There’s a lot of wishful thinking from Trump opponents being expressed. But there’s also a lot of heartfelt criticism from strong Trump supporters.
“It turns out that those he did not endorse on the same ticket did better than the ones he did endorse,” said Virginia Lt. Governor Winsome-Earle Sears. “That gives you a clue that the voters want to move on. And a true leader knows when they have become a liability to the mission.”
“I love Trump. I want him to run. I think he’s a great candidate. I loved him as president,” Fox News host Jesse Watters said Wednesday evening. But he added: “He brings out such insanity on the left. They will walk over hot coals to vote against Donald Trump.”
This is all true to some extent. But the question is, will it matter to the GOP base who have rallied behind Trump time and again?
But Republicans who have long been critical of Trump are wary of getting their hopes up that the party’s newfound critiques mean they are ready to move on this time. An outpouring of criticism for Trump following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in 2016 and following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol last year was quickly followed by backtracking as Republican base voters rallied around Trump.
“We’ve heard this song before,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee who has long been critical of Trump. “The question is: Will this time be different?”
This time around, the criticism comes as Trump is attempting to restart his political career and faces potential challenges from Republicans who lack his baggage. The fact that many candidates who emulated his style, such as defeated Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, fared the worst on Tuesday also underscores Trump’s own loss in 2020. His expectation that GOP candidates endorse his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen kept them mired in a backward-looking and conspiratorial message that turned off many voters.
Indeed, if there’s one thing that animates the American voter it’s a compelling vision of the future. And few things turn off the voters more than rehashing the past. For independents and some Republicans, rehashing the 2020 election was not a winning strategy in 2022.
But Trump voters aren’t concerned about the future or the past. Their focus is on the man. Like Democrats who didn’t care that Barack Obama was a mediocre politician with a shallow mind and authoritarian leanings, so, too, many Republicans don’t care what Trump has done or what he might do. They have projected all their hopes and dreams onto Trump’s personae and see him as their single combat champion, battling the woke left and attacking all their enemies mercilessly.
This sort of cult of personality works for a while but eventually goes stale. And unfortunately, in too many places, this did not add up to an electoral majority.
The question is whether the base of the GOP will recognize it cannot win the presidency alone and independent voters will not help them if they don’t like the GOP nominee. Our existential crises as Republicans are not the same for independent voters, many of whom want to vote for someone, not against someone, and want to like their candidates, not be constantly exhausted by them.
Pennsylvania voters chose John Fetterman because they knew him and had voted for him for Lt. Governor before his stroke and, after his stroke, still preferred him to a Trump-picked New Jerseyian who couldn’t pronounce the names of local Pennsylvania businesses.
You really think they’re going to vote for Trump in 2024?
But Republicans will not be rid of Trump so easily. Even if Trump is rejected by Republican primary voters in 2024, he is likely to run as a third-party candidate as long as he remains out of jail and the Republican base believes in him.
The former president has proven his lack of interest in party success. He sabotaged the 2021 Senate runoff election in Georgia by questioning the integrity of the vote before it even took place. And it should surprise no one if he attempts something similar in the coming Georgia Senate runoff election. Donald Trump thrives on chaos and the rage of his political opponents.
Neither is good for the Republican Party going forward.