Today Nikki Haley formally announces her thoroughly hopeless campaign for the 2024 Presidential nomination. Give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s running for Vice President. Ron DeSantis has gained most attention in recent days for his continued unwillingness to engage Donald Trump’s mounting attacks. Meanwhile every other conceivable contender for the nomination remains mired in low single-digit support. It’s hard to know what to make of this incipient primary campaign, not least because it’s so unprecedented in modern American politics to have a defeated former President running to be President again. But if we step back from the details we can see a clarifying picture. There is no candidate in the race whose campaign isn’t entirely about Donald Trump. And that is probably the best reason to think Donald Trump will be the eventual nominee.
You may say, well, what about the donor class abandoning him? What about the declining poll support? What about the fact that he’s quite likely to be under indictment during the campaign?
When I look at these points individually I find them pretty convincing too. I can already think of several of you who are going to take me to task on one or more of these arguments. But consider the different candidacies. Haley is unwilling to mention Donald Trump. Mike Pompeo, Kristi Noem, Glenn Youngkin and all the other equally impossible candidacies are similarly unwilling to speak the man’s name, even though their possible candidacies are based on forcing him from the stage. DeSantis is running to dethrone Trump as chief warlord of the GOP, the savior who pushes Trump off the stage by becoming the new Trump who isn’t Trump. Did you follow that? Are 30 or 40 percent of Republicans really sold on Ron DeSantis? Or is he just the placeholder for those who want someone else beside Trump? If Trump were to drop out of the race, die or be otherwise removed from the scene would DeSantis still have so much support? Doubtful.
Even though each one is there to make the case against Trump (without saying it) they are all like planets orbiting the sun of Donald Trump. Look at each one and try to imagine what their candidacies are even about if Trump didn’t exist. They’re all emanations of him. DeSantis is just the biggest planet orbiting the sun.
Ironically the single candidate who has some claim to the contrary is Mike Pence, who is perhaps the least likely to win the nomination of them all. That’s because he’s a pre-Trump figure. He has some policy logic in the pre-Trump era when those things had some bearing on elections.
If the GOP were ready to move on from Trump they would be having a campaign that wasn’t entirely about him. But that is just what they’re doing.
The final part of this equation is something that sits just beneath a lot of the polls showing Trump’s ebbing support. Most of the Republicans who’ve soured on Trump haven’t actually soured on Trump. It’s a bit different than that. They think other people have soured on Trump and thus he can’t win another election or that he’s less likely to win another election or be a standard bearer who can win back Congress. That’s an opposition, a loss of faith, that can fall away pretty quickly.