With the way the 2024 Republican presidential primary race has shaped up to this point, you’re forgiven if it’d slipped your mind – or you flat out forgot -- that another nationally
televised party debate is scheduled for one week from today (in Simi Valley, California, at the vaunted Ronald Reagan Presidential Library).
Former president and two-time defending nominee Donald Trump remains way out in front of the other party candidates, having opened up a lead well beyond the margin of error both nationally and in every early voting state, making this year’s so-called horserace more akin to a match race between Trump and the rest of the field. Of course, in such a scenario, Trump would be awarded a half-mile head start and the rest of the runners would compete like heck for second place.
Despite the lopsided status of the race, each of the not-Trump candidates seems to be going about his or her business fighting the good fight, traveling the lengths of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as though whatever they do on any particular day could make all the difference. Maybe it will. For those who remain convinced that Trump is one, vulnerable, and two, destined to lose the 2024 general election against president senile Joe Biden (or whomever the evil party ends up nominating), they cling to hope things will turn around.
Rather than focus on who’s thus far qualified for next week’s debate stage, perhaps it would be more productive to discuss who is still viable in the race. The topic was brought up – again – recently by none other than retiring (skedaddling?) Utah Senator Mitt Romney, whose parting (he’ll still be in the senate for another year and a half, unfortunately) words weren’t all that complimentary for a host of very prominent politicians, including former vice president Mike Pence.
In an article titled “Pence responds to Romney remarks on viability in 2024 GOP race: ‘I’m running to win’”, Caroline Vakil reported at The Hill:
“Romney, who announced [last week] that he would not be seeking reelection in the Beehive State, told The Washington Post in an interview ahead of his announcement that ‘I don’t think [Pence] has … any delusions that he’s going to become the nominee… I think he’s running for other reasons. One, to repair his legacy. … What he’s saying is important to be said. … I’m glad he’s running and saying those things. I respect that,’ Romney added.
“But Pence disputed that sentiment during a NewsNation town hall with anchor Leland Vittert...
“’I’m running for president of the United States because I think this country’s in a lot of trouble,’ Pence said when asked about Romney’s comments. ‘And I’m running to win… I’m running to win the Republican nomination, and I’m running to win a better future for American families that are struggling under the failed policies from the Biden administration at home and abroad. Look, I’ll leave Sen. Romney with his opinions, but [the] people who know me, know I’m in it to win it, and not a victory for me.’”
Victory certainly had to be the original goal for Pence, as he sought a worthwhile way to come back from his infamous role as Republican bag-holder on January 6, 2021. Many conservatives – mainly Trump supporters – have judged Pence harshly for his actions on that day, and no matter how many times the former veep explains his rationale for doing what he did back then, it doesn’t appear that reconciliation between the two points-of-view can be achieved anytime soon.
I don’t assume anything, but gentlemanly Mike likely figured he didn’t want his long and respected political career to come down to folks remembering him only for what happened at the conclusion of his service as Donald Trump’s vice president. Perhaps I’m wrong, but as the 2024 race stands now, Trump’s loyal (up until 1/6/21) second-in-command has his work cut out for him if he does indeed intend to win.
Just like I don’t think certain-to-be hall-of-fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers would settle for hanging up his cleats after being injured on his fourth play as a New York Jet (having suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear a week ago), Pence hopes for a positive legacy to live by. It’s not an unreasonable desire, but so far, Mike’s prospects aren’t looking so promising.
It’s not that Pence – or anyone else – should listen to the fortune-telling observations of loser RINO Mitt Romney, who, once upon a time, was himself under the delusion that he would be the GOP nominee (in 2008 and 2012) and the flip-flopper was further out of his gourd by surmising his brand of establishment stink/wishy-washy neoconservative swamp politics would place him in prime position to beat a skilled fib spreader like Barack Obama.
Tell the truth – the only ones who craved for Mitt Romney to be president were those in his immediate family and the tens of millions of Americans in the anyone-but-Obama faction. The latter category certainly describes me, and I believe history played it out accordingly. But it’s great that Romney opted not to run for reelection in Utah in 2024. He explained it was because America needs a new generation of leaders, but here’s betting the Rom-ster wouldn’t have made it past his state’s nominating process to attempt to face his state’s voters again. “Retiring” from politics was the easy way out for him.
I don’t recall if the 2012 Republican nominee endorsed any of the not-Trump candidates, but here’s guessing it wouldn’t be Ron DeSantis. The Floridian is too much of a decisive executive for the “Let’s make it bipartisan even if the legislation sucks” former Massachusetts governor and pretend conservative from Utah to get behind.
Nevertheless, Romney did bring up some interesting points. Trump’s ever-expanding margin in the GOP race would seemingly rule out viability for each of the other candidates, except for perhaps DeSantis and maybe Ramaswamy. But, if everyone but those two – and Trump – were to bow out, the establishment neoconservatives would still be stuck without a viable horse in the race. The old Bush neocons (such as former Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol) wouldn’t go for either of them. Those who haven’t already exited the party cling to hope that the Trump MAGA phenomenon was only temporary and some “White Knight-type” candidate will swoop in and save the elites from utter ruin.
If Romney thought he could help defeat Trump from the inside, there’s no way he would have agreed to leave – at least not now. The bull crap he tossed out about being too old to stay in the senate was really just a backhanded slap at the former president, who is about nine months older than Mitt. If Joe Biden, who is a very old 80-years-old, weren’t such a corrupted, decrepit old goat, the age issue wouldn’t loom so large this year.
But it does loom large – and doesn’t appear to be making much of a difference to voters in either party. Trump is his usual vigorous, energetic and confident self. Last week, for example, the lifelong real estate developer and reality TV star challenged Biden and the Murdochs (of Fox News and Wall Street Journal ownership) to join him in taking a cognitive proficiency examination, the results of which would be published.
Trump has made a similar pitch in times past, and although a decent percentage of Americans say he, like Biden, is too old, deep down I’m not sure the naysayers really believe it. By including Trump in the “too old” conversation, they’re just being kind to Biden, a man so enfeebled he immediately should be committed to a dementia ward.
Despite all of this, next week’s debate will be important, not only for Mike Pence, but for all of the candidates chasing Trump. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis needs to follow-up on what I thought was a strong showing four weeks ago in Milwaukee, reinforcing his stellar conservative record and acting “presidential” next to less qualified candidates. Guessing that Trump won’t be there and by virtue of his polling position, DeSantis will be the focus of attention – literally – at center stage.
The best DeSantis can hope for in late September of this year is to remain steady and in position to gain on Trump after Thanksgiving when voters get serious about their 2024 choice.
Of all the not-Trump candidates participating next week, Nikki Haley perhaps has the most to prove. As the only GOPer who actually crawled up a point or two after last month, she’ll have to do more than repeat the same tired campaign talking points – “If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.” – and actually distinguish herself for more than her gender -- and for fighting with Vivek Ramaswamy.
The brainy Ramaswamy must put some meat behind his proposals, like how he intends to eliminate 75% of the federal bureaucracy during his first term if elected president. The other candidates – Chris Christie, Pence, Haley, et al. – will be trying to use Vivek as their punching bag again. The Ohioan is a convenient target, since he’s still relatively unknown and hasn’t established himself as someone to take seriously (at least for those who haven’t seen much of him).
Ramaswamy’s newness and novelty will rub off in the near future. He’s got big ideas – “Revolution over Reform”. Can he sell them? Will America trust the presidency to an unknown quantity in his thirties?
As the weeks and months pass and polls don’t change a whole lot, the question of viability for each not-Trump candidate will follow the competitors wherever they go. Donald Trump has his own electability questions, a mystery that may not be solved until the state caucuses and primaries early next year. Will next week’s debate help clarify the picture? We can only hope.
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