Trump allies want his rivals to drop out because he’s weak, not because he’s strong | Opinion

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Sen. Rick Scott doesn’t think Republican voters in Iowa, South Carolina, Texas or even his own home state of Florida should have any say in their party’s nomination for president.

Scott, writing recently for Newsweek, argues that “it’s time for the Republican Party to come together, behind one candidate, and declare with one voice that we are united in our efforts to defeat Joe Biden and rescue America.” That candidate, of course, is Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, “argues” is too generous to describe Scott’s piece. But it’s emblematic of what Trump’s rivals are up against as they gather Wednesday for the latest GOP debate.

Why is now the time? Scott doesn’t really say. Would waiting another couple of months until at least some actual voters participate in a caucus or primary harm Trump’s effort against Biden? Scott doesn’t make that case. He just throws out scary language about Biden and Democrats and predicts Trump will triumph.

Scott’s preferred candidate is riding high in the GOP race. New polls in expected battleground states show Trump leading Biden nearly across the board. His fundraising is solid. There’s no sign of a serious challenge breaking out yet.

But here’s the reality: A strong candidate wouldn’t have to trot Scott out to make this plea. The Trump crew is trying to lock in victory before a single voter has his or her say in case something befalls him, legally or politically, that could change the race between now and Iowa’s Jan. 15 caucuses.

“Republican voters are making their voices heard loud and clear. They want to return to the leadership of Donald Trump,” Scott wrote.

Without a single vote being cast? Based entirely on polls?

Yes, Trump dominates national surveys and, to a lesser extent, those in early-voting states. But huge changes have been known to happen fast in presidential primaries. And even though Trump is essentially the incumbent in his party’s race, there’s a sizable chunk of the GOP that doesn’t care for him. It wouldn’t take much to tip some others out of his camp and then, Republicans might have a real race on their hands.

Likely? No. Impossible. Absolutely not — but the remaining Republican candidates better get ready to go for it.

Nikki Haley is enjoying the candidate du jour treatment. She’s gained attention with strong debate performances, and she needs another Wednesday.

Ron DeSantis is stepping up his attacks on Trump, too, and in a way that’s risky, given the GOP base’s devotion to the former president. DeSantis has long argued that he’d be more effective than Trump, and now, he’s noting that Trump isn’t quite the same energetic warrior he was in 2016.

That’s a gentle way of raising two issues — Trump’s age (he’s 77) and the distractions that several court cases around the country will bring at precisely the moment he’s trying to do what Rick Scott desires: beat Biden.

And, finally, the field is winnowing, with former Vice President Mike Pence stepping aside and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum failing to qualify for Wednesday’s debate. With five candidates, there’s more room for breakout moments.

That said, Scott is right about one thing: It’s time to strike. Trump’s challengers have to find a way to break through soon. Perhaps this debate, the first since the terrorist attacks on Israel, will have a more serious tone, prompting voters to ask themselves if they want a steadier hand on both their party and their country.

The economy seems shakier lately, too. It’s time to make the case that Trump isn’t right for the moment, whether because of temperament, energy or viability as a candidate.

And most of all, it may soon be time for more candidates to do what Pence did: realize that only consolidating votes against Trump will allow anyone to beat him.

Rick Scott, of course, would prefer they do it all at once. Let’s hope the candidates can make the case that at least a few voters should have a say first.

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