The Right Resistance: 2024 GOP primary winner will be hardened by good ol’ fashioned competition
Everyone with any degree of common sense knows Nikki Haley is not going to be president – at least not in 2025, when the next chief executive raises his or her right hand, places their left on a Bible and recites the constitutional oath of office in front of the whole world.
So if Haley is the living embodiment of a nowhere woman today, the question becomes whether the South Carolina opportunist’s entry into the 2024 Republican primary race changes the already developed dynamic in a tangible way. Putting it more succinctly, will Nikki’s presence alter the course of history and knock former president Donald Trump off his lofty perch as race frontrunner… or, in the alternative, detract from Trump’s authentic challengers and pave a new path for his success going forward?
The clues are illusive and only time and events will reveal the answer. As is usually the case, the analysis concentrates on Trump himself. In a piece titled “Trump made one big miscalculation about the field in the 2024 GOP race”, the always astute political observer W. James Antle III wrote at the Washington Examiner:
“Former President Donald Trump's decision to enter the race for the 2024 Republican nomination so early is looking like a mistake as his first major competitor throws her hat into the ring.
“Trump hoped to clear the Republican field of competition by deterring any potential competitors, a move that failed now that former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who had once promised to forgo the race if her old boss declared, has joined him as a candidate. But Trump’s initial premise may also have been mistaken. Instead of freezing the field, he should be saying the more, the merrier...
“In addition to Trump, DeSantis, and Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), former Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, and former Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan are thought to be eyeing the race.”
It is true – Trump, at least by his statements and actions, repeatedly indicated he preferred no one run against him in the GOP primaries and that he deserved the honor alone due to being cheated out of the 2020 victory by the COVID mail-in voting farce coupled with the ruling swamp elite cooking the vote count in favor of senile Joe Biden.
Observers waver back-and-forth on the necessity of reasonable primary competition for Trump, with most commentators, myself included, arguing that the former president must be tested again to earn the nomination, if indeed the race comes to pass as many predict it will. In the meantime, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has risen to exalted status in Republican-land and is currently viewed as Trump’s only legitimate competition for another try at broken-down old goat Biden’s job.
As mentioned above, Nikki Haley isn’t seen as a sharp contender for the GOP title. If anything, she appears to be mounting the effort solely to attract attention and backing for eventually being added to the 2024 ticket as a vice presidential candidate – be it Trump’s, DeSantis’s, or some other conservative who emerges from the potentially nasty scrum.
The future is therefore both eminently predictable and hard to forecast at the same time. Based on past precedent, here’s what I think will happen: heading into the fall, one candidate, most likely Trump, will continue to lead in the polls. If there are debates, the balance may change – a little – based on an individual hopeful’s performance, memorable one-liners, or even more likely, if one of them disqualifies themselves in a Chris Christie/Marco Rubio-like “25 second canned speech” scenario (that took place in New Hampshire seven years ago).
Or, the infamous Rick Perry brain slip where the Texas governor couldn’t remember the third federal department that he would cut if he were elected president. The most promising of candidates would have difficulty recovering from such a memorable – and replay-able – instant in time. It’s a cruel world for fledgling presidential candidates, with most of them living on borrowed time as it is. Provide a stellar reason for the electorate to reject you and chances are they’ll oblige.
So, Trump will probably lead into the fall, with Gov. Ron DeSantis making it a two-man race in terms of poll favor. There could be a week or two-long period where certain candidates rise in the polls and the punditry gets all excited about an “outsider” (or it could be an establishment candidate, too) making a move, only to shrink from expectations in the next debate and then have his or her poll numbers deflate along with their stature. See Kamala Harris, 2020.
For the GOP, think Ben Carson here. In late 2015, when Republicans were tiring of the negative publicity surrounding Donald Trump, they temporarily flirted with Dr. Ben’s calming demeanor and sensible approach to government reform. The establishment media then sunk their fangs into Carson for being a foreign policy novice, and that was pretty much it for the neurosurgeon from Detroit’s chances of contending.
Eventual runner-up Ted Cruz surged towards Christmastime, just ahead of the Iowa caucuses. Cruz gained through the typical process of elimination that voters go through every four years (or whenever there isn’t an incumbent), with the frontrunner looking more or less attractive than the previous month… or even previous week.
2023/2024 doesn’t figure to be any different. Trump and DeSantis appear pretty powerful now, but there will be months – or weeks, or moments – where the fickle voters will look for more alternatives, fanned by flattering or unflattering media reports on each one of top tier candidates. There will be plenty of “bombshell” stories and a few personal surprises along the way. Did anyone anticipate that Bernie Sanders would have a heart attack in the lead-up to the 2020 Democrat primaries?
The media will shift into high gear to try and level DeSantis in some way, figuring the 44-year-old Sunshine State native would step all over Biden (or any other Democrat) in the general election. Meanwhile, the talkers will lean heavily on Trump’s legal issues and connections (if there are any) to the melee on January 6, 2021. Expect to see lots of cropped video footage of that day regardless of who pulls ahead in the GOP primary race.
Or the media could conceivably opt to prop up Trump, betting he would be easier to defeat in November, 2024.
Then there’s the inescapable call for a “Savior” candidate, someone who’s not even in the field, to magically swoop in and rescue the unsatisfied voters by virtue of his or her status as a living and breathing human. It’s human nature, really. You ask a girl to the prom, she says yes, you rent your tux, book your limo, purchase your tickets and everything’s set for the evening of a young lifetime. Then the girl you’ve had your eye on for years suddenly dumps her boyfriend and becomes “available” for that date.
There’s an urge to move on from the gal you “settled” for, but is it right to proverbially switch horses in mid-race?
For most folks, the answer is plainly, “no”. And this is why “White Knight” show ponies rarely go anywhere. Real voters prefer candidates with the intestinal fortitude to stick it out from the outset and lend no credence to the “cherry-pickers” who come late to the game. Or, if you require another visual, the kid who parks himself underneath your team’s basket while the other players play defense and fight the opposite team for possession of the ball.
Who will be 2024’s “White Knight”? There will be some who beg Mitt Romney to get in the race, since he’s an “adult” and “a bipartisan healer” who’s shown willingness to work with both sides and isn’t afraid to name names and make unpopular votes based on self-labeled “principles”. Or someone like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, though the Peach State pol is probably too conservative for establishmentarians to slobber over.
Others? How about Marco Rubio (again)? Or Chris Christie (again)? Or John Kasich (again)?
That’s why a party primary is so valuable – it demonstrates that a candidate has the guts, legitimacy, institutional backing, fundraising, grassroots support, stamina, agenda ideas and wherewithal to cut through all the horsepucky and cross the finish line prepared to do it all again for the general election.
We’ll never know if Trump was serious in desiring no other candidates to challenge him in 2024, but he would benefit from having a large field of competitors to divide up the anti-Trump party vote. DeSantis smells like a rose now, but who’s to say some of the others won’t pick off a sizeable chunk of his primary support?
The real competition will begin when the field winnows from attrition and inevitable campaign withdrawals. The losers will claim “it wasn’t my time” or “such and such won because of their ability to raise money”, or “I’m leaving the race to present a united front” … or some other perfunctory excuse.
The only thing that’s certain today is the 2024 winner will need to earn their position. And we’ll be better off for it.
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