With his defeat in the midterm elections, Donald Trump has once again shown that he is toxic and that he will never be able to win a presidential election again.
Whether or not he enters the primary, Donald Trump is already done as a serious contender for the presidency.
It is not a sentence I write lightly. First, because Trump has been dismissed so many times in the past — after mocking John McCain’s military record, after the “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked, after the storming of the Capitol on January 6, after the hearings of the committee of inquiry into that event—that it seems foolish to do it again. Second, because every time he is dismissed, his followers seem to draw energy from his supposed irrelevance. And thirdly, because I would surely be crucified for that sentence if I were wrong.RELATED
But I am not.
Last week, his devoted supporters finally realized that Trump can no longer give them what they want most: power. Or, to put it in language more conducive to them: whatever purpose they believed Trump was meant to serve (bringing working-class voters back into the Republican fold, restoring nationalism to conservative ideology, rejecting the authority of supposed experts), it has already materialized. Now others can do the same in a better way, without drama and divisions. Trump belongs to yesterday.
This is an observation made from an objective reading of political reality: Trump cost the Republicans dearly in the midterm elections.
In key Senate and gubernatorial races, the former president has cast his endorsements based more on loyalty than electability. He turned electoral denialism into an oath of fidelity. The primary victories ended up being pyrrhic. In the same states where mainstream Republicans won handily (Chris Sununu in New Hampshire, Brian Kemp in Georgia, Mike DeWine in Ohio), Trump’s candidates either performed poorly or lost. It’s a contrast that once again belies the notion that the Democrats somehow won only because they cheated, broke the rules, or took advantage of early voting.
But none of this alone would be enough to turn away Trump devotees, just as Republican losses in the House of Representatives in 2018, the White House in 2020 and the Senate in 2021 were not. Three additional factors were needed.
The first was the surprise.
Republicans expected a landslide victory last week as much as Democrats expected one for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many of the polls predicted it, as did the normal ebb and flow of American politics. Joe Biden is an unpopular incumbent presiding over an inflationary economy and a border crisis. The fact that the Republicans have performed so poorly is an “unexplained” moment for the party, and the only coherent explanation is the specter of Trump.
The second factor is that Trump is finally being abandoned by many of his relentless supporters and enablers in the right-wing media, whose influence will be felt later.
That includes Fox News’ Laura Ingraham: “If voters conclude that you’re putting your own ego or your own grudges ahead of what’s good for the country, they’ll look elsewhere.” To Townhall’s Kurt Schlichter: “Trump is trouble and we need to deal with it,” he admitted. “We owe nothing to Trump. He is a politician ”. And to Victor Davis Hanson: “Could it be that Trump, who never apologizes, will now intensify his insults, bray at the moon, play his current role as Ajax to the bitter end, and thereby end up a beloved, tragic hero.” for his past services but considered too toxic for the present company?
None of these are outright repudiations, although they are pretty close to it. And they bring us to the third reason Trump is finally done for: his unwarranted pre-election attack on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose 19-point win over Democrat Charlie Crist was one of the GOP’s few sweeping election wins.
The sin in this case was not that Trump violated Ronald Reagan’s famous eleventh commandment: “You shall not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump has violated that commandment as freely as he has violated so many of the other ten. Trump sinned by being a loser criticizing a winner, and what Trump’s base wants most is a winner.
A wiser Trump would have made DeSantis’ victory his own: he would have treated the governor as his star pupil and designated successor. But Trump could not and cannot help but be himself. And what the Republican base sees in DeSantis is everything they love about Trump — the combativeness, the self-assurance, the disdain for elite opinion — but without the personal burdens and self-sabotaging habits. In the battle for the affections of American conservatives, the former president increasingly seems to be the potbellied and jealous husband, while the governor seems to be the attractive and successful neighbor.
The ground for potential primary contenders could still part to make way for Trump, just as Hillary Clinton mostly cleared the ground the last time she ran. But with his defeat in the midterm elections, Trump has once again shown that he is toxic and that he can never win a presidential election again. He would be no match for a younger, more charismatic candidate in the primary, just as Clinton proved no match for Barack Obama in 2008.
The ground is open for a true Republican contender. It’s time someone stepped up.