A Pointless Republican Primary

President Trump will almost certainly be the Republican nominee. He is far ahead in every primary poll. His supporters originally worried that he would be too polarizing and would go down in flames in the general election, but it appears he will also win the general election against incompetent, unpopular, and increasingly demented Joe Biden.

Indictments, lawfare, media propaganda, and phalanx-style opposition from the organs of conservatism have all been arrayed against Trump. He has also earned the contempt of the managerial class’s elite: the judges, the academics, and the think tankers, as well as the GS and SES class around Washington, D.C.

Even so, his enemies have barely dented him.

Trump Always Understood the Game

Many of these groups and organizations were hostile to the Republican Party before Trump’s arrival. In conducting himself, Trump understood something almost no other Republican has: trying to earn the approval of one’s opponents is a fool’s errand. So he never even tried, unlike George “Compassionate Conservatism” Bush or John “the Maverick” McCain and, worst of all, finks and turncoats like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and Jeff Flake.

Rather than trying to earn their approval, Trump has mostly done the opposite by purposely antagonizing his opponents. In doing so, he often got them to overextend themselves, revealing that most of their claims against Trump—that he is an enemy of democracy, colluding with Russia, or a would-be dictator—were in fact the secret undertakings of his critics.

Further, while the official organs of Conservatism Inc. and a goodly swath of Republican Party leadership are nonplussed by Trump, it’s voters who count the most. If anything, GOP voters have become more radicalized and angrier as the establishment has departed from the normal customs of American elections in the name of protecting democracy.

The establishment’s ongoing opposition to Trump suggests not that his opponents are guarding a fragile democracy from the scourge of MAGA Americans but rather are out-of-touch, hostile elites hell-bent on maintaining their power and privilege.

The odd conduct of the 2020 election still casts a long shadow. The unprecedented campaign to take Trump out of the race in 2024 using partisan legal machinations has served, much like media criticism of him in 2016, to increase his popularity and credibility among his base.

Far from discrediting Trump, his opponents have demonstrated their own lack of restraint and the presence of one of Trump’s most salient virtues: he is cool under pressure.

Second Place is First Loser

These are the background conditions for the Republican primary. Everyone is trying hard to reach second place.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis thought he could run to Trump’s right, somehow making Trump the face of COVID extremism, even though Trump himself urged reopening as early as April of 2020. This tactic never really got any traction. DeSantis also turned out to be charmless on the campaign trail, and he could never quite explain why, if the 2020 election was in fact stolen, Trump should not get a second chance.

Former South Carolina governor and Trump administration UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, has been trying to revivify the George W. Bush presidency, promising an aggressive neoconservative foreign policy as the centerpiece of her campaign. While this is music to the ears of the military-industrial complex, the Heritage Foundation, and lots of aging Reagan fans, we sometimes forget that pretty much everyone under 55 was not even able to vote for Reagan.

Reagan was elected president 44 years ago in 1980 when we were in the middle of the Cold War. By way of analogy, no one in 1980 thought repeatedly invoking the “lessons of the 1936 election” made good political sense.

Rather than nostalgia, the demonstrable mendacity and incompetence of the ruling class have colored younger voters’ imaginations. This includes such diverse events as the Iraq and Afghanistan failures, the border crisis, the housing crisis of 2008-2012, the deindustrialization of the heartland, the explosion of crime and disorder, and the current sustained high inflation. The lack of shame and contrition among those who made these things happen fuels the anger of younger voters.

I have a strong sense that most voters tuned out of this primary a while ago. Speaking for myself, I used to love the sport of politics, including the horse race aspects of the primaries. But the 2024 Republican Primary is like watching the WNBA. It’s an exhibition match, a fight over nothing by people not talented enough to succeed in the big leagues. I think I watched part of only two debates.

Looking over the field, Republican voters have now repeatedly rejected the establishment politics of Nikki Haley. She is purely a concoction of the media and her donors, and that will be very evident in a few weeks, if not on Tuesday in Iowa. Republicans like (or used to like) DeSantis but see no reason to support a less vigorous, compelling, or charismatic facsimile of Trump.

Unlike Haley and DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy is actually interesting, and his politics are the closest to Trump’s. Like Trump, he is entertaining and has also amassed real wealth outside of politics, which insulates him from being a tool of the donor class.

Ramaswamy generally avoids direct challenges to Trump. Unlike the doomed campaigns of Haley and DeSantis, he is playing a different game. Rather than trying to get the establishment’s endorsement as the second-place candidate, he is raising his profile for the future and may secure a slot as Vice President this time around.

I find him likable, not least because he is smart and acts naturally. But one must wonder how much he believes in what he is saying. He is a little “too slick.” Time will tell. But assuming there’s not some skeletons in the closet or some personal acrimony going on behind the scenes, I believe he would be a good choice for Trump’s running mate.

There are extremely worrisome rumors that Trump may pick Haley as a running mate. Trump and Haley apparently used to get along reasonably well when she was UN Ambassador, but they are polar opposites ideologically. Unfortunately, Trump has never been particularly skilled at hiring or concerned with ideological harmony.

Otherwise, the many debates and the long primary have diminished everyone involved. DeSantis—a popular Florida governor who handily won reelection in 2022 after squeaking by the “down low” Andrew Gillum in 2018—has alienated Trump’s much larger base of supporters because his campaign strategy has chiefly involved criticizing Trump, occasionally endorsing establishment calumnies about Trump, and refusing to commit to pardoning Trump from the tendentious political prosecutions he is currently subject to.

DeSantis has somehow allowed a bunch of extremely online influencers to embarrass him with their extreme aggression against Trump and his supporters. He has also shown donors and voters that he may not have the gravitas to win a national campaign because he is bad at retail politics and does not have a strong sense of what concerns voters and how to appeal to them.

Haley is the second coming of George W. Bush, an outdated and failed philosophy of governance that led to the growth of the federal government, the outsourcing of our industrial power, and the death of many American patriots in unsuccessful “idealistic” campaigns in the Middle East. The country thoroughly rejected this approach in 2008, when Obama trounced the war-mongering John McCain.

The fight for second place, or whatever it is that one may describe the current mano y womano fight between DeSantis and Haley, is an expensive waste of time.

Wishcasting Is Not a Strategy

At this point, I have no idea what motivates donors to either the DeSantis or Haley camps. What is the point of donating to someone who cannot realistically win?

Perhaps the candidates are hoping Trump is disqualified, has a health incident, or, God forbid, is killed between now and game day. Under those scenarios, they might be able to walk into the vacuum and assume the crown. But it seems more like they are hoping against hope for a return to the Republican politics of yesteryear.

DeSantis has used trompe l’oeil MAGA rhetoric to conceal the campaign’s chief function as a tool to revive the unpopular economic policies of the Reagan years. And Haley somehow thinks there is an appetite in the fractured, disunited, and deindustrialized America of 2024 for foreign wars. Thus, I think the entire thing has been an exercise in fantasy and egoism.

I am happy that it will all soon be over, and a lot of allegedly smart people will have to do some reflecting on how they blew their money and their credibility on a fantasy. And the fantasy is that the people who nominated Trump in protest back in 2016 and again in 2020 are ready to return to the policies and people that they were protesting.

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

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About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.

Photo: TOPSHOT - Former US President and 2024 Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump raises his fist at a "Commit to Caucus" event at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, on January 14, 2024. (Photo by Christian MONTERROSA / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MONTERROSA/AFP via Getty Images)