Donald Trump's 2024 Doomsday Scenario Terrifies Republicans
As Donald Trump's approval ratings plunge — while Joe Biden's spike upward — Republican donors fervently bet their millions on someone who might stop him from winning their party's presidential nomination again. But much as they dread his reappearance atop their ticket next year, there's another threatening scenario that they fear even more.
Asked recently whether he intends to support the 2024 Republican nominee, whomever that might be, Trump ominously rejected any such promise. "It would depend," he told the New York Times. "It would have to depend on who the nominee was."
In those circumstances the nominee obviously will be someone who defeated him. Does anyone expect the sorest loser ever to endorse that hated adversary?
If an embittered and vindictive Trump were to run on a third-party line in November 2024, that will signal end times for the Grand Old Party (without the divine Rapture). Not only would his spoiler candidacy guarantee the Republican ticket's defeat — and the likely loss of many House and even Senate seats — but there is also a strong possibility that the GOP would come in third, not second, with incalculable yet assuredly devastating consequences.
Denied renomination, Trump might simply sit out the general election while continuously tweeting nasty remarks about the Republican ticket, which would discourage his base from voting at all, also disastrous for Republicans.
Or, in the face of a criminal indictment that appears increasingly likely, he just might see a third-party or independent campaign as an opportunity beyond irresistible — to portray himself as a victim of political persecution by both major parties, to exploit his multimillion-dollar fundraising grift and to exact revenge on the Republican establishment that thwarted him. The indicted Trump would run out of desperate necessity, to remain a candidate as long as possible — and, who knows, possibly win as a long shot, entering that ultimate safe harbor from prosecution: the White House.
Going third-party wouldn't be easy, not even for a celebrity candidate like Trump with a big and devoted base of supporters. Nearly every state has a "sore loser" statute that makes ballot access difficult if not impossible for anyone who ran the same year in a major party primary. Richard Winger, a respected expert who edits and publishes Ballot Access News, says that the courts have raised substantial obstacles to third-party presidential candidacies that didn't exist 10 years ago, including decisions that would hinder a major-party loser from going independent in November.
Republican leaders worrying about Trump are acutely aware, however, that difficult doesn't mean impossible. For a brazen character like him, a way to skirt the law is always available — and that rule applies here, too.
The Libertarian Party, which once would have been entirely hostile to Trump, now includes a leadership caucus that shares many of his nationalistic and bigoted attitudes. Libertarians could simply offer Trump ballot access in almost every state — and he could offer them an unprecedented (and badly needed) bonanza of money, publicity and, well, money votes. Trump's adviser and dirty trickster Roger Stone is a veteran at this game. He has occasionally meddled in Libertarian and other third-party politics before. Back in 2000, he briefly persuaded Trump to pursue a presidential candidacy on the Reform Party line.
Trump wouldn't necessarily need the Libertarians, with their traditional embrace of open borders, gay rights and permissive drug laws. But who cares about a platform? Not Trump, who ran in 2020 on no party platform whatsoever. Although a truly independent candidacy would involve considerable expense and effort, Trump could easily raise enough money to get the needed half-million petition signatures and to finance legal challenges to state laws restricting his ballot access. And for him, the incentive to grift is overwhelming.
Then again, Trump may be the one candidate who can dodge statutory obstacles — which require action by state officials to enforce them.
What would happen to Republican state officials who moved to disqualify Trump's candidacy? Do they want to risk the wrath of his voters? What would happen to their party? Does anyone think that, for instance, the indicted far-right attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, is going to stand in Trump's way — or act like a greeter at his casino?
And why would Democratic state officials disqualify Trump and thus preclude him from splitting the right-wing vote? What would be in it for them? Indeed, why should officials of either party bother to prevent him from appearing on the ballot when they could simply look the other way? They can all insist that they believe in full ballot access, strictly as a matter of principle.
Of course, the third-party scenario may never come to pass. Trump could well win the Republican nomination in a multi-candidate field, where every primary is winner-take-all. With more Republican candidates piling into the clown car, his odds look better every week. Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo and whoever else are all Trump's little helpers.
But if it doesn't work out for him, there's always the option of mutually assured destruction.
But if it doesn't work out for him, there's always the fallback of mutually assured destruction.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay
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