still distinct from the RINO-cuck-libtard-grifters.
Always remember Albus Dumbledore: People easily forgive you for being wrong; they never forgive you for being right.
Then there’s the problem of what Never Again Trumpers will pivot to. They are not going to step back and welcome a robust exchange of ideas while encouraging a herd of Republicans to compete for ownership of the party. Because you can’t overthrow an existing boss with a bake-off. You need a champion. Someone to consolidate popular support.
Which is why the aspiring Never Again Trumpers are so into DeSantis. But even here, DeSantis is just a vessel. There is a theory for him, but it does not extend past “because he will win.”
So any successful Never Again Trump movement will need an animating idea. And let me tell you: Compassionate conservatism isn’t walking through that door.
Meaning that a Trump alternative probably has to be, at least as a rhetorical matter, more populist than Trump in order to hold traction with Republican voters. It can not be anti-Trump. It will have to stipulate that Trump is awesome and that he was a tremendously strong leader who, many people are saying, was probably the best president in history.
So that won’t be, you know, awesome.
But here’s why I ultimately think Bill’s optimism is a lower-probability scenario: He’s putting a lot of stock in the power of Republican elites to move voter opinion.
The invisible primary is underway and while Mitch McConnell has the power to sway (some) of the old Republican donor types, (1) his influence on the rank-and-file is limited, and (2) Trump doesn’t need institutional money or infrastructure. He’s the most establishment-proof presidential candidate in modern history.
Trump is going to live or die by the polls. It’s as simple as that. If he stays at or over 40 percent support, then he’s in a commanding position to be the Republican party’s nominee. Period. The end.
And as I’ve said before, near-term events—the debt ceiling fight, an indictment—are set to create a series of litmus tests in which other Republicans will have to choose between siding with Trump or the woke-socialists. That’s good for him.
Trump has a few major advantages.
The first is that in a primary matchup, he is skilled at fighting Republicans. His appeal has always been two-pronged: He triggered the libs and he was eager to throw down against the “bad” RINOs. (Like George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, etc.) Arguably, it was this RINO-owning that Republican voters loved most.
DeSantis, on the other hand, has little experience in intra-party fights. He will be a creature of the establishment—the favored candidate of McConnell and the donor class. Which is not a helpful thing in a populist environment. And his go-to move for dealing with Trump has been duck-and-cover. That’s not an operable strategy for a primary fight.
The second advantage Trump has is that over the last few years Republican voters have signaled that in any primary contest, they want the craziest sonofabitch available.
How is DeSantis—or anyone else—going to outbid Trump on crazy?
Think about it: If Trump is so weak because of all of his stunts, then why didn’t DeSantis criticize him for having dinner with Kanye and Nick Fuentes?
The answer is: Because criticizing Trump for dining with Nazi-lovers would put DeSantis on the same side as Democrats and the Liberal Media. It would hurt him more than it would hurt Trump.
Meaning: Trump made a bid so high that DeSantis can’t match it—but also can’t criticize it.
Expect to see lots more of this.
Look, I promised you sunshine, so here’s my optimistic pitch: I think it will be very hard for a Republican to beat Donald Trump.
But age might do it. And I’m not convinced that Trump still has the energy to dominate.
For example: Trump seems confused about social media. Being deplatformed from Twitter hurt him. He needs his Twitter weapon. But he also seems to realize that going back to Twitter would give Elon Musk leverage over him. Musk could neuter him at any time and so, presumably, that’s why he’s sticking with Truth social. This circle needs to get squared for him, somehow. Maybe he doesn’t have the drive or focus to figure it out.
Another example: Where is Trump? Not holding rallies. Not golfing with celebs. Not doing grip-n-grins with scared Republican toadies. Maybe he doesn’t have the vigor to be jetting around and scrapping. It takes a lot of energy to hold together an authoritarian cult. You have to stay visible and always look like you’re in charge. Maybe time is sapping enough of his energy that he won’t be able to do the barnstorming required to hold his movement together.
Not for nothing, but: Did you notice that he hasn’t left Florida or done a rally since announcing his candidacy?
I always assumed that Trump would sleep for 4 hours a night and live until he was 90. That he’d be like Castro. But maybe he’s slowing down, losing a step. If that happens—if he forgets how to dominate, or loses the will to log the miles, then maybe some other Republican can take control of the party from him.
2. Good Cops
This is good news:
Top House and Senate leaders will present law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with Congressional Gold Medals on Tuesday . . .
To recognize the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the medals will be placed in four locations — at U.S. Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.
Fun fact: The first person to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal was George Washington.
I want to spend a minute on this award, though, to make sure we’re appreciating what the Capitol Police for the right reasons.
It isn’t just that they did their duty and exhibited bravery. It’s that they did so with a surfeit of professionalism. They not only protected the lives of the people who work in the Capitol—they protected the lives of the insurrectionists, too, by refusing to escalate the violence.
We see a lot of examples of law enforcement acting badly. What Eric Garner, George Floyd, and hundreds of other examples have in common is that too often, when law enforcement encounters someone they suspect of wrong-doing, that suspect ends up dead—because the cops are willing to go from issuing a verbal command to the use of deadly force in a heartbeat.
In many of these cases, the violence is initiated by law enforcement and the reason the citizen ends up dead is because the cops escalated a minor situation. Which is a basic lack of professionalism.
We need better, more professional cops precisely because they are entrusted (by us, the public) with such awesome power.
Anyway, on January 6 the Capitol Police would have been fully justified in gunning down insurrectionists. These people were trespassing, refusing to obey orders, making death threats against public officials, and assaulting police officers with deadly weapons.
But the Capitol Police declined—with only a single exception—to respond with deadly force. They managed to achieve their strategic objective—defending the lives of the people in the Capitol—while also preventing the violence from getting even worse. If you were one of the people banging around the Capitol on January 6, then you’re breathing today because the Capitol Police acted like professionals and didn’t try to be hard-ass, Look At Me, tough guys.
They achieved this outcome by putting their bodies on the line to absorb violence and abuse.
And that’s why we honor them. They didn’t just protect democracy. They did so in a manner that makes us proud and is an example to cops everywhere.
If you missed it: Charlie did an amazing interview with Michael Fanone at our first Bulwark Live event last month. You can listen to it here. It’s electric.
The Bulwark is a reader-supported publication. To receive new editions of The Triad and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
3. Texas and January 6
A typically engrossing Texas Monthly piece:
From inside the home, several German shepherds snarled and barked at the sound of strangers arriving on the doorstep. The house, on a quiet street of low-slung brick residences just outside the Panhandle town of Borger, was otherwise quiet. Its garage door had been left open, revealing an array of carpentry tools hung against the back wall. Nothing unusual distinguished the place, except that the windows were lined with black plastic garbage bags and one of the panes bore a two-word message scrawled in red and blue paint. It said: “Trump Won.”
The dogs became even more animated after the doorbell rang. Half a minute passed, then the door opened. Standing there, with a hand still on the knob, was a wiry man in his fifties, with close-cropped hair and a thatch of gray stubble on his chin. “Hi! How are you?” Tom Munn said. His smile—somewhat asymmetrical, owing to the absence of several front teeth—was nervous but genial.
That members of the news media had shown up on his doorstep was perhaps surprising only because it had been several months since his family had done anything to warrant interest. This was January 8, 2022. The case of USA v. Munn et al., one of roughly nine hundred to result from the attack on the U.S. Capitol 367 days earlier, was moving slowly through the federal courts. Though it seemed likely that prosecutors would offer a plea deal by which the Munns could avoid lengthy jail time, nothing had yet materialized. “Everyone’s kind of in a wait-and-see pattern,” Munn said. “I don’t know how the system works, anyway. It’s completely foreign to me.”
Read the whole thing. It’s always the ones you’d most expect.
The obvious answer is that he should be simultaneously posting on both platforms and trying to use his Twitter presence as leverage over Musk, since he can walk away to Truth—taking all of the engagement with him—whenever he wants.
(Yes, I am aware that he has contractual obligations to Truth Social. No, I do not believe that he is completely and totally bound by these for all time. The man tried to overthrow the U.S. government; a business contract isn’t going to constrain him.)