Among Trump-friendly conservatives, there seem to be essentially two strands of sentiment about who should be the Republican candidate for president in 2024. One strand says, “Donald Trump, assuming he runs and his health is good.”
The other strand exhibits various shades of dubiousness. Some profess admiration for what Trump accomplished in his first term, but lament his “divisiveness,” which they anatomize in various ways as a product of narcissism, impulsiveness, or simple bad character.
A few in this group blame the divisiveness not on Trump, but the people, inside his administration and out, who spent the entirety of Trump’s first term trying to undermine his presidency. A sizable segment of this dubious group would, truth be told, like to see the back of Donald Trump forever.
Other segments of this group acknowledge that they would support Trump should he run and win the nomination, but confess, sotto voce, that they would prefer another “Trumpist” candidate. “Trumpism without Trump” is the slogan of many in this group, and it is in these circles that one repeatedly hears the names of Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, and Mike Pompeo, secretary of state in the second part of the Trump Administration.
Is there such a thing as “Trumpism without Trump”? I do not know. I understand those who argue that asking for Trumpism without Trump is a bit like asking for sunshine without the sun. It was often said, sometimes thankfully, sometimes as a matter of fact, that Trump was sui generis. If that is the case, then it might well be that the message and the messenger are so closely bound up with each other that the effort to disentangle them is doomed to fail.
I understand the concern about Trump’s vaunted “divisiveness.” But it is well to acknowledge this irony. The tsunami of hatred and vitriol that washed over Donald Trump since before he assumed office until the present moment was nothing if not “divisive.” It infected the Twittersphere as brazenly as any of Trump’s “mean tweets” about Jim Acosta, the “fake news,” or sundry other “losers.” Why was that not castigated as “divisive,” evidence of bad character, against the norms or civilized political behavior?
We now know that the whole Russia collusion delusion was invented lock-stock-and-barrel in the fetid skunkworks of the Clinton campaign. We know, too, that it was seized upon and pumped up by an irresponsible media and the rancid outposts of the administrative state and its so-called intelligence agencies. Trump was cooked before he set foot in the Oval Office.
But isn’t that all the more reason to reject him come 2024? There is no reason to believe the entitled magi who rule us will have changed themselves or that they will be replaced. Won’t it just be Trump hysteria 2.0, this time turned up to 11? And if that is the case, shouldn’t we give in and move on?
Should we? I confess to being of two minds about that. I think it likely that, should Trump be the nominee, and should he be reelected in 2024, the forces arrayed against him will suffer a nervous breakdown that will make the anti-Trump hysteria of 2016-2020 look like an Oxford Union debate.
At least, that’s what we are being warned about. Liz Cheney, the soon-to-be former faux-Republican congresswoman from Wyoming, even revealed that her edition of the U.S. Constitution is different from the one that you and I grew up with. Article II of the once-standard version of the Constitution goes into considerable detail about how the president and vice president are to be elected. Mirabile dictu, Liz Cheney is not mentioned.
But just a week or so back, Cheney said an important goal of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 Capitol protest was to demonstrate that Donald Trump is “clearly unfit for future office, clearly can never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again.” Will we have to pass future candidates before Cheney or her avatars to make sure that they receive ye olde nihil obstat?
Maybe. But maybe there is something in the oft-urged point that two can play at incontinent temper tantrums.
Why should the anti-Trump fraternity have a monopoly on that species of intemperate insanity? There might be some positive good achieved if the Left and the NeverTrump neither-Left-nor-Right were to suspect that they might themselves be the object of the sort of hysteria they have visited upon their opponents. There might be something salutary in making that sort of intimidation reciprocal. It’s worth pondering.
While we do so, let’s also review the question of Donald Trump’s age. If he runs again in 2024, he will be the same age as Joe Biden was when he ran in 2020. That is not a confidence-building spectacle. But Biden has always been cognitively challenged and is quite clearly well down the path to senility. He refuses to take a cognitive test of the sort that Trump aced when he entered office.
True, 2024 is three years away and there are reasons to be cautious about entrusting someone of Biden’s age with the awesome power of the presidency. At the same time, many great statesmen were about the age Trump will be in 2024 when they assumed office. Churchill won his last term as Prime Minister in 1951, when he was 77. Julian Jackson, in his magisterial biography of de Gaulle, notes that in 1967 De Gaulle, who left office at 79 in 1969, drew up a list of famous men who had been productive well into old age. Goethe began writing Faust at 80. Verdi composed his Te Deum at 85. Sophocles wrote Oedipus at 90, the same age that the Venetian Doge Dondolo took Constantinople. Other names on his list were Titian, Monet, Chateaubriand, Hugo, Tolstoy, Bernard Shaw, Kant, and Voltaire.
Of course, some men are senile at 40. Others are robust well into their ninth decade. Like so many important decisions, this one cannot be made by any formula. A week is a long time in politics, Harold Wilson rightly said. How much longer is three years?
It’s too early, I think, to decide who the best Republican candidate will be in 2024. Age will certainly be a consideration. But so will the question of who gets to say whom the American people are allowed to elect. Not too many, I think, will be willing to hand over that honor to Liz Cheney and her smug, entitled, and repellent confrères.