Here’s what I mean. Donald Trump is emerging from this process so damaged and discredited that he might not even be able to mount a plausible presidential campaign. We see this parade of credible-seeming witnesses testify to his relentless self-absorbed madness. It’s clear to anyone actually watching and taking in what’s going on at the hearings that making Trump president again is just unthinkable.
And as of this weekend, “anyone” now appears to include—for the time being—Rupert Murdoch, whose New York Post editorialized Friday that the hearings have cast Trump in such a horrible light that he has been proven “unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again” (yep, that’s how the paper’s editorial ended).
A part of me, and probably the larger part, doesn’t want Trump to run, and for the obvious reason: Any chance greater than zero that he might get back to the White House is a chance that he’ll kill off our democracy.
But another part of me wants a discredited and preferably indicted Trump to run and wreak havoc in the Republican Party. Consider with me the three possible scenarios for the 2024 Republican nomination process.
Scenario one is that Trump runs and wins the nomination. This is still, as of today, the most likely scenario. If and when he announces, he may just clear the field. But it seems increasingly likely that he won’t clear the field and that Ron DeSantis and Glenn Youngkin and Mike Pence and perhaps others will run against him. If it’s a large enough multicandidate field, say seven or eight people, Trump retains the hold on his 30 or whatever percent of the primary electorate and wins multicandidate contests with roughly that percentage of the vote. Trump won a lot of primaries in 2016 with percentages in the low to mid-30s.
Thus 2024 would be like 2016 in that respect. But it would be different in one really important way. In 2016, Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz and the rest of them mostly refrained from attacking Trump because they all assumed he’d fade eventually and each of them wanted to be the one who’d swoop up Trump’s voters, so they didn’t want to offend them. But this time around, DeSantis, Youngkin, et al. will be going after Trump hammer and tong, especially if he’s under indictment (by the way, my working theory on that: Being under indictment will help Trump in a GOP primary; being convicted of something might actually hurt him, although I’m not as sure of that as I’d like to be).
Trump, of course, will answer in kind, and then some. So we have the prospect of a riotous GOP primary. Trump has no party loyalty, obviously, so he’d do whatever dishonest and sleazy things he felt he needed to do to win. He’d be the nominee, but the party would be divided, and Republican-leaning independents would be turned off and willing to vote Democratic (depending on who their nominee is) to keep Trump in retirement.
Scenario two is that Trump runs and loses. This too would be an epic food fight and should leave the party shredded by division. Just envision Trump whining about rigged primaries (because of course he would!) and all the RINOs out to sabotage him. It would be delicious theater. But at least in this scenario, the winner could say to America, “I vanquished Trump.” He’d have to be careful about how he said that so as not to alienate Trump’s red-hots, but he’d find a way to say it, and Murdoch’s media empire would drive the (mostly false) narrative that it’s a new GOP. The nominee would also likely get Trump’s grudging endorsement sometime in the fall. He would be formidable indeed.
Scenario three is that Trump for some reason doesn’t run. Then you have something like a normal nominating process, akin to 2012, when the party produced a nominee who was actually (whatever else his faults) a respectable and decent human being. Trump has so lowered the bar that the GOP doing that—just nominating someone who isn’t a psychopath and liar and grifter and emotional 5-year-old—would be seen as a miracle, and the party would get far more credit than it deserves. A lot of Never Trump Republicans would very comfortably come home to, say, a Glenn Youngkin–Nikki Haley ticket.
Let me be clear here. The best-case scenario for the United States is the third one. We need Trump out of our national life, and with any luck behind bars, or at least so thoroughly discredited that he’s left baying at the moon from Mar-a-Lago and Bedminster, tapping out deranged “truths” to a smaller and smaller audience, taking Saudi money for third-rate golf events (Charles Barkley, how could you?), scamming his remaining admirers, and ketchupping those shoe-leather steaks until one of them finally declares victory over his coronary artery and he shuffles off to the eighth circle for eternity (or will it be the ninth, or the fourth, or the third, or another? He qualifies for so many of them!).
But that’s not up to me, and it’s not likely. He’s probably running. That being the case, we do need to think about how it all might play out to their disadvantage. We want a damaged Trump creating intraparty mayhem. Americans are only now beginning to see—and for this of course we thank the January 6 committee—Trump’s true level of repugnance and malevolence. If he runs again, well, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.