Well, that escalated quickly.
Less than a week after the midterms, the GOP burst into full-fledged civil war. Recriminations rolled down like water, and intra-party bitching flowed like a mighty stream. In the House, Kevin McCarthy faced multiple challenges in his campaign of self-humiliation; in the Senate, MAGA is coming for Mitch McConnell and, on cue, the symbol and architect of The Chaos announced that he wanted six more years of this.
You could tell from his low-energy body language that this was not the grand re-entrance that DJT wanted. If the GOP had swept the field last week, Trump would have ridden a wave of triumph and good feeling. Instead, as Amanda Carpenter writes, he looked . . . weak and even disgusted.
Trump—who dragged his party to midterm losses in 2018, lost the White House in 2020 to the oldest man ever to have the job, incited an insurrectionist mob into attacking the U.S. Capitol, was impeached twice, and contributed to yet another GOP midterm flop last week—sneered and grimaced through his announcement. He slow-read prepared remarks in a monotone, digressing to riff on whatever non sequitur popped into his mind. Maybe Trump’s spirits were low because he read the terrible press coverage running up to his announcement and could see the faces in the crowd, which were nothing close to the assembly of GOP elite he commanded in rallies past. The biggest bold-faced names spotted in the crowd were a grifter’s row of deplorables and has-beens: Roger Stone, Madison Cawthorn, Mike Lindell, and Dick Morris.
Yes, Trump beat the DOJ and his GOP rivals to the punch, and remains the presumptive Republican nominee in 2024. He knows he faces kvetching in the ranks, but he’s seen this before, and Trump is confident that he can reprise the takeover of 2015-16.
But the vibe isn’t the quite the same, is it?
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Yesterday, I made what I thought was a quite compelling argument—that, despite all of this, the GOP was stuck with Trump. Kevin Williamson made the same case, and you’ve probably heard it on a thousand Bulwark podcasts.
But given the record of the past six years, we need to consider the possibility that we’re wrong; maybe this time will be different.
Axios describes all of the ways that Trump’s support has been softening: Polls show him trailing Ron DeSantis, donors are fleeing, influencers bailing, and there is a growing sense that he is the Biggest Loser.
Trump needs to be seen as a winner. It's why he spent so much energy denying the reality that he lost the 2020 election. But with so many of his candidates headed to defeat — and nearly all of them conceding their elections gracefully — it's getting harder for his supporters to avoid the obvious.
To be clear: I don’t think this will be enough to derail a Trump nomination, but what would different look like? What would have to happen?
Here’s a short list:
The message that “It’s Time to Turn the Page” (repeated by every one of the challengers) would begin to land with primary voters.
The name-calling and attacks on his rivals (so effective in the past), backfire this time.
The fat cats — like this guy — bail on him. So do the kids.
The MAGA media splinters.
The base does not rally. Trump’s pending indictment will surely inflame the MAGAverse, but it could also add to doubts about his electability.
The field coalesces. Like 2016, a crowded field helps Trump. A one-on-one match-up is much more problematic.
And perhaps most important: Trump begins to look like a loser — and even worse, like a boring loser. My colleague, Will Saletan, observes that “In the long run, cultism loses out to the great universal solvent, fatigue.”
When I gave him some props for the line, Will modestly attributed it to Jacques Barzun, who famously said, "Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces." But Will’s line is actually better, and may finally apply to the Orange Cult.
Here’s Amanda’s report from last night:
Bored, people tried to leave before Trump was even finished speaking. Others simply turned their back to him and talked through his remarks. Keep in mind, these attendees were ostensibly among his most dedicated and connected aides and supporters.
Over at the Dispatch, Nick Catoggio (formerly known as Allahpundit) does a masterful job of laying out a scenario for it all going sideways.
Even though election denialism is clearly a political loser, he notes, Trump will be incapable of moving on. And this time around, his attacks on rivals like DeSantis don’t come off as alpha. Instead, they make him look fearful. “And fear is a conspicuously bad look for an authoritarian who’s consumed with projecting strength, or what passes for it in his mind.”
For now, Trump has the spotlight all to himself, but that might not give him the advantage he imagines.
DeSantis will kick back for the next six months and greet every Trump attack with amused silence, I suspect, believing correctly that those attacks do Trump more harm than good. The one-sidedness of the war will contrast how panicked Trump is about the primary with how self-assured DeSantis is. And it will alienate Republican voters who’ll resent seeing Trump take pot shots at a man who isn’t in the race (yet) and hasn’t uttered an unkind word about him (yet). Inevitably ugly rumors about DeSantis will begin to leak into the media and everyone will know where they came from. DeSantis’ admirers will resent that, too.
Imagine this going on week after week, month after month, while a smiling DeSantis goes about enacting more base-pleasing conservative policies in Florida, like an abortion “heartbeat” bill. “The best thing for DeSantis is Trump gets in, DeSantis stays out for a while, and Trump runs a race against himself for the next six months,” one Trump confidante mused, shrewdly, to Axios. Trump has always framed his politics of cruelty and dominance as a matter of counterpunching against enemies who picked a fight with him first, but DeSantis hasn’t picked any fights with him. Nor has he betrayed the populist right by pursuing a squishy centrist agenda. Trump, unambiguously, is the one starting the fight here. To many righties, the counterpuncher will at last look like what he’s always been, a bully.
And if he prevails in the primary anyway, some will remember it and decide they have better things to do on Election Day 2024 than turn out for a bully.
You can read the rest here. (Paywall).
1. Trump’s Authoritarian Promise
Will Saletan on the creepy candor of his candidacy:
On Tuesday night, as he announced his candidacy for president in 2024, Donald Trump largely stuck to a script. He eschewed many of the rants and tangents that pad his rally speeches, particularly about the 2020 election. Even so, Trump made it clear that if he returns to power, he will rule as a lethal authoritarian. Here are four of his promises….
1. He will send military force into American cities against their will.
“I will restore public safety in American cities and other communities that need our help,” said Trump. “And if they don’t want our help, we’re going to insist that they take our help.”…
2. He will impose immediate, one-day trials for people charged with selling drugs…
3. He will execute all drug sellers.
“We’re going to be asking everyone who sells drugs, gets caught selling drugs, to receive the death penalty for their heinous acts,” said Trump. He didn’t specify drug kingpins or sellers who cause deaths. He said execution would apply to everyone who sells drugs…
4. He will seek to eliminate early voting.
“I will immediately demand voter ID, same-day voting, and only paper ballots,” said Trump. “Paper ballots, same-day voting, voter ID.”…
2. Revenge of the Never Trumpers
Liam Kerr writes in today’s Bulwark:
There has long been a debate over whether or not “Never Trump” Republicans are a meaningful cohort. Election results keep suggesting that, at the electoral level, they are. Never Trumpers propelled the Democratic House victory in 2018 and Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, and they were also behind some of the Democrats who overperformed last week.
3. Pro-Lifers Need a New Strategy
Make sure you read this smart piece from Mona Charen in the Bulwark:
Every abortion is a tragedy and frankly, a moral failure. And while it’s unrealistic to use the law to forbid women to abort if that’s what they are determined to do, there are thousands of expectant mothers who wish there were an alternative. They need financial and moral support and we should provide it.
Wouldn’t it be better to devote time and money to support groups for struggling moms than to limiting the exceptions to pregnancy termination in Louisiana? Every child should be welcomed in love. The pro-life movement should concentrate on helping more women to avoid unintended pregnancies, and ensuring that expectant mothers who really just need financial or practical or emotional support can find it.
Dish served cold:
Feeling some deja vu here:
Mona is saying what every liberal I know has been saying for decades - if you're truly pro-life, and not just the Cult of the Fetus, then start acting like it by caring for women and children who need kindness, compassion, and help. The problem is everything I can think of that would meaningfully reduce abortion rates - other than a complete ban, obviously - is anathema to the religious right and the GOP base.
* Free contraception? Nah, feels good to slut shame.
* Robust, evidence-based sex education? No way! That'll just encourage the little horndogs and make Baby Jesus weep!
* More money to Planned Parenthood for prenatal care? Um, Margret Sanger was into eugenics and you support her, so...
* Universal healthcare? Go back to Commiestan, commie!
* Free daycare? What, I'm going to pay a babysitter because loose women can't live moral lives?
* Improve the safety net? That's how it started in Venezuela!
And on and on it goes...
The plain fact is the Republican base and the religious right care far more about control, punishment, and harsh consequences than they do about life. That cruelty has been a major part of their rhetoric for decades. It has momentum. Besides, they *like* it. It's a socially acceptable way to be a loud, obnoxious bully.
Try to imagine a GOP leader standing in front of their supporters and saying "Hey, you know those murderous sluts we've been howling about since the 80s? Well, we maybe overstated things it a bit. They're actually people like you and me and we need to withhold judgement and help them. Also, we changed our minds, and giving money to single mothers isn't socialism anymore. Any questions?"
I mean, I'd love to see it, but...
I can buy that many in the GOP are truly ready to move on from trump, and even that they might be successful in nominating someone other than trump this time.
What I want to know is what the "normal" Republicans, current and former, elected and electorate are willing to support. I get that they've finally decided that trump loses them elections, so perhaps they stop promoting the Big Lie, they tone down the violent rhetoric, the racist rhetoric, the laughing at political violence when it occurs. But what if red-state legislatures keep passing laws to give them the legal ability to overturn election outcomes they don't like in the future - do they just not mention it out loud anymore? Are groups like the Bulwark okay with that?
What exactly would it take to convince them that the GOP, at heart, is still anti-democratic in their leanings, still pro-putin and other authoritarian leaders, still lurching towards a white christian nationalism that blurs the line between state and religion, still willing to say (or not say) anything that would help them gain and keep power at any cost?
What does it take for them to be convinced that the GOP has the best interests of our nation at heart again - because it seems to me that running away from trump simply because he costs them elections, is still nothing more than a cold political calculation that addresses NONE of what they have been willing to either participate in, or quietly acquiesce to, during the past 6+ years.