One can always tell when Donald Trump is having a good time during a media appearance by the number of polls he cites showing himself with a big lead in the 2024 Republican race
(and also a head-to-head matchup with president senile Joe Biden) and seemingly gaining strength with the American electorate despite recent news flashes reporting new controversies or potential pitfalls in his way.
The back-and-forth political “game” never gets tiresome for Trump, especially since he expects to win every contest he enters and figures his opponents will further his own cause by relentlessly jabbering about how awful he is while simultaneously adding a prediction that voters won’t let “this one” slide.
In this, Trump is a little like the University of Oklahoma’s women’s softball team. The Lady Sooners have won the past two national championships in their sport, are ranked #1 going into this year’s playoffs and have only lost one game all year. Trump, like the UO women, comes to the arena expecting to win and, to be fair, sees opposing teams resigned to losing. No flaw on his part is large enough to equal catastrophe.
As 2020 proved, however, Trump isn’t invincible. Is there hope for his intra-party challengers? In a piece titled “What DeSantis must do to turn Trump dominance into Trump doubts”, W. James Antle III wrote at the Washington Examiner:
“[L]ike past controversies ranging from the Access Hollywood tape to his first impeachment to the 2020 election loss to Jan. 6, Trump rebounded. From the Mar-a-Lago raid to the Alvin Bragg indictment, new controversies only seem to be making him stronger.
“A strategy that relies on Republican primary voters deciding on their own that Trump is too risky a bet for the 2024 general election may fail, especially when a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll actually showed Trump ahead of Biden. Despite obvious pitfalls and repeated electoral setbacks dating back to 2018, Trump looks better in the RealClearPolitics polling average against Biden at this point than he did for most of the 2016 race against Hillary Clinton.
“The case against Trump may feel intuitive to political professionals. It isn’t to rank-and-file Republican primary voters. DeSantis may have to make it himself to overcome Trump’s head start.”
It doesn’t appear that DeSantis, if and when he enters the 2024 race, will shrink from the challenge of laying out Trump’s negatives. And depending on your point of view, there are plenty of ‘em. The question for any Trump opponent is finding the right combination of Trump snafus and missteps that might dislodge some of the former president’s hardened backers.
COVID? The pandemic might be DeSantis’s strongest case to make – meaning he got it right in Florida and Trump held onto Doctors Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx (among others) for far too long. But it also must be mentioned that it was Trump who granted governors the leeway to set their own rules in the first place rather than dictating a static national policy that would’ve made Fauci and Birx virtual tyrants (not that they weren’t already).
DeSantis could also conceivably assail Trump on the latter’s willingness to go along with boosts in federal spending to the crisis point we’re at now, where federal entitlement programs are on the path to insolvency and the government has grown to such an extent that few have any hope it can truly be reined in. Is there no going back? This isn’t a case any politician wants to make, but Trump’s tenure wasn’t nearly as efficient as it could’ve been.
DeSantis could conceivably make headway by waging an all-of-government reform pitch, namely that the federal bureaucracy is so out-of-control that drastic measures are called for to rethink it. How about making the case for term limiting so-called “civil servants”, and that all new hires must’ve served in the military or private business capacity to start earning a pension?
Regardless of the individual strategy, it’s unlikely that relitigating Trump’s past scandals will do much to aid them. One of many reasons Trump “rebounds” so easily from these seemingly insurmountable controversies is because the events are only “serious” to the eternally frightened reactionary crowd. Take the infamous Access Hollywood tape, for example. Relying on memory here, but wasn’t it strategically released on the eve of one of the debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton about a month before the election?
“Oooohhh! Ahhhh! Real men don’t talk like that. Ever. Respectable males don’t read the scribblings on a restroom stall, either. They avert their eyes, do their business and exit without rolling in the filth that men like Donald Trump create.” These virtue signalers would limit political office eligibility to only those human beings who’ve never told nor listened to an off-color remark or joke from another person without running to the nearest journalist and reporting it for future campaign scrutiny.
Naturally, the snobby establishment media talkers heard the tape featuring Donald Trump’s unmistakable voice boasting about grabbing women and their natural reaction was to assume everyone else in America would be so similarly livid that they would forget about history, political platforms, the record of Democrat men (such as Hillary’s man, Big Bubba Bill Clinton, a legendary philanderer himself) and the deteriorating condition of the U.S. and disavow the one man who was in position to promote real change.
Instead of excusing such fluff as “locker room talk” (Trump’s term) on a bus, the liberal Democrat outrage mob ran with it as an election changer. Unfortunately for the advocates of the political status quo, the fury died down and was largely forgotten by election day, almost completely supplanted by then FBI-Director James Comey’s much timelier announcement that he was reopening the investigation into Madame Clinton’s email crimes.
People didn’t care. Or they didn’t care enough to supersede everything that’d happened in the campaign over the previous year and a half. It didn’t help the haters’ cause that they came from networks and journalism outlets where traditional morals and values were instinctively put down and made fun of. And religion is for sissies! Who were they to criticize?
The same goes for the “other” would-be Trump indignities that opponents brought forward to try and stop him, stemming back to the first (or one of the first) “He said what???” moments of feigned hysteria, when Trump remarked to Don Lemon that Megyn Kelly had “blood coming from her eyes and her wherever”. All of the griping simply served to get people talking about Trump. The specific subjects died out in due time but the commentators were still mumbling to themselves about how it was that Donald Trump could be leading the Republican party presidential field.
I suspect the same repeated pattern will swallow any new “outrages” that encircle Trump in the coming campaign. There’ve been too many of them to stick. American political observers now expect a news or cable headline containing Trump’s name and a corresponding article or TV snippet detailing the latest “disqualifying” revelation. It’s all so much white noise, like one of those apps that plays soothing sounds to help put insomniacs to sleep.
Be it Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy, or some other unnamed Republican who eventually rises high enough in the polls to get Trump to notice them, the task of making headway to the level of authentic competitor is an unenviable one. Not only will the challenger be weakening Trump’s case in the general election (assuming he gets there), the man or woman will be earning the animus of a very judgmental and unforgiving nominee.
Not only that, but the political force that is Donald Trump has its own following apart from the Republican Party. To win in 2024 or the future, a candidate will have to persuade the “only Trump” voters to give someone else a chance. Trump brought in a whole new type of discouraged anti-establishment voter, many of them participating for the first time.
It’s almost like needing to learn a new political language to compete with him, since Trump speaks differently than all other candidates. Who else but Trump would call a debate moderator a “nasty person” to her face and have the audience love it?
And to suggest that such elevation in stature is doable strictly with a positive message is not realistic. Politics has always been about the art of differentiation, namely, to “brand” your opponent as a less desirable alternative than yourself while simultaneously presenting your case for being better than the status quo. If it could now be said that every ballot is a “change” election, it could mean 2024 non-Trump candidates must argue that Trump is akin to the DC swamp establishment.
This won’t be easy to do as Trump himself is about as despised by the ruling class as anyone has ever been in presidential politics. Who else but Donald Trump could claim the mantle of being reviled by the Bush family, the entire editorial staff at National Review, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the Obamas? Trump could center his campaign message on being the most loathed man in Washington and name names – and be loved for it.
If current polls are accurate, Donald Trump’s lead in the 2024 Republican presidential nominating race won’t/can’t be erased by traditional campaign norms. A full-on negative assault is as unlikely to succeed as a strictly positive personal platform of accomplishments and achievements. To beat Trump, a challenger must convince backers that he or she is a change agent in Trump’s mold, but different. Can it be done?
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