Well that’s that. It now looks certain that Donald J. Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for president this year. At the time of writing, Nikki Haley is still hanging on in the primaries, but the contest is essentially over. Even if Haley stayed around and hovered up the votes of every other Republican candidate who has dropped out, she still wouldn’t arrive at the dominant position Trump has occupied since the start of the race.
This will be a cause for either alarm or rejoicing. What nobody should be is surprised. Ever since the race for the 2024 nomination started, it has all been about the man who wasn’t there. Trump chose not to turn up to any of the primary debates, sitting them out like a lion allowing the minions to pick away at a carcass he had already feasted on. What would it have availed him to mix with the single-digit scavengers?
He needn’t have worried anyway. The only candidate who ever actually pointed themselves straight at Trump was Chris Christie, who is a superb debater but never managed to break through. Except for Vivek Ramaswamy, who paid frequent and loud homage to the Don, the rest tried to duck the question of the absentee leader.
The oddity is that everybody who is loyal to Donald Trump knows more about him than they can ever admit
In retrospect, that may not have been the best move. During the campaign I asked one Republican whether anyone else might join Christie in actually running at Trump and was told it would only really make sense for Ron DeSantis. Why? “Because nothing else is working for him,” was the reply.
When he started off, DeSantis seemed like he had a genuine chance of breaking through. He has a background in the military. As governor of Florida, he took a number of high-wire stances, from opposing Covid lockdowns to running straight at the Disney corporation (which is actually scarier than it sounds). For a moment it seemed like a path forward could be his. But as a candidate he was oddly muted, and he didn’t seem to be able to explain why he wasn’t just a less experienced, more palatable Trump.
Whether or not a full-on attack on Trump would have worked, he didn’t take it. So earlier this week he dropped out of the race and joined most of the other candidates in swearing his fealty to the boss.
That Nikki Haley is now desperate can be seen from the fact that this experienced former governor and ambassador to the UN complained in an interview this week about how hard it has been to be a woman and “brown.” Haley has never previously been a whiner — nor noticeably brown — and the Republican base watched this with a cocked eyebrow. They don’t like a whiner.
So Trump will be the Republican nominee, and the circus can recommence. I say “circus,” because how else to describe the endless spectacle and speculation which surrounds everything to do with Trump on and off the campaign trail? He is excellent at belittling people until they kiss his ring — at which point, generally speaking, you can set your watch and wait for him to trash them.
Trump is a man about whom almost nothing new can be said. But there is a challenge for all the Republicans who are going to have to stand behind him in case he turfs Joe Biden out of office. His detractors hope that he can still be taken out by some non-political means: one state court has already ruled that Trump’s name cannot be on the ballot at the presidential election in November. His lawyers are challenging that ruling, and in truth Trump had no chance of winning in Colorado anyway. But there is a justified fear among his team that one ban could lead to another.
Other opponents hope that the growing list of indictments and legal cases against him could mean that Trump is prosecuted before the November election. They dream of him being deemed inadmissible or having to campaign from prison — without taking into account that such a fantasy scenario (like every other scenario) might actually help him. In any case, all such ideas seem to rely on increasingly forlorn hopes.
It is going to be Trump, and people are going to have to get used to that. And therefore two spectacles will start to play themselves out.
The first is the Democrats. As the months go by (see Freddy Gray’s article), it is inevitable that there are going to be increased rumblings in the Democratic Party. Can they really afford to run Biden again? A man who is always one stumble — metaphorical or actual — away from disaster. And if not him, then who? Trump may be the only person who could actually help Biden get reelected. That’s how many Democrats console themselves. But if the American economy goes into recession this year or there is any other kind of financial downturn, the odds of Trump beating Biden increase significantly.
And then there is the Republican Party, where there is a deeper moral crisis. The oddity of Trump is that everybody in the party who is loyal to him — or is going to have to become loyal — knows more about him than they can ever admit.
January 6th was not a serious attempt to overthrow the US government. It was not an “insurrection,” as the left-wing media have insisted for three years. But it was a disgrace, and it was egged on by Trump, who marched his supporters to the Capitol and let them rampage there for a considerable time before he called them off. That should make him unfit for office, but it clearly hasn’t. It is the same with everything to do with his character and governing style. And yet a Trump presidency would offer conservatives in America (and the rest of the world) an opportunity to reverse four years of Biden’s policies and solve a number of major problems on the home and foreign stage.
Is Trump the ideal tool to use against the Democrats? Almost certainly not. But he’s the tool the base has chosen. The world will now get to see whether that was wise.