The Washington Post
Trump 2024 is in no one’s interest — even Democrats’
Sometime in the next decade, Donald Trump will almost certainly cease to be a major force in public life. There are many ways that could happen, some better and some worse.
The former president might decline to seek his party’s nomination in 2024. If he does run again, he might lose the primary to someone such as Florida Gov. Ron Desantis. And if he manages to win the primary, he might lose to the Democrat — probably President Biden. Or he might win and enjoy another four years in office, cementing his hold over the party until his age finally sidelines him.
Now an exercise: What’s the best outcome? Trump seeking the nomination, or staying quietly in exile at Mar-a-lago? If he runs, is it better for him to win the nomination or lose it?
I think this is an easy question: Trump was a uniquely terrible president, and the further he stays from power, the better off we will be.
Unfortunately, that view is far from universal. Many Republicans, of course, want him to win because they think he is the best candidate. But even some who profess to loathe Trump want him to be the Republican nominee. Some Democrats opine that Desantis might be even worse than Trump; if the governor continues to gain traction, expect to read that take again, many times over. Even among some Never Trumpers on the right, it is an open question whether to root for Desantis or Trump in the coming showdown.
I think all three groups are gravely mistaken. The nominal argument for Democrats to prefer Trump is that politicians such as Desantis are just as destructive, but more competent, and therefore more dangerous. More competent, I grant you (even though I don’t much like that flavor of politics). But plausible non-trump contenders are still basically normal politicians who are unlikely to ape Trump’s most dangerous, antidemocratic stunts — if only because they’re not reckless or stupid enough to risk indictment.
So I suspect a bit of motivated reasoning here. Democrats think Trump, and Trumpy types, are easier to beat — they’re spending millions to boost the Trumpiest candidates in Republican primaries, willing to risk empowering Trump to lengthen the overall odds that Democrats win. But even if you’re morally okay with risking the country that way, it’s a bad bet; both prediction markets and polls currently give Trump excellent odds of winning the next election.
Never Trump conservatives who think Desantis might be worse are making a related bet: that should Trump lose, Republicans might finally wake up to the mistake they made in supporting him. As a dyed-in-the-wool Never Trumper myself, I certainly understand the temptations of that hope. But I also think it’s folly to long for some movie moment where Trump’s supporters finally repudiate him.
That would require a majority of Republicans to decide they were wrong to ever vote for the guy, and that’s just never going to happen. The fight has been too bitter and too personal. Trump voters will not provide the satisfaction of an about-face to the folks who spent six years calling them revanchist bigots.
If you want to keep Trump as far from power as possible — and you should — then you must appeal to Republican primary voters who still think they pulled the lever for the right guy in 2016. You can’t sway them by explaining, once again, that Trump’s an incompetent narcissist who lied to his followers rather than admit he lost the 2020 election. Neither can you entice them by openly rooting for their nominee to lose so you can rub it in their face.
No, if you want their help keeping Trump out of politics, you need to point out a better way they might win.
So, Republicans: As I noted above, I think you’re mistaken about Trump. But I don’t need you to agree that I was right and you were wrong about him six years ago. I’m not demanding that you capitulate to my idea of what the Republican Party should be. I just want to convince you that right now, Desantis — or virtually anyone else — will give you more of what you want.
Polls suggest Desantis has a good shot at winning a general election. Experience suggests that in office, he is more likely to govern competently and to focus on meaningful legislation and structural reform, rather than obsessively relitigating the 2020 election. He will be more strategic about helping to elect lots of other Republicans who can help him pass that legislation. He will be less prone to the scandals and the verbal incontinence that alienated middle-of-the-road voters. Plus, while Trump is constitutionally limited to only one more term, Desantis could serve a full two — and at 43, he will be less likely to die in office, leaving his work unfinished.
All this is, of course, why some Democrats sincerely hope you’ll nominate Trump instead. So do us all a favor and disappoint them.