Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley released a campaign launch video that was perfectly crafted to win the former governor and U.N. ambassador a legitimate shot at her party’s presidential nomination, if the video had been released for the 2008 or 2012 election cycles. But coming after 2016 and 2020, the rote recitation of Republican boilerplate — liberals bad, taxes bad, cherry-picked state economic growth headlines good — was boring and positions Haley for a subpar performance in the Iowa caucus, if she makes it that far.
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But where the launch video really failed is in the very obvious decision to ignore the 800lb orange-skinned gorilla in the room: Donald Trump. As a former Trump foot soldier, most notably when she led the U.S. exit from the U.N. Human Rights Council after they criticized Trump’s cruel, racist child separation immigration policy, Haley is in the position to either mount a full throated attack on Trumpism or embrace it, Kari Lake style. She chose neither and that’s been part of a pattern emerging already from the likely 2024 Republican field.
Ron DeSantis, who is currently outpolling Trump in a few state matchups, has shied away from punching back at Trump’s attacks. He was silent when Trump said he was grooming teenage girls, and when Trump said he was a globalist tool, and when Trump christened him “Ron Desanctimonious.” DeSantis has barely addressed the insults, other than to make some mouth noises about how Republicans shouldn’t target each other while the bigger enemy of liberalism continues to loom.
Similarly weak commentary about Trump has come from the likes of Larry Hogan, Chris Sununu and Mike Pompeo, who seem to be at best vying for “remember that guy from that one time” status in future editions of Trivial Pursuit and not much more.
They look weak and they seem to be showing an early indication that Republicans still have no idea how to run against Trump.
The current mainstream media narrative, propped up by the Republican Party’s humiliating failure to manifest a “red wave” in the 2022 election, is that Trumpism is over. That may be true among independent voters and definitely Democrats, but when it comes to Republican voters, particularly the type of people who vote in presidential primaries, that remains to be seen.
What seems to be happening is a repeat of the 2016 cycle, with a bundle of unappealing “establishment” candidates running carbon copies of Mitt Romney’s and John McCain’s campaigns but refusing to handle Trump, naively convincing themselves that he will just tire out and fade away. That strategy didn’t work for Jeb(!) Bush, Marco Rubio, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz and the rest, and I don’t think it will work now. They all held fire against Trump and he just mowed over them on the way to the nomination and the presidency.
To be honest, Republicans in general seem to suck at campaigning against Trump. Take for instance the conservative gang at the Lincoln Project, who have for years produced ineffective anti-Trump advertising while making themselves wealthy through liberal donors.
Trump is a loser, but the only people who have any track record of defeating him in politics are Democrats. Hillary Clinton defeated him in the popular vote. Trump lost power in the 2018 midterm election. Joe Biden beat him like a rented mule from coast to coast in the 2020 election.
Republicans couldn’t stop him from taking over the party in 2016 and his sway over their voters is what set up so many loser candidates in 2022. Powerful figures like Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott, who have both done more public sucking up to Trump than criticizing or condemning him (even when he made racist slurs about McConnel’s wife, Elaine Chao), were impotent in blocking Trump from anointing conspiracy cranks and bigots.
I think the obituaries for Trump’s political career have been premature, at least within the Republican Party and conservative movement. Especially following the party’s recent losses (seen as rampant electoral fraud in their eyes), these people want red meat. They don’t want to hear the same old focus group/consultant message shaped by the Karl Rove wing of the party. They want what Trump reliably fed them for years, the same garbage they get served every day from Fox News and the rest of the right wing media. They want a three-ring circus, not a lecture on how tax cuts generate economic growth.
Defeating Trump takes two forms. Either you operate like Biden did and make it explicit that Trump is a full-on menace to American values, pointing out how he linked rhetorical arms with the Nazis in Charlotte (their “veins bulging” as Biden said over and over) and later the rioters on January 6, or you hit him with rhetoric from the right patterned after his own style.
If Haley or DeSantis or any of the rest were truly serious about beating Trump, they’d go after him for his “weak” wall, his failure to alienate and humiliate more Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Muslims, his restraint (not really) at going after LGBTQ rights or Critical Race Theory, or just his overall weakness in elections that have allowed Biden and the Democrats to overturn so much. They need to engage in a full frontal assault on Trump in his currently vulnerable position, not just hoping he’ll go away.
That’s what Ted Cruz tried to do, and you should never be like Ted Cruz.
I am uncharacteristically optimistic about the future of defeating Trumpism, as long as Democrats and liberals give up their circa 2016 fantasies about converting the diehards instead of overwhelming them by turning out more rational voters. But within the Republican Party the signs are clear: They still don’t know how to beat him, and they aren’t really trying.
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The only way Larry Hogan is ever going to be associated with Trivial Pursuit is as a wrong answer to the question "What is Hulk Hogan's real first name"
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