Column: I begged Santa — let Trump lead the Republican Party to defeat
Prognostication is thankless work, especially when it comes to politics.
But because it’s the happy holiday season, I’m going to pay a little attention to a faint and uncharacteristically optimistic voice in the back of my head and lay out what to me seems to be a not-inconceivable and oh-so-delicious scenario of the future.
It is this — that Donald Trump sticks around to run a real 2024 campaign, as promised. But instead of successfully rallying his loyal troops and cruising demonically back into power, he continues his downward slide in the polls, becomes increasingly desperate — and foments within his own party the sort of self-destructive internecine trouble that he alone has the ability to stir up.
In this scenario, instead of causing fear and trembling in Democrats, he spews his bitterness and bile at his fellow Republicans, further weakening his already splintering party, trolling opponents, sowing chaos, division and confusion and making a bitter, bruising battle out of the primary process because he can still command the loyalty of millions of voters.
As a result, the Republicans lose big in November 2024.
Why would Trump do such a thing? Because why not!
He’s not a party loyalist. He doesn’t feel a smidgen of allegiance to his fellow Republicans or to conservative ideology or to the GOP's ultimate victory over the Democrats. He's all about Trump, remember? And anyone who gets in his way is an enemy.
Could it really happen? Could Trump cripple his own party that badly?
Well, the latest holiday elf to hint at these glad tidings is no left-of-center optimist or self-serving Democratic operative. It’s none other than that grand old man of the GOP, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich told the New York Times that he was worried about what he called a “1964 division” — a rancorous, disabling rift between Trump’s supporters and the anti-Trump wing of the party comparable to the divide in 1964 between the conservative Republicans who backed Barry Goldwater for president and the moderates who supported Nelson Rockefeller.
“I can imagine a Trump-anti-Trump war over the next two years that just guarantees Biden’s reelection in a landslide and guarantees that Democrats control everything,” Gingrich said.
You can be sure that's what I asked Santa for. It'd be a better gift than 1,000 Trump NFT trading cards depicting the former president in superhero spandex or white tie and tails or riding a giant red, white and blue elephant.
Just imagine how it could play out.
Trump could seek the nomination and, in the process, lay into his fellow Republicans so viciously that the eventual nominee would emerge battered beyond recognition. (Trump’s already starting his attacks on Florida Gov. “Ron DeSanctimonious.” Heh-heh.)
If he loses the nomination, Trump could refuse to endorse the winner. Or come out against the nominee, which would be a big deal given how many supporters he has.
He could lose the nomination and (petulant spoiler that he is) run as an independent.
He could even walk away and start his own party — the MAGA Party, let’s say, which could siphon off millions of rural, non-college-educated white voters from the GOP.
After all, he's got no sense of fair play or good sportsmanship, and no concept of limited war.
It’s obvious that Republican voters are already badly divided over Trump.
On the one hand, he won 74 million votes in 2020. And some substantial portion of those voters are unwaveringly loyal to him, not to the party. The Q-Anoners, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and their ilk, for example. They’re not going to shift their allegiances to the Jeb Bushes of the world. Probably not to the Cruzes, Rubios or DeSantises either.
“I don’t think we should underestimate the stickiness of [Trump’s] base,” one Democratic operative told the L.A. Times recently.
On the other hand, Trump is currently declining in the polls, thanks to the Jan. 6 committee hearings, the Justice Department investigation and the other criminal inquiries — and to the embarrassing fact that his handpicked candidates in the midterms performed so badly that his influence is being carefully reevaluated.
He’s damaged goods, to say the least. Some Republicans — the rational ones — are beginning to run for the hills.
In a Wall Street Journal poll released last week, 71% of Republicans said they held a favorable view of him, down from 85% in March and 90% or higher during most of his presidency.
Party bigwigs, eager to see Republican voters united behind a strong presidential candidate, had no doubt hoped Trump would not run again. When he declared several weeks ago that he would, Alyssa Farah Griffin, a former director of strategic communications for Trump, said, “No credible person in the Republican Party wanted this announcement today.”
Fading away quietly is not Trump’s style. And it would be foolish to discount his influence. For all his bombast and bluster and his current travails, he’s shown a remarkable political resilience and acumen.
So an acrimonious, polarizing, punishing 2024 battle is entirely possible.
On the other hand, all my cheerful prognostication could be wrong.
This could be the end of the Trump era; he could slink away from the 2024 battle rather than risk becoming a diminished and rejected “loser,” and the GOP could rebound. Or, worse, he could keep his base and grow it again through his peculiar brand of political charisma and reemerge as president for a second term. That would be an unspeakable disaster.
But from Christmas to New Year’s, at least, I’m choosing to believe in the joyful possibility of a Trump-instigated Republican meltdown.
What a holiday gift that would be! Here’s hoping.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.