4 min read
Why its Time for the GOP to Move On From Trump

Yeshaya Gedzelman

On April 4th, the Manhattan district attorney made the unprecedented decision to issue an indictment of US President Donald J. Trump on 34 criminal charges relating to his alleged falsifying of business records and allegations that he used campaign money to pay a pornstar to keep silent about her extramarital affair with him. Trump predicted his imminent arrest in a post on Truth Social and urged his supporters to “protest, [and] take our nation back”. However, protest crowds were lightly attended, a concerning sign for his presidential candidacy in 2024. Nevertheless, he is still the candidate to beat in the GOP primary. This past April, a Wall Street Journal poll found that 48% of GOP (an acronym for “Grand Old Party”, a nickname for the Republican Party) voters backed Trump. This is a figure that is twice as high as his main rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, with the former President leading DeSantis 51%-38% in a potential head-to-head matchup. DeSantis announced his candidacy late this month, pledging to “lead our great American Comeback”. Trump's unpopularity with independents (a PBS poll in September of 2022 found that 67% of independents didn’t want him to run again) and popularity with the GOP base, suggests that conservative voters should carefully consider other alternatives before choosing Trump as their nominee for president in 2024. 

When Donald Trump descended down the gold plated escalator to announce his 2016 presidential run, few pundits or candidates saw him as a credible threat. As his campaign progressed, Trump continued to create controversy after controversy, but it had little effect on his appeal to his supporters. In fact, Trump's brash and unscripted style of leadership was one of the key reasons Trump earned the support and trust of his voting base. His rhetoric was a voice to many Americans that rejected political correctness and despised the political establishment. They preferred Trump's tendency to eschew political correctness (PC) and political norms and traditions. Trump’s controversial behavior had the additional benefit of attracting consistent media coverage and thereby increasing his political profile in the midst of a crowded GOP primary. The increased media attention in turn helped him highlight the difference between himself and the rest of his fellow candidates. He would go on to win the GOP primary, in spite of the fact that he had been severely underestimated by both progressives and the political establishment. On November 8th 2016, Trump was elected to become the 45th President of the United States. Hillary Clinton, the consummate political insider, had lost to someone who had never held public office or served in the military. This was the first time in American history that such a candidate who lacked traditional credentials won the presidency. In an election season that was defined by its break from political norms and traditions, it was a fitting end. 

By the end of the 2016 presidential campaign, the political environment in the US was fraught with palpable tension. The campaign had been an all-out slugfest that had become aggressively personal. Trump’s campaign rallies frequently featured chants of “lock her up”, a reference to Clinton’s alleged corruption and Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton if he was elected President. Hillary described Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” and frequently tried to paint him and his voters as bigoted and uneducated. Upon entering office, Trump’s presidency faced staunch and uncompromising opposition from progressives, who rallied behind the symbolic hashtag #notmypresident, a powerful symbol that signfied the extent of polarization in the US. A December 2016 Pew Research Center poll found that American voters were divided in their views about the President-elect to an extent that hadn’t been seen in decades. 

In the wake of Trump’s 2016 victory, thousands of progressives gathered nationwide in America's biggest cities, to vent their anger against Trump’s victory. Some of the protests escalated into full blown riots and more than 120 people were arrested on that night. Despite Clinton’s gracious request in her concession speech, in which she urged her supporters to give Trump a chance, her plea mostly fell on deaf ears. Regardless of how sincere it may have been, her concession speech was a rare instance of political civility, amidst the fire and brimstone rhetoric between the two figures before and after the 2016 election. Hillary would later reverse course, claiming in September 2019 that “Trump knows he’s an illegitimate President”. 

For most progressives, there was no change in their rhetoric or their shared antipathy towards his presidency. Only four months after the beginning of his administration, progressive lawmakers Al Green (D-TX) and Brad Sherman (D-CA), had already filed to impeach the President. Sherman alleged that the President had obstructed justice by firing FBI director James Comey in may of 2017, accusing the president of trying to “curtail” the FBI’s investigation into Michael Flynn, his former NSA (National Security Agency) Advisor. However, Sherman's early impeachment attempt gained little traction and was ultimately blocked in the House of Representatives, which was controlled by Republicans at that time. The FBI's investigation into the president over collusion with Russia, also came up empty, with special prosecutor Robert Muller finding no evidence of collusion. 

Despite facing staunch and determined political opposition from progressives throughout his first term, Trump delivered on many of his campaign promises. In that vein he withdrew from the Iran deal, tightened border security, reduced illegal immigration, and moved the embassy to Jerusalem. Still, he has become a liability for conservatives, a man with tremendous political baggage and risk, should the GOP decide to select him as their presidential nominee in 2024. Trump has a very limited ability to attract new support from independent voters and nominating him will only further inflame tensions between conservatives and progressives. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that among registered voters, 34% of voters viewed DeSantis favorably, 42% unfavorably and 22% said they hadn't heard enough about him. In that same poll, only 2% of respondents said they hadn't heard enough about Trump and 4% said they hadn't heard enough about Biden. Furthermore, Trump has already faced President Biden in a general election and lost. It will be challenging for him to make an effective case that the results would be different from 2020 if the party picked him as their candidate for 2024. 

If the GOP is serious about winning the White House in 2024, it should nominate Ron DeSantis as their candidate. While DeSantis may not be as well-known of an entity to conservative voters as Trump, he possesses many of the same positive qualities and lacks many of his key negatives. Like Trump, he is also diametrically opposed to bowing to political correctness and has made that a central tenet of his political career. Both leaders are charismatic and share a flair for political drama, but Desantis is younger and more eloquent than Trump. For now, Trump is still the candidate to beat in the primary in 2024. As voters get to learn more about DeSantis his poll numbers will likely improve. If they don’t, Republicans should be worried, because he is the only candidate who can beat President Biden in the general election.

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