Having been saddled by everyone involved with the largest portion of blame for Tuesday’s election disappointment, Donald Trump’s descent into the pit of despair takes exactly the form you could expect: a series of Mean Girls rants about everyone more popular than he is in the Republican Party.
There has been much talk over the years about how there’s a Good Trump and a Bad Trump, but the truth about our 45th president is that, just like the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s version of the Hulk, he’s always angry — he just controls it better when times are good. Now that times are bad — or as bad as they can be when you have millions more Republicans voting than Democrats and you just dislodged Nancy Pelosi from power — he is reverting to his true form. It ain’t pretty.
The golden-haired one is blasting away at anyone and everyone who might challenge him, the most prominent being Ron DeSantis. The Florida governor is beloved by Trump supporters and Republicans of all stripes — and committed a series of awful and unforgivable crimes: being popular, having a hot wife, being really, really successful, right in Trump’s face. The audacity! Only Melania gets to wear gold, you filthy peasant!
This is a useful moment for Republicans, because it challenges all of their prior assumptions about the form a Trump return would take. There is an alt-fiction version in which Trump returns as a triumphant unifying force. Having bent the party establishment to his will against their protestations, this Trump could ride into the 2024 nomination as the one who could unite the various strands of the coalition by dint of his past success and promises kept.
That was always a fantasy. A vindictive Trump, one who feels maligned by the success of other Republicans as opposed to built up by it, was always going to be the nature of his return. His greatest policy success was thanks to Paul Ryan’s tax plan — and he hates him. His greatest domestic legacy is transforming the judiciary thanks to Mitch McConnell’s nominee advancement — and he hates him. His greatest foreign policy legacy is the Abraham Accords and upending the assumptions regarding Israel in the Middle East thanks to Jared Kushner — and, well, I don’t know that he hates his son-in-law but he sure doesn’t seem very grateful for it.
Nothing should surprise us about this. There’s a reason that firing away at Glenn Youngkin with a flat racial joke looks pathetic — because it is. Youngkin owes Trump nothing, nothing at all — and deep down, Trump knows this. He was never going to be OK with a GOP that doesn’t need him to succeed, and in fact views his role as a major drag on its candidates. The people who went all-in on Trump as the Once and Future King are his only friends at this point — and they have been very quiet in the past seventy-two hours. The idea espoused by those closest to him that he has a right to the nomination this time wears thinner every day.
Election Day showed what kind of conservatism can win: a populist agenda paired with strength and competence in governance. It’s not more complicated than that. And while Trump certainly forced the GOP to embrace the former, he is presenting himself in opposition to the latter. Boomer Republicanism had its day, and it gave us George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Now the time has come for something new — the sooner the better, for the party and the country.