When Donald Trump first entered the 2016 Republican presidential primary, he was more of a punchline than a candidate because no one imagined he could win.
Now, Trump is all anyone ever talks about because nearly everyone, save several of his Republican challengers, believes he's inevitable. While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis briefly offered the GOP a glimmer of hope that the party could have its MAGA cake and eat it too, chastened Republicans are already talking like losers, according to a Politico Magazine piece by Jonathan Martin.
“We’re just going to have to go into the basement, ride out the tornado and come back up when it’s over to rebuild the neighborhood," said one Republican strategist, who declined to be named.
But the problem isn't that the twice-impeached, criminally indicted former president is unbeatable, it's that Republicans are too craven to go all in on beating him. Literally three people are officially in the race and many Republicans are all but throwing in the towel. It's like a disease—no one is willing to stick their neck out, particularly after they all watched erstwhile GOP rising stars like former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming get drummed out of her leadership role and then her seat for possessing the rarest of Republican qualities: a spine.
The only Republican members who are willing to go on the record against Trump talk in code. Take GOP Rep. Mike Lawler from upstate New York, who flipped a Biden district last cycle and knows a Trump nomination would doom his reelection.
“Whoever the nominee is going to be needs to be forward-looking and they need to be focused on the American people, not the grievances of the past, and it certainly can’t be about the 2020 election,” Lawler said, trying to thread the needle of making an anti-Trump pitch that avoids summoning his wrath.
Trump is also shaping the Senate Republican field without lifting a finger, as potential candidates wait and wonder whether an alternative will emerge. If Trump looks inevitable, "it makes it harder to get in," one would-be GOP Senate candidate said because Trump's a killer in the suburbs.
For years, Washington journalists consistently reported that many, if not most, congressional Republicans secretly loathed Trump during his tenure. Despite these many colorful reports, Cheney remains the sole Republican who was willing to lambaste Trump, vote for his impeachment, and still run for reelection. Every other Republican Trump critic (of which there were few) either receded into the woodwork to salvage their political careers or retired from Congress.
Even the Republican National Committee (RNC), whose primary job is to help Republicans win elections, is cowed by Trump. The RNC is currently putting the finishing touches on an examination of why Republicans so severely underperformed in the midterms, and the report never once mentions Trump, nor does it name any his losing candidates.
Naturally, Trump is turning that cowardice against the RNC, threatening to not participate in the GOP debates. During a recent dinner at Mar-a-Lago, Trump verbally polled members of the Florida congressional delegation who have endorsed him about whether he should dignify the first debate with his presence.
It's all a ridiculous bluff—Trump would never let a bunch of challengers soak up the limelight of a nationally televised debate. He's simply using the threat to bully the RNC, which has already made peace with being exceedingly weak for yet another cycle.
One of the only Republicans willing to broadside Trump is former rival-turned ally-turned enemy Chris Christie, whose main calling card as a potential GOP 2024 candidate is simply the fact that he's the only one willing to take on Trump.
“I think that the majority of the party doesn’t want him,” Christie told Politico, pegging Trump as a surefire loser. But asked if Republicans had tired of losing yet, Christie responded, “I think we’re going to find out.”
At a speech in New Hampshire last week, the former New Jersey governor tested the presidential waters, asking attendees whether they were content to fold already and let Trump walk away with all the chips.
“What you need to decide is: Are we just going to put this race on autopilot, ‘he’s ahead, let him win, let’s see what happens, how bad can it be?’”
Bad is, of course, a relative term. Some MAGA cultists clearly thought Jan. 6 was swell and still do—though they wouldn't be wasting their time at a Christie event. Trump is their guy.
But presumably, many Republican elders think Trump's death grip on the party has been bad for business—at least electorally speaking—even if they like his tax cuts for the rich and Supreme Court packing.
Christie's pitch is precisely geared toward that donor class and a mix of conservative swing voters, anti-Trumpers, and even Trumpers who don't want to keep losing elections in perpetuity.
Whether Christie can secure the funding he needs to launch a presidential campaign will be at least one test of Republican resolve to leave Trump in the rearview mirror. To date, that resolve has proven pathetically weak.
The past week seems to have packed in a month’s worth of news. Markos and Kerry tackle it all, from Joe Biden’s big announcement to Tucker Carlson’s early retirement from Fox News.