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Why the Republican Party and its Voters Will Not Abandon Donald Trump

Anything can happen between now and 2024, but as Republicans understand, and Democrats begrudgingly acknowledge, there’s more than a decent chance that the White House will return to agree with me that of all the Democrats, arguably the one with the best chance to beat Donald Trump and the worst chance to beat any other Republican nominee is Joe Biden, who would be days shy of his 81st birthday.

In that case, why won’t Republicans finally cut the cord and let Trump sail into the Florida sunset paving the way for Ron DeSantis or some other presidential hopeful with formidable credentials and Trumpian pedigree, but without Trump’s baggage? Why risk trying to win in a squeaker when a near-landslide might be attainable?

For many reasons, some more obvious than others.

There is, of course, brand loyalty, Trump being the ‘brand’ in question here. Not his ties, steaks, or wine, but his founding the MAGA movement and leading it all the way to the presidency.

Then, there’s the undeniable fact that Trump is a proven product. He won in 2016 and in 2020 gained more votes than any incumbent president ever. Can DeSantis do the same? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s not forget that in 1984, many Democrats thought their best hope to beat Ronald Reagan would be astronaut John Glenn, a national hero. Twenty years later, they thought another affable national symbol, General Wesley Clark, could be the one to topple George W. Bush. And in 2008, long before John McCain won the GOP nomination to face Barack Obama in the general election, the Republican heavy favorite was ‘America’s Mayor’, Rudy Giuliani.

But Glenn, Clark, and Giuliani never caught traction on a national scale. (On the other hand, the last governor Republicans were this excited about running for president was Ronald Reagan, who exceeded their highest expectations.)

There’s the sliver of fringe Trump voters who believe he’s fighting a secret battle against a Democrat satanic and pedophilic cabal, run from a DC pizza parlor and resulting in discarded bodies buried underneath the White House lawn, on orders from the Clintons and the Obamas. Thankfully, those uber-conspiracy theorists are probably too small in number to field a baseball team.

And even those who don’t believe those warped tales have been political misfits their entire lives and were lured out of the woodwork by Trump, whom they are convinced is “the best president ever, by far,” and “the only one who really tells the truth and cares about the American people.”

Those Trump absolutists too do not comprise the largest slab of his loyalists.

The most common type of Trump voter is the law-and-order, national security, anti-establishmentarian populist, who is grateful that Trump rescued the party from its country-club, libertarian, and even Evangelical factions. Ideologically, they’d be just as happy with DeSantis, et al. – so why don’t they just cut Trump loose?

For a less obvious but deeply practical reason: they want to win in 2024, and if they reject Trump, he’s not going to go away quietly.

Consider this scenario: the Democrats nominate, say, California Governor Gavin Newsom in 2024. Sure, the prospect of a President Newsom is a national nightmare to half the country (me included), but suppose that DeSantis edges out Trump for the GOP nomination. Is it out of the question to think that Trump couldn’t stomach his protégé beating him out for the nomination? He might be more bent on stopping an “ungrateful, disloyal” DeSantis than keeping a Democrat from winning. He might run as an independent, or even form the MAGA Party. That would split the Republican vote, giving the election to Newsom, about whom Trump might say “we’ve spoken on the phone before. He was very nice to me.”

Of course, to Democrats and Never-Trumper Republicans, the terrifying scenario I just described would be a dream come true. Both sides would love to drive Trump out of politics for good, and each would enjoy an added bonus: The Democrats would have one of their own back in the White House and the Republicans would ease the pain of another loss by the hope of reshaping the party back to its establishmentarian tendencies. Mitt Romney would emerge as its elder statesman and George Will would write about it with glee.

To the rest of us, though, that’s not OK. We’re not always happy with what Trump says or does – even though we think he did much good in his four years in the Oval Office. We’re not in ‘Trump or bust’ mode. If Trump simply stepped aside and endorsed a successor who shared his platform but not his shortcomings, we’d be all for it.

But we are absolutely not going to squander our opportunity to reclaim the White House from the most ineffective president since Jimmy Carter by allowing a Democrat to win by default – as Woodrow Wilson did in 1912 with just 41 percent of the vote, because two Republicans canceled each other out.

Essentially, then, Trump is holding the Republican Party hostage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if they don’t have affection for him and faith in his leadership, but they also realize they have no choice but to go along with him, because he’s got just enough ultra-MAGAns that will follow him off the side of a mountain, who think the Democrats are such cheaters that Republicans won’t ever win another election anyway.

It boils down to this: either do Trump’s bidding, or say hello to President Newsom. And even on Trump’s worst day, I wouldn’t take Newsom over him. Not in a million years.

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