Thursday, February 02, 2023


So today we have overlapping stories about the 2024 Republican presidential field from a New York Times team led by Maggie Haberman ("Eager to Challenge Trump, Republicans Aren’t So Eager to Be the First") and from former Timesman Jonathan Martin at Politico ("The Cold Calculus Behind the Shrinking GOP Presidential Field"). From Martin we learn that there are people in the GOP, and particularly in its money wing, who are capable of grasping the obvious: that a field with too many candidates could help Donald Trump, and that it's already a two-man race:
“They don’t have a Trump problem, they have a DeSantis problem,” explains Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist, of the potential field. “It’s going to be hard fighting for the other 60 to 70 percent of the vote [not going to Trump] when another guy could get 90 percent of it.”

... That DeSantis has already burned in the conservative psyche was on display this week in Mississippi, where far-right State Sen. Chris McDaniel — whose proto-Trump 2014 primary nearly toppled then-Sen. Thad Cochran — opened a campaign for lieutenant governor by asking Republican voters: “Do you want a Trump or DeSantis, or do you want a Mitt Romney or a Liz Cheney?”

... Among the party’s top contributors ... there’s simply no appetite for a prolonged, fractured primary that could pave the way for another Trump nomination-by-plurality.

... the bundler bed-wetting about whether a larger field will merely open a path for Trump puts the onus on most every non-Trump candidate to demonstrate why they won’t just siphon votes from a single alternative.

“The mega donors are going to keep their checkbooks in the desk for a while because they saw what happened in ’16,” said Dave Carney, a longtime GOP consultant.
But Martin still dreams about a wide-open field and all the insipid stories that will allow him to write:
However, the history most on the minds of the Republicans considering the race, who are not named Trump or DeSantis, is what happens when there’s a bloody battle between top contenders. Spoiler: It augurs well for a third candidate.

This is what’s giving hope to the other Republicans most likely to run.
What "history" is Martin talking about? Did the Clinton-Sanders battle in 2016 give Martin O'Malley the nomination? Did Clinton and Obama beat each other up so badly in 2008 that John Edwards stole the crown? Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller were polling decently on the eve of the 1976 Republican contest. Why didn't they get in the race, knowing that Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan were about to start roughing each other up?

History actually shows that when there’s a bloody battle between two dominant contenders, one of them wins -- as you'd expect. Some of the candidates who haven't declared, or who've announced that they won't run, seem to realize that -- or their potential donors do.

But this isn't the only reason that the field is limited to Trump so far. Martin writes:
... a number of would-be Republican candidates this time see the party still in the former president’s grip, cast an eye at his preemptive attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and say: who needs it, I’ll check back in 2028 when, one way or another, Trump is out of the picture.
Haberman et al. make the wannabes seem even more cowardly:
Contenders have so far been unwilling to officially jump into the race, wary of becoming a sacrificial lamb on Mr. Trump’s altar of devastating nicknames and eternal fury.
"Devastating nicknames"? Seriously? Like "Ron DeSanctimonious"? Would-be candidates are afraid of that?

It's clear that Trump no longer has the energy or the focus to be an effective playground bully. Against DeSantis, he barely seems to be trying, and against Nikki Haley, who's about to anounce her candidacy, he's not making an effort at all, as Haberman and her team note.
He revealed to reporters over the weekend that she had reached out to him to let him know that she might run — and instead of sounding angry, he sounded almost delighted at the prospect of having a direct target, and a more crowded field.
Or maybe they both know he's planning to pick her as his running mate if he wins.*

But Trump can't even summon the energy to hit one of his favorite punching bags, Chris Christie. Here was Christie a couple of days ago:

Christie has said he's considering a presidential run. The old Trump would have lashed out at Christie almost immediately. The Trump of 2023 can't rouse himself to say anything.

Get in the race, you cowards. Trump is a paper tiger now. He can't hurt you. He can't hurt anybody. Remember how he turned Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio into laughingstocks in 2016? When was the last time he did that to anyone?

Stay out of the race if you think you can't beat DeSantis. Don't stay out of the race because you're afraid Trump will be mean to you. He's too weak to fight.

*UPDATE: I spoke too soon:
Trump on Wednesday shared a video on his social media platform, Truth Social, of Haley saying she wouldn't challenge Trump for the 2024 nomination if he were to run. He raised the video again during his Hewitt interview.

"Nikki suffers from something that's a very tough thing to suffer from," he said. "She's overly ambitious."
But as insults go, this is nothing. I've been hit harder in pillow fights. He's extremely beatable if this is the best he's got.

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