Nikki Haley gave millions of American voters good reason to cast their votes for Joe Biden and Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024. Donald Trump is “the most disliked politician in all of America,” and “we shouldn’t have followed him,” she told Fox News and others.
But like nearly all her rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, she declared that she will still vote for him even if he is convicted by a jury on any of the 91 felony charges he faces.
Not that they admire him, but they fear him and his loyal followers. Those are the folks putting Trump far ahead in the polls and who are prepared to hand him their party’s nomination.
Some rivals apparently assume he will be convicted so they’re promising to pardon him for his assorted federal crimes. So much for the law-and-order party.
Not all Republicans apparently are as forgiving. A new Reuters/Ipsos poll shows about half of Republicans wouldn’t vote for Trump if he were convicted of a felony.
Republicans are hoping to embrace Trump's followers
Hoping Trump drops out, fades away, or changes address, the rivals are embracing his policies with gusto and tossing out more of the same red meat to attract his loyal followers.
That strategy may appeal to some in his hardcore base, but over time it hasn’t grown to levels needed for a successful general election campaign. That should worry the wannabes who are trying to convince the hardcore Trump cultists to anoint them with the nomination.
In the old GOP, it was axiomatic that electoral success required running to the right for the nomination and to the center for the general election. But in a party transformed by the former president, it seems doubtful his hardline base would tolerate such a shift.
The disgraced, twice impeached former president’s tally of felony indictments hit 91 last week, and his effort to postpone his biggest federal trial until after the next election drew laughs as the judge rejected it, and set a date early next year, not mid-2026.
Ever the showman, Trump easily upstaged his eight rivals sparring on the Fox News-sponsored debate, not with a prerecorded interview with Tucker Carlson, but with a single photograph.
No doubt after hours of practicing, posing, and posturing, Inmate Number P01135809 posed for his mug shot at the Fulton County Jail. His former national security adviser said he looked like a “thug.” Appropriate for a man just charged with masterminding a criminal racketeering enterprise.
The smug shot immediately showed up on merchandise being hustled by the Trump campaign and the dollars began flowing in. For a grifter like Trump, that’s what it’s all about. The hustle.
WHILE HIS rivals tried to out-Trump Trump with their version of policy ideas his base would like, the reality is that issues are irrelevant for Trump, who summed up his campaign when he told admirers, “I am your retribution.”
For Trump, it is about revenge, grievances, settling scores, and staying out of prison. He never had a policy agenda. And still doesn’t.
His rivals have bought in with their vows to shut down the FBI (criminals hate it), defund the IRS (big donors don’t like paying taxes), seal the southern border (some want to bomb Mexico), prosecute the prosecutors, defund the Ukraine war (surrender to Putin) and, of course, lock up public enemy number one, the notorious Hunter Biden.
Keeping with the spirit of his 2017 inauguration and 2021 insurrection, Trump is talking carnage and hinting civil war. Sarah Palin picked up the theme by declaring, “we need to get angry. We do need to rise up and take our country back.”
Answering the call, House Republicans are acting like Trump’s defense team (the part not yet indicted) instead of legislators as they investigate federal and state prosecutors in Washington, New York, and Georgia, demanding all their evidence (which they’d likely turn over to Trump in a flash).
The Milwaukee debate saw the candidates embrace the issues that resonate with Trump’s base. All rejected any human connection to climate change, some dismissing it as a “hoax.” They’re staunchly anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti-diversity. They want to eliminate the Department of Education and take curriculum control away from teachers and administrators and give it to book banners.
Three of the GOP wannabes are people of color, but their party is overwhelmingly white Christian. The Republican National Committee’s ads have been appearing on Rumble, which Media Matters, a watchdog group, described as a cesspool of antisemitism and pro-Nazi ideology.
FLORIDA GOV. RON DESANTIS has suggested that slavery provided African Americans with valuable job training. I imagine he also thinks Jews learned about construction in Egypt. Now running a distant second behind Trump, he may be the most racist major candidate since Alabama governor George Wallace. The NAACP has called DeSantis’s Florida, ”Hostile to Black Americans.” He also has been waging war on LGBTQ, transgender people, and Mickey Mouse.
Many Republicans, notably Trump and DeSantis, blame the GOP’s favorite Jewish boogeyman, George Soros, for many of the nation’s ills, like, caravans of migrants breaching our borders, Trump’s New York indictments, prosecutors who the Florida governor dislikes, and the heartbreak of psoriasis. Soros, a Holocaust survivor, is a billionaire contributor to liberal causes.
Prominent GOP figures close to Trump preach Christian nationalism and white supremacy, which are inherently antisemitic. A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that more than half of Republicans believe the country should be a strictly Christian nation, NPR reported.
The GOP remains in the firm grip of the National Rifle Association, which rejects all calls for background checks and gun safety measures even as the nation witnesses more and more mass shootings. Multiple local and national Jewish groups are filing briefs asking the Supreme Court in an upcoming high-profile case to limit access to guns for domestic abusers.
Protecting reproductive rights has been a decisive issue in recent votes in several red states, with voters rejecting abortion bans although the GOP and its presidential contenders remain persistently anti-abortion, including several proposing a national ban. Public opinion is moving in the opposite direction and it could make a critical difference in 2024.
Having boxed themselves in on far Right agenda in the spring primaries, Republican candidates will have to worry how their base will react if they try to shift to the center to win over independents, never-Trumpers, and swing voters in the fall. This problem will also face candidates in competitive races for the House, Senate, and Statehouses.
The collective effort to out-Trump Trump might possibly boost the chances of these GOP wannabes to depose their party’s supreme leader, but it’s hard to picture how they would provide a formula for electoral success in a nation on the brink of losing its cherished democracy.
The writer is a Washington-based journalist, consultant, lobbyist, and former American Israel Public Affairs Committee legislative director.