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The Right Resistance: Ahead of 2024, is it fair for conservatives to criticize Donald Trump?

It’s over. Mike Pence will not be Donald Trump’s running mate in 2024 (assuming the former president confirms what everyone knows is a certainty and announces his third candidacy for the White House).

Close followers of the back-and-forth in Republican party politics would barely bat an eyelash at the notion that there won’t be any “Trump-Pence 2024” bumper stickers to buy for their cars, or sharp looking T-shirts to don to try and be positioned behind the candidate at one of his massive nationally televised rallies. The press tried hard to get John Lennon and Paul McCartney to reconcile during the 70’s but it never happened, either.


The reasons for no 2024 Trump/Pence reunion are many, but the top two are: One, Mike Pence is most likely running as the head of his own ticket in two years, and two, Trump feels like he can pick anyone he wants to join him and it won’t make any difference to Republican primary voters. He’s probably correct in that belief, though if Trump leaves the proverbial reservation and goes full-on establishment with his selection (like Nikki Haley), he’ll lose votes. He won’t do it. But last week the former president made official what everyone’s been thinking up to this point. David M. Drucker reported at the Washington Examiner:


“Former President Donald Trump is effectively ruling out tapping former Vice President Mike Pence as his running mate should he mount a third White House bid in 2024 and win the Republican nomination...


“Trump continues to insist [Pence had the authority to overturn the election]. He pointed to bipartisan talks on Capitol Hill to reform the Electoral Count Act, the law governing the congressional certification of Electoral College results, as proof his vice president could have thrown out electoral votes from various states and facilitated a second term for the Trump-Pence ticket. The former president called Pence a ‘really fine person’ but signaled their relationship might be irrevocably broken...


“Trump, throughout his political career, has often feuded with close associates — even appearing to excommunicate them from his inner circle, only to welcome them back later with open arms. That is always a possibility with Pence. The two developed a close and productive working relationship in 2016 after Trump tapped the Indiana governor and former 12-year House member to be his running mate...”


Well, yes, it’s conceivable Trump could change his mind about Pence, but it’s also possible he might go and beg forgiveness from every political enemy he’s ever made, too. Stranger things have happened -- especially when talking about Donald Trump -- but the likelihood of the bombastic flamethrower Trump ever doing such a thing is next to nil. Not only would Trump not seek out Pence to come back, there’s no way the former vice president would ever agree to being Trump’s backup again. There’s too much history to overlook. Forgive and forget? Maybe. Reunite for another tour? Uh-uh.


Think of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Would Brady, now that he’s un-retired, ever settle for riding the bench and serving as Rodgers’s insurance policy? Or vice versa? Egos alone would foreclose any chance that a dream partnership would take place. Why keep talking about it?


The establishment media (of which Drucker is part, though the Washington Examiner writer is definitely better than most mainstream sources) keeps the subject of Trump and Pence and 2024 alive to draw eyeballs to their regular reports of “tension” between the 2020 GOP ticket mates. There’s obviously been a break in their formerly solid friendship, but they’re not exactly throwing poison-tipped darts at each other, either.


Theirs wasn’t a nasty divorce, more like an annulment and a mostly peaceful separation and parting of ways.


A day before Drucker filed his story, there was a piece at Politico that suggested potential Trump 2024 rivals are starting to lose their inhibitions concerning mentioning the former president, perhaps laying the groundwork to challenge him in the upcoming (in two years) GOP primaries. Those listed were Pence (who jabbed at Trump for being too close to Vlad Putin among other things), Senator Tom Cotton (who recently took Trump to task for helping to pass criminal justice reform while president) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (who said he regrets going along with the federal government’s recommended COVID-19 lockdowns two years ago, a shot at Trump).


All three had something substantive to say about Trump’s policies. None of them were particularly harsh or directly disrespectful to the 45th president. I believe most conservatives would welcome Republicans issuing tips and reminders to Trump on where he came up short in moving the cause of liberty during his four years in power. It’s fair game, no?


But the greater question becomes, is it reasonable to criticize Trump in the first place?


While it’s never easy to outright disparage the man who’s meant so much to the Republican Party’s return to credibility (somewhat, there’s still Mitch McConnell, right?) and brought possible electoral dominance after this year’s midterm elections, Trump very much could use a reasonable amount of internal criticism heading into 2024. This is true for a few reasons:


First, as good as Trump was, he wasn’t perfect. Failure to point out his considerable flaws lends the impression that conservatives were and still are willing to condone his shortcomings. To do so only lends credence to the Democrats’ and #NeverTrumpers’ incessant and false claims that conservatives and Republicans live under some sort of trance regarding Trump, and that we believe he’s infallible and never does anything wrong.


This couldn’t be further from the truth. Trump enjoys a cult of personality, but he’s no second coming of the messiah.


Trump is both his strongest asset and worst enemy at the same time. There is no better pitchman for the Make America Great Again agenda, but sometimes he veers off topic and makes cringeworthy comments regarding people (“Megyn Kelly had blood coming from her eyes, blood coming from her whatever”) where he should’ve known better. It isn’t just “locker room talk” when the media cameras are rolling. Keeping the personal insults to a minimum should be his goal. Look at Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor spares no one from a good pointed insult, but he does so in such a way as to not infuriate anyone -- except for maybe Joe Biden.


Most conservatives and Republicans would welcome another Trump presidential run -- or at least vote for him. But he’s not blemish-less and can’t be treated like he is.


Second, because of Trump’s age, it’s always a good idea to keep grooming the next-in-line. There’s no shortage of establishment media discussion about senile Joe Biden’s status, but it should be pointed out -- repeatedly -- that Trump would be the second oldest president ever to be inaugurated if he wins the next presidential election.


Trump appears to be in excellent health and, as I’ve consistently observed, his energy level is phenomenal and inspiring to everyone, including much younger folks. But there haven’t been any recent updates on whether he’s altered or changed some of his quirkier habits that can’t be good for anybody, must less someone of his advanced maturity and stress level.


Has Trump improved his sleep habits? I’m no doctor, but staying up all night watching TV news and sending text messages (instead of his social media blurbs) can’t be good for anyone’s health. Lifelong habits are hard to break, but efforts must be made to get Trump to rest more. He doesn’t need to appoint someone to tell him to go to bed, but a little self-discipline and an admission that he could use a nudge every now and then would help.


Also, has Trump worked on his diet? It was no secret during the 2016 campaign and at times during his presidency that the man possesses a fondness for eating only one meal a day and gorging on less than healthy morsels like Big Macs and milk shakes. Remember how Trump bought Pizza Hut, Burger King and Wendy’s for the national champion Clemson football team? He seemed more than familiar with the offerings himself.


Again, no one is saying Trump must adopt Bill Clinton’s post heart-surgery vegan diet, but a nutritionist could provide guidance on how to minimize the worst of his tendencies and cravings. Lastly, and most relevant, Trump needs to be pressed hard to remain sharp for the certain-to-be arduous and ugly 2024 campaign against the Democrat nominee. The country is bound to be in hideous shape by then, so the election stakes are tremendously high. Trump realizes it. Trump’s supporters get it, too.


Trump will have been out of power for four years and away from full-time campaigning for a long time. He’ll need a tune-up just like any other politician would. Bring it on.


It came as no shock last week when former President Trump ruled out teaming with Mike Pence again on the 2024 Republican Party presidential ticket. If elections are always about the future, it wouldn’t be beneficial to keep relitigating the famous GOP schism from 2020. If the focus will be on winning, let the men go their separate ways. And stick to the end goal.


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