Is he a stone cold loser? The Wall Street Journal editorial page, not to mention its owner Rupert Murdoch, certainly appear to think so. The verdict on Thursday was crushing: “He has now flopped in 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.” The “he” in question is, of course, Donald J. Trump, or, as President Joe Biden likes to put it, the former guy.
Except that he isn’t really. So far, the Trump balloon has failed to pop, at least in the GOP, propelled ever upwards by fresh injections of helium, or, more prosaically, cash from an obedient base. The conundrum that Trump presents has long been that the only thing worse than him serving as leader of the GOP might be him not heading it.
Trump reportedly threw a tantrum on election night, blaming everyone but himself for the GOP’s slender gains in the midterms. As he put it before the election, if the GOP won, he would deserve all the credit, but if they lost, he wouldn’t take any blame at all. Now that the latter has occurred, Trump has seamlessly moved on to touting his own prospects in 2024. He wants to run again, which terrifies the party elders. Trump has, among other things, singlehandedly denied Senator Mitch McConnell, whom he likes to dub “old crow,” the chance to serve as majority leader. Kevin McCarthy may achieve his dream of becoming speaker of the House, but just barely. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene may well lead a rebellion against him.
It has begun to dawn on Democrats as well that Trump is a one-man wrecking crew of the GOP. That’s why they helped boost his candidates during this primary season, who promptly flamed out during the general election. Herschel Walker is likely to be the next to go. Democrats should offer Trump free accommodations in Georgia, where he can campaign as much as he wants for Walker. They might even contemplate another intervention into the Republican primaries, this time in the presidential ones to help boost Trump’s fortunes. He appears to be the one man who can ensure Biden’s reelection.
Trump is regularly painted as a threat to American democracy, but he is actually its savior. He’s an inadvertent Paul Revere. No one has done more to demonstrate to Americans the peril represented by a demagogic cult leader.
The conundrum for the GOP will be retaining the voters he attracted while stifling his own candidacy. The Wall Street Journal editorial was an opening shot in what looks to be a fusillade of criticism directed at Trump. Perhaps he will have to beat as ignominious a retreat as Vladimir Putin is currently conducting in Kherson.
The more likely scenario is that a battle royale will develop within the ranks of the GOP. The Stefaniks and the Vances and the Bankses have already plighted their loyalty to him. They will go down with the ship. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin sense weakness and are ready to pounce.
In 2016, Trump was able to mount a stealth attack to win the Republican nomination as his opponents steadily underestimated him. No longer. This time it is Trump who will be on the defensive. Yet even if the party denies him the nomination, he’s fully capable of running as a third-party candidate. As much as he may despise Biden, he would rather see him win a second term than watch DeSantis become president.