Donald Trump is on a roll. Based on the RealClearPolitics polling average, he currently has the support of 56 percent of likely voters in the Republican primaries. That puts Trump about 37 points ahead of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the only challenger who makes it into the double digits.
Of course, none of this guarantees Trump will be the nominee, but it certainly makes it likely. Ergo, it behooves Republicans and conservatives to consider the upsides and the downsides of renominating Trump.
Making Trump the GOP’s standard-bearer in 2024 would convey many advantages to the party. First, Trump has a well-developed rapport with Republican voters, who admire and trust him. No one can duplicate this visceral connection between Trump and Trumpers.
Second, Trump has a record of victory and, shall we saym near victory, against weak Democratic opponents. He shocked the world by beating Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he outperformed most polls and the expectations of pundits in 2020, very narrowly losing in three key states that, had he won them, would have pushed him over the top in the Electoral College.
Leaving aside justified qualms that Republicans and conservatives have about the fairness of the 2020 election, the fact is that Donald Trump almost prevailed in it, and he helped Republicans to narrow the Democrats’ majority in the House, setting them up to retake control of the chamber in January 2023.
Third, Trump appears to have learned a thing or two from the slings and arrows that have been hurled at him since 2015. His latest campaign for president thus far has been more disciplined and error-free than any he has run before. What’s more, should Trump ascend once more to the presidency, there is ample reason to hope he will, given the experience he’s accumulated, perform more effectively, and perhaps with greater resolve in his efforts to defang the deep state.
These various factors, as well as the weaknesses of Joe Biden, are apparently convincing Republicans that Trump is both an attractive choice in 2024 and a viable one. Nonetheless, Trump possesses numerous liabilities that ought to make Republicans and conservatives pause.
First, and perhaps most important, is the fact that Trump is widely unpopular. Again, based on RealClearPolitics polling averages, his unfavorable rating of 52.6 percent outpaces his 42 percent favorability. He is thus very slightly more unpopular than Joe Biden—not a great start for a challenger. Trump’s current position, moreover, actually represents a slight improvement from the beginning of this year, when his unfavorables were inching perilously close to 60 percent.
What does all this mean? As everyone knows, a majority of Americans don’t like Trump, and many of them despise him. In 2016, he received 46 percent of the national popular vote. In 2020, he got 47 percent. It is highly unlikely that Trump can do better than that, especially given the gradual deterioration in the percentage of the electorate that belongs to demographic categories that are favorable to Republicans. Therefore, Trump would need to hope that third-party candidates take substantial numbers of votes away from Biden or he would have to aspire to a very narrow victory, probably not in the popular vote but in the Electoral College.
Given these considerations, no Republican could afford to be confident, much less overconfident, about the outcome of a Trump-Biden rematch.
Second, all the prognostication above assumes that Trump remains, throughout the 2024 election cycle, a viable candidate. This cannot be taken for granted.
Trump has already been found liable for defamation and battery against E. Jean Carroll, and he has been charged with 34 felonies by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Of course, this is just round one of a massive, sustained, multipronged legal offensive that the Left and its willing accomplices are engineering to hobble Trump in 2024. He may be charged with various business-related crimes in New York, with election interference in Georgia, and with a host of federal offenses related to his possession of classified documents, inciting an “insurrection,” allegedly attempting to rig the results of the 2020 election, and any number of “process crimes,” including lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. What’s more, depending on the judges, prosecutors, and juries involved in these cases, it need not matter whether the evidence is weak. Personal animus alone might doom Trump.
In truth, though, whether Trump is ultimately found guilty of any of these crimes is less important, politically speaking, than the accumulated weight that a long list of active prosecutions would impose on his campaign for president. Trump may be so hamstrung by legal entanglements that he is simply incapable of waging political battle, and thus Joe Biden will win in 2024 by default (much like he did in 2020, from the comfort of his basement).
Third, and finally, Republicans and conservatives should spare a moment to consider the full consequences of a Trump victory in 2024, however unlikely that scenario may appear. If Trump, against all the odds and despite the unified opposition of almost every establishment voice and institution, wins and looks set to reoccupy the Oval Office in January 2025, we should consider the chances that Joe Biden and friends will actually permit him to do so.
Even though the Left and the establishment pooh-poohed the idea that an election could be “rigged” or illegitimate in 2020, there is a good possibility that their perspective might change if their bête noire Donald Trump won a nominal victory in 2024. I say “nominal,” because any victory can be clawed back if enough media voices, judges, politicians, and bureaucrats want it to be.
Would the Biden Administration, for instance, obey a ruling from the Supreme Court that handed the election to Trump—the same Supreme Court that Democrats and progressives are already preemptively vilifying and attempting to delegitimize? Would Biden’s purged, woke military defy orders to keep him in office or to treat Trumpers as rebels? Would the tame national news media even bother to question the overturning of an election that had gone against their favored candidate?
Along these lines, we should not forget that a great many Democrats and progressives mean it when they call Donald Trump a “fascist,” a “traitor,” and a “rapist.” They mean it, moreover, when they call for him to be imprisoned, or for his name to be stricken from the ballot because of his supposed insurrectionary transgressions. They mean it when they question the sanity, and even the humanity, of Trump supporters.
Republicans and conservatives should ask themselves, therefore, what are the chances that, even if Donald Trump won a paper victory in 2024, he would actually be permitted to take office, and, if not, what tatters of democracy would be left when the “Democrats” were done “saving” it?
In sum, we find that, while Donald Trump has many strengths as a presidential candidate, the GOP and those who support it would be assuming enormous, even existential, risks if they chose him as their standard-bearer. There is a good chance that Trump would lose, and thus Democrats would entrench their domination of federal politics, perhaps even gaining an opportunity to tip the balance in the House and the Supreme Court, effectively handing them unfettered power.
It’s also possible that Trump would “win” (the quotation marks are there to anticipate the certain reaction from the Left), and this calamity, from the perspective of Democrats and so-called progressives, would be the excuse for them to cast all norms, legal niceties, and constitutional safeguards to the wind and to seize power once and for all.
So, Republicans and conservatives, support Donald Trump—if you dare—but be prepared for the full range of potential consequences.
Marcus Aurelius once told us to live each day as though it was our last. We might want to be equally thoughtful with our vote in 2024, because every election could be our last as well.