early and often

Will Any Republicans Jump Into Trump’s 2024 Snake Pit?

What Republican would really want to climb into the snake pit with Trump? Photo: Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images

It’s probably safe to say that no one has a more acute understanding of Donald Trump’s position in the Republican Party than U.S. senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Cruz, after all, was the last serious rival to Trump standing in 2016, and he even refused to endorse him at the Republican convention that year. But he soon evolved from Trump’s harshest critic and punching bag into an ally and eventually, a bit of a toady.

So when he scoffs at the idea of Ron DeSantis or any other Republicans running for president no matter what Trump decides to do in 2024, we should probably pay attention. He addressed the topic at the Texas Tribune Festival last weekend, per Mediaite:

“There are some Republicans who are beating their chest and running around saying, ‘I’m running no matter what. It doesn’t matter what Trump does,’” he said. “That’s utter garbage. They’re all lying.” …

Cruz said that “one of the prerogatives” of being a former president is that Trump “gets to decide.”

“He gets to make his own decision. Nothing you say, nothing I say is going to influence him, I think, pro or con. He’s going to make his own decision and the rest of the world will react to it,” Cruz said. “I think we’ll find out sometime next year.”

That’s worth mulling when you hear talk about Republicans tiring of Trump’s act, based on polls revealing relatively soft support among GOP voters for another run by the 45th president, such as a new ABC–Washington Post survey that showed 47 percent of Republicans wanting Trump to run again and 46 percent preferring another nominee.

As the Post’s own Philip Bump quickly noted, Trump didn’t need the support of a majority of Republican primary voters in 2016 to win a majority of delegates and the presidential nomination (he actually won about 45 percent of the vote in caucuses and primaries, despite the overwhelming percentage he won in some late primaries after he had locked down the nomination). In part, that was because opposition to Trump was divided among 16 other candidates (the number dwindling as the primaries discarded candidates). Additionally, though, unlike Democrats with their rules requiring strictly proportional delegate awards based on vote shares, Republicans still allow bonus delegates for congressional-district and statewide winners and even some winner-take-all primaries (the situation in, for example, Florida, where Trump smoked two allegedly favorite sons, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, in results that Ron DeSantis might want to review carefully).

Beyond his history of being able to win both primaries and one general election with a minority of the vote, Trump very clearly has a way of making himself the center of attention that would disadvantage any potential rival. That’s true even when he’s exhibiting weaknesses by normal standards; during the recent FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, virtually every Republican politician this side of Liz Cheney instantly expressed solidarity with the allegedly persecuted ex-president. Trump also famously has lowered expectations for civil conduct during election campaigns, which means anyone taking him on in the primaries would court the kind of savage treatment he accorded Cruz in dissing his wife and smearing his father in 2016. Worse yet, now that MAGA-land has shown via subscription to his stolen-election fables and the January 6 riot that it will believe almost literally anything Trump tells it, future smears of Republican rivals might have violent effects. Who wants to be first in line for that?

The truth is that Trump is and will for the foreseeable future remain the king of the mountain in Republican politics. As bad a president as he was, he showed in 2016 and again in 2020 that he’s at his best as a candidate who takes all the oxygen out of any room he enters, baffles his opponents, and mesmerizes even hostile media. As my colleague Jonathan Chait has suggested, Ron DeSantis may be a sort of Trump 2.0 who promotes an equally dangerous authoritarian politics without the ex-president’s immense narcissism and erratic tendencies. But why climb into the snake pit with the original MAGA model when you can wait him out and seize power once he grows tired of politics, or retires, or loses a second general election? Ron DeSantis is 44 years old. He will be Trump’s current age in the 2052 presidential cycle, assuming his state hasn’t been submerged by rising seas and something like democratic elections still exist. Even Ted Cruz is just 51 and can afford to wait out Trump’s reign of terror within his party. But odds are good the ex-president will leave the presidential battleground on his own terms. Let’s hope we are all lucky enough to survive another Trump candidacy and the anti-democratic lessons he learned in 2020.

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Will Any Republicans Jump Into Trump’s 2024 Snake Pit?