When Republican Party is infected with Trumpism, can anyone else win nomination?
Most analysts, and plenty of Republicans, seem to know that Donald Trump can no longer win a national election. But can anyone else, including Ron DeSantis, win with Trump’s voters?
Way back in 2015, we all got to see then-candidate Donald Trump lay out his vision for America after he descended that infamous golden escalator in Trump Tower.
It was, in a word, bleak. It included “beating” China, Japan, and Mexico, the latter of which was sending drugs, crime and rapists to our borders, according to him. We should have taken Iraqi oil, he said. “Our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work,” he said. “Free trade is terrible,” unless you have a good negotiator, he said. “I would build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” he said.
He’d go on to say and do much worse. But even back then, it was clear that Trump didn’t care about the Republican Party, and he really didn’t care about conservatism.
That’s why early on, Never-Trumpers like me were bearish on his candidacy — we knew he’d be really, really bad for the right. I used to say he wore the Republican Party like a rented tuxedo to get elected, and that afterward it would end up crumpled in the corner, wrinkled, soiled, stained and full of cigarette burns.
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We were right. In the four years that Trump was president, Democrats took the House, the Senate and the White House, and the Republican Party is now irrevocably tainted by Trump’s ugliest misdeeds: kids in cages, a rise in right-wing extremism, the spread of conspiracy theories and junk science, impeachments, an insurrection, election denialism, investigations, indictments.
Many Republicans don’t seem at all bothered by either the party’s continued losing or the reputation Trump has gained them, happy to double and triple down on unpopular MAGA policies and the cheap calorie culture wars.
And those who say they want to win again — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — still don’t seem willing to dump the Trump detritus and return to conservative ideas and principles.
DeSantis has made being anti-woke his entire personality, and apparently hopes to coast through a primary touting very unpopular bans on abortion, books, curriculum, diversity programs and more. Great plan, governor.
Former Ambassador Nikki Haley also talks about the future, and putting a fresh face on the Republican Party. That sounds good, but we’ve yet to hear exactly what parts of Trumpism she’s willing to jettison.
Even South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the most likable and arguably the most principled of the bunch, plans to target evangelicals and Trump voters with his optimism, but those are two groups Trump has conditioned to ignore moral and intellectual conservatism and traffic increasingly in a politics of revenge.
Most analysts, and plenty of Republicans, seem to know that Trump can no longer win a national election. President Joe Biden and DeSantis are banking on it. Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy recently pointed to the 2022 midterms as proof.
“The president’s kind of high-profile endorsement of those candidates actually hurt those candidates, at least in the general election,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “So if past is prologue, that means Trump is going to have a hard time in those swing states, which means that he cannot win a general election.”
And, according to sports betting sites, Biden still has the best odds in 2024.
But the real question is, can any Republican win a national election in the era of Trump?
Some seem to think so. Bloomberg analyst Jonathan Bernstein writes in the Washington Post that DeSantis’s path could follow that of another political upstart who had a rocky beginning: Barack Obama, who faced two strong candidates, senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton and former Sen. John Edwards.
Of course, none of them had Trump to contend with.
Trump’s former press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, agrees that DeSantis can win, but suggests he should do so by running to the right of Trump:
“If I’m on the DeSantis campaign, I’m looking at this, and I’m saying, ‘Where am I to the right of Trump? I’m to the right of him on Disney and corporate America and fighting for our children; I’m to the right of him on abortion; I’m to the right of him on vaccination mandates.’ ”
Again, this might help him win a primary, but all of this is unpopular with a majority of voters. It’s an odd strategy to try to run as Trump-on-steroids.
So the big question remains: Does Trumpism make it impossible just for Trump to win? Or for any Republican? We’re about to find out.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.
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