Trump Routs the Republican Establishment Once Again – DNyuz


Eight years ago, when Donald Trump romped to victory in New Hampshire’s Republican presidential primary, his critics within the party could be forgiven for not knowing what to do about him. Though Trump had been a mainstay of right-wing cable news for years, he was a political neophyte. But this much was clear: He was unapologetically not a traditional conservative—indeed, he had long been a Democrat—and he took particular glee in spitting in the face of the GOP establishment. So his rivals for the 2016 nomination largely made the same bet: Stay out of his line of fire and hope that voters come to their senses. We all know how well that turned out.

Eight years later, Trump has again romped to victory in the Granite State. The result not only suggests that he’s on a glide path to the Republican nomination, but also marks the biggest and most consequential failure yet for his opponents in the party. Republican power brokers and Trump’s aspiring successors have for years agonized over and studied him, hoping to somehow break his hold on the party. It is clear today that their efforts to thwart him have failed miserably—because they still, incredibly, don’t understand him.

For a time last year, a different outcome was at least imaginable, as three seemingly viable alternatives emerged in the Republican field: Ron DeSantis, a popular and pugilistic Florida governor who emulated Trump at every opportunity; Tim Scott, a sunny and young conservative senator who emphasized his faith; and Nikki Haley, who both served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and who represented the sharpest break from him, in terms of policy. As of Wednesday, only Haley is still standing, and she might not be for much longer.

These opponents each embodied different theories about what a post-Trump GOP could look like. Haley and Scott tried to present themselves as breaks from the former president’s dark, violent, fascistic approach to politics—but without criticizing Trump too fiercely. The thinking, apparently, was that after a series of electoral defeats and January 6, Republican voters were tired of Trump and wanted something different. Haley, in particular, contrasted herself with Trump on foreign policy, vociferously backing support for Ukraine. At the same time, both Haley and Scott largely followed the 2016 playbook: Avoid Trump as much as possible, and hope voters come around.

The problem with this approach was its total lack of conviction. While she differs from Trump on foreign policy, Haley largely follows his lead domestically. She, too, opposes Obamacare and laws that protect trans people, while favoring tax cuts and restrictions on abortion access. (Like Trump, she plays coy about what her actual policy on banning abortion actually is.) But she portrays herself as kinder and gentler—and that’s exactly the problem. Republican voters have shown again and again that they like that Trump fights, that he’s mean. Anyone who has watched one of his rallies could tell you.

DeSantis and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, in contrast, understood that the cruelty was the point. Both bet that voters wanted a candidate who sounded like Trump but was younger and more competent: They both leaned into the former president’s draconian anti-immigration record and made social issues, particularly regarding gender and sexuality, centerpieces of their campaign. The operative theory was that voters liked Trump’s policies: They wanted candidates who were scrappers but who, unlike the former president, wouldn’t get distracted with endless scandals and 2 a.m. social media barrages.

This was the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Trump theory of Republican politics: That you could, in the aggregate, recreate all or most of Trump’s appeal while sanding off his rough edges and, in doing so, build a winning campaign. In 2016, Trump’s opponents were caught on the back foot: They were rooted in an older version of politics. In 2023, he no longer had a monopoly on extremist rhetoric. Ramaswamy and DeSantis ran as people who had the vision and the competence to actually see Trump’s wildest authoritarian fantasies to fruition. Want to actually see Trumpism in action? Vote for them.

The problem here was twofold. For one, if voters wanted Trumpism they could get it from Trump himself. Why vote for an alternative when you could have the real thing? (It certainly didn’t help that, even in his diminished state, Trump remains a charismatic political force while DeSantis and Ramaswamy are at best off-putting weirdos.) The second problem was that they were emulating Trump. Much of the former president’s appeal comes from his apparent authenticity. While other candidates triangulate and imitate, Trump is off the cuff. It’s proof to his supporters that he doesn’t care about saying the right thing just to get elected. (That a spray-tanned, serial fraudster would become an avatar of authenticity is itself an indictment of Republican—and American—politics, but that’s the subject of another column.)

Part of the problem for the Republican Party is that “Trumpism” itself remains as intellectually vacuous as ever. There is not, and never has been, a Trump doctrine. Trumpism is whatever Trump says it is—and that changes all the time, which is just fine for voters who see whatever they want to in him while ignoring the glaring contradictions. (He, for instance, both boasts about having repealed Roe v. Wade and is the biggest skeptic of Republican abortion bans in the GOP presidential field.) This makes Trump very hard to replace when he remains on the stage, but will even make it difficult to be his political heir. Trump has never shown any interest in naming a successor or building a movement that will outlive him: He is lording over one that serves his interests and his alone.

But the biggest problem is that, with the exception of Chris Christie—so loathed by Republican voters that he never had a chance—every candidate in the 2024 race wanted voters not only to think that they liked Trump, but that they were like Trump, either in terms of policy, temperament, or both. They thought they could fool voters into accepting a substitute without ever having to attack or criticize the man who had consistently led in primary polls from the moment he left office in 2021. Most importantly, they thought they could win an election against him without ever drawing a serious contrast with him. Four years from now, maybe they won’t have to. But this year, like all of the years prior since Trump descended a gilded escalator in 2015, they will have to make peace with Trump’s total domination of the GOP—and with their ignorance about how he does it.

The post Trump Routs the Republican Establishment Once Again appeared first on New Republic.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *