The GOP Can Save Itself if Trump Runs, Then Loses the Election

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters
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Recently, I’ve come to terms with the likelihood that Donald Trump will (gulp!) be the Republican presidential nominee, again. That’s right, it may only be April, but I’ve entered the “Jesus Take The Wheel” stage for the 2024 campaign.

Call it naive wishcasting, but until recently, I thought that Ron DeSantis might help us avoid this very situation. But the last month or so has not gone well. DeSantis’ rocky rollout (technically, he still hasn’t entered the race), coupled with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment, have elevated Trump to clear frontrunner status.

Trump Wants to Turn His Most Toxic Baggage Into Primary Gold

While there are a million reasons to fear Trump winning the Republican nomination, I am comforting myself by the fact that there could be a silver lining: If the goal is to truly eradicate Trumpism, the most obvious method is for Trump to win the Republican nomination, and then (this part is important) he must be decisively defeated.

It has been observed that political parties do not change until they have endured multiple losses. If that is true of normal parties, it is doubly true of a MAGA movement headed by Donald Trump.

As a Never Trump conservative, I never wanted to have to come to grips with this scenario. I would love for someone to wrest control of the GOP from Trump, but it is looking increasingly unlikely that Republicans are capable of stopping Trump from once again winning their presidential nomination.

Observers such as liberal Washington Monthly columnist Bill Scher are starting to say DeSantis shouldn’t even run. While I’m not there yet, the argument for DeSantis sitting this one out is increasingly persuasive.

Opposing Trump was always a gamble, mainly because of the Ricky Bobby rule (“If you ain’t first, you’re last”). Rather than winning a blue ribbon or becoming the “next in line,” finishing second to Trump simply means you have endured more brutal humiliation than anyone else.

To make matters worse, even if DeSantis were to miraculously defeat Trump, it’s entirely possible Trump would sabotage his chances in a General Election.

And that, in turn, would allow Trump (and his minions) to claim that “Trump would have won if the Republican establishment hadn’t stabbed him in the back!” If the goal is to purge Trumpism from the GOP, this scenario would have the opposite impact.

Now, I’m sure some readers see my preference for DeSantis over Trump as a distinction without a difference. Some people even believe that nominating DeSantis would be more dangerous than Trump, inasmuch as he is more a competent authoritarian.

I have never accepted that argument. In my lifetime, only one man has sought to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. That man is Donald Trump. Moving on from him should be both obvious and vital.

We learned in 2016, once you are a major party nominee, it becomes a binary choice where anything can happen. This is to say that Trump could be president. Again.

And this time, his potential to cause serious damage would be even greater. As David Frum told me way back in 2021, “I’m really worried about a return of Donald Trump this time, because this time, the velociraptors have figured out how to work the doorknobs.”

Despite the obvious danger Trump poses, it seems likely that he will once again be the GOP nominee. The most plausible scenario for him not winning is that he could possibly die between now and the election. Trump is the clear frontrunner for the nomination. And the only possible solace I can take from this revelation is that it might finally bring an end to Trump’s grip on the Republican Party.

To be sure, it ain’t over till it’s over. Trump could still stumble or DeSantis (or someone else) could still surge. I won’t stop trying to prevent Trump from being the GOP nominee. But I have to recognize that I’ve entered the acceptance stage of grief. Or maybe it’s the bargaining phase. I’m not sure. But what I am telling myself lately is that, if Trump is destined for the nomination, something good might come from that.

Assuming he loses unambiguously (a big assumption), it would be hard for Republicans to picture Trump as a romantic hero if he leads them to yet another defeat. (Then again, their ability to delude themselves after numerous losses cannot be overstated.)

I don’t feel comfortable rooting for this scenario. I want a mainstream conservative in the White House, so the idea of accelerating Trumpism goes against my better judgment. But—and maybe I’m rationalizing here—it also might be the only way to finally purge Trumpism from the GOP (if that’s even still possible).

Things may have to get worse before they get better. Sadly, that’s how change usually works.

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