What Is the Plan, Republicans?

Former president Trump speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, August 12, 2023. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

The broader public hates Donald Trump. Nominating him and then pretending he’s been cheated when he loses is not a strategy; it’s self-destruction.

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The broader public hates Donald Trump. Nominating him and then pretending he’s been cheated when he loses is not a strategy; it’s self-destruction.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE {M} ay I risk the wrath of the hive mind and ask Republican primary voters what their plan is? Is there one? According to pretty much every poll I’ve seen in the last year, Donald Trump is running away with the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination. This is not a favorability test; it means something concrete: It means that, instead of a new candidate being the Republican nominee in 2024, the Republican nominee in 2024 will be Donald Trump.

And the broader public hates Donald Trump.

I have no doubt that there are lots of Republican primary voters who do not know many people who hate Donald Trump. Perhaps you are one of them. But the thing is: Those people that you don’t know still get to vote. There are a lot more of them than there are of you. And like it or not, they are sending about as strong a message as it is possible to send that they do not want Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee in 2024. Unlike the party’s primary voters, they do not believe that the many charges against Trump are frivolous. The bringing of those charges has not caused them to like him more than they did before. The public’s impression of him has worsened, rather than improved, over time. Again, this may not be your personal experience, but the data are clear: The gap between the Republican primary electorate and the voting public is now comparable to the gap between progressives in elite institutions and the voting public. Remember that New Yorker cover showing the cramped and myopic view of America that is exhibited by the residents of New York City? At present, one could mock up a similar drawing depicting the GOP base.

The warning signs could not be brighter. Survey after survey after survey shows that the people whom the Republican Party needs to win if it is to re-take the White House — the people who actually decide elections in America — do not share the primary electorate’s assumptions about Donald Trump. Moreover, they are not going to share those assumptions. Ever. Per ABC/Ipsos, “Fifty percent of Americans say Trump should suspend his presidential campaign, while 33% don’t think he should.” Per AP/NORC, 53 percent of Americans say that they will “definitely” not support Trump, with another 11 percent on top of that saying that they will “probably” not support him. Per NBC, 60 percent of Americans don’t want Trump to run at all. In other words: Voters didn’t want him in; now that he’s in, they want him out; and if he stays in, they’ll reject him. And why wouldn’t they? A majority of the public thinks that the charges against Trump are serious, and has added that judgment to a view that was unfavorable to begin with. Per an averaging of the polls, Trump’s approval rating is 17 points underwater. That Joe Biden is also unpopular does not change these facts.

So: What’s the plan? Is the sky going to open and anoint Donald Trump president? Are the many charges that Trump has invited against himself simply going to disappear? Is the public going to have a miraculous change of heart and start wandering around sharing “based memes”? Even without all his present baggage, Trump was a lousy candidate. He narrowly beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, and then lost badly to Joe Biden. At no point did he win the popular vote; at no point did he even do better than Mitt Romney in the popular vote; at no point did the populist uprising supposedly heralded by his victory over Clinton materialize. 2016 was a fluke — the product of a series of narrow victories in states that Trump then lost in 2020, and that emphatically rejected his pitch in 2022. It cannot, and will not, happen again.

The harsh truth is that Donald Trump lucked out once, and then proved a terrible drag in every subsequent election. If he is nominated in 2024, he will prove a drag again. How do I know this? I know this because, helpfully, the voting public is letting us all know it before Republicans make yet another terrible mistake. If the party’s plan is simply to ignore this information for the time being, and then, when it all becomes horribly clear and the Democrats have won power once again, to pretend stupidly that Trump has been cheated once again, then it will deserve everything that comes to it.

The problem for the rest of us? We won’t deserve any such thing.

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