Is Trump Facing Buster This Time?

We do a lot of Trump-bashing on this site, but we have to give the man the respect he has earned in one context: Republican primary elections.

Donald Trump has no chance of winning the general election in 2024. In 2020 I never would have said that Bernie could beat him, but after the insurrection I don’t think Trump could beat even the self-avowed socialist.

In a Republican primary, however, Donald Trump is Mike Tyson in the 1980s. He has not only cleared out the heavyweight division, he has done it in a way that strikes fear in the hearts of contenders. Anybody who enters the ring with him is in grave danger. Not only could they be knocked out at any moment, it could end their career aspirations. It’s easier to wait four years, especially if you’re under 70.

Like Tyson opponents, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have. You are untested against this. To beat him will require a masterful performance with no mistakes and a perfect strategy. That is a long shot. Failure is likely.

An Unlikely Upset

Mike Tyson was tough, but nobody is invincible. In the upset of the century, he was knocked out in 1990 by 42-1 underdog Buster Douglas. Douglas was not a remarkable talent, he never made it to the Hall of Fame of Boxing. With Tyson, he was in the right place at the right time.

Defeating Trump in a GOP primary doesn’t hinge on finding the perfect opponent, although that is important. What’s more important is timing. Has his star faded? Tyson’s marriage was falling apart and, according to Bobby Brown, the two were out partying all night before his fight with Douglas. He was down and distracted.

Is this that time?

Background

Trump is attempting to be the first presidential candidate who lost a general election to be re-nominated in over 100 years, since William Jennings Bryan’s third (!) presidential candidacy in 1908. Sound crazy after the underperformance in 2022 midterms? The Republican base cannot be overestimated. They are capable of nominating this guy again. I daresay he’s the favorite.

Nobody could have beaten Donald Trump in any Republican primary between 2016 and 2022. But after the 2022 wipeout, there may be blood in the water. Do Republicans see the emperor has no clothes?

This very well could be Trump’s Buster Douglas moment, where it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. But I wouldn’t count him out. I am not a GOP primary voter and I have no idea what they’re thinking.

We have been here before. I thought the insurrection spelled the end. Hell, I thought Access Hollywood spelled the end. But time and again, we’ve seen him whip the party into line. I will never count him out among the base.

When I occasionally peek into the echo chamber following the midterms, I see Trump boosters firmly in the denial stage. They don’t think they lost the elections fairly, or they blame the RINOs. They are quite mentally agile in bending facts to whatever they want to see. Many have their revenue streams and influencer status in play.

On the other hand, it’s never felt quite like this. An unprecedented consensus seems to be forming within the party that he is unviable. He didn’t receive a cascade of endorsements after his announcement. I’ve never seen many leaders take shots at him since the 2016 primaries, going on the record with their names.

On the other hand, being the anti-establishment candidate played to his favor last time. But after six years of consolidating power, can he convince voters he’s still the anti-establishment choice?

I don’t pretend to have any idea.

The Champ

Supporters often say they like Trump because he’s “a fighter.” In fact, he is in the WWE Hall of Fame. He also led primetime ratings in reality television. Neither is said in sarcasm. Republican base voters want drama, and nobody in the history of politics can bring the drama like Trump.

Trump is a sociopath. He’ll do or say anything. Plenty of liberals are ringing the alarm bells about DeSantis, warning that he’s worse. I don’t believe it. He is competent at the performative politicking on Fox News, but I don’t think someone who went to Yale on his own merit and served in Iraq would sick a mob on Congress and his vice president. If it comes down to it, there are lines that DeSantis won’t cross. Not Trump.

Trump is a master of power. I’m rereading 48 Laws of Power after 10 years. It’s uncanny how many lessons remind me of Trump. He is a natural. Nobody embodies all the laws, as some are contradictory. But he is the real deal.

Only some of these apply to how he treats Democrats, foreign leaders, media, etc. For most of these, think about how he treats other Republicans.

  • Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
  • So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard It With Your Life
  • Court Attention at All Costs
  • Get Others to Do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit
  • Learn to Keep People Dependent on You
  • Crush Your Enemy Totally
  • Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
  • Concentrate Your Forces
  • Keep Your Hands Clean
  • Create a Cult-like Following by Playing on People’s Need to Believe
  • Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
  • Play Into People’s Fantasies
  • Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew
  • Be Royal in Your Own Fashion: Act Like a King to Be Treated Like One
  • Disdain Things You Cannot Have: Ignoring Them is the Best Revenge
  • Create Compelling Spectacles
  • Assume Formlessness

Trump is more than a politician. He is a lifestyle brand like Apple, Harley Davidson or CrossFit. You saw signs, stickers and gear well outside of the election seasons. Trump gives people identity. I don’t think it’s something they’ll take to their deathbeds, but kicking the habit takes longer than what has transpired thus far.

The Opponent

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may be the perfect opponent in that he channels that performative, reality-television drama, but with the message discipline and organizational competence to carry the MAGA torch in a way that’s more palatable for the kind of people who didn’t watch The Apprentice or WWE.

But DeSantis has a superpower that Trump doesn’t: discipline. If his advisers tell him something is a losing issue, he’ll drop it. He’ll stay on message. I’ve watched some of his press conferences, especially during the pandemic. He comes off as reasonable, even as he set his state up for a high death rate.

One bright spot in the midterm bloodbath was DeSantis winning reelection by a whopping 19 points. Could Ron DeSantis be Buster Douglas? The master of power himself thinks so, which is why he immediately lashed out.

Buster Douglas stayed out of reach of Tyson’s right hands and left hooks until the later rounds, letting him tire. Reportedly, DeSantis’s strategy is the same. Don’t engage, let Trump implode. That may work. But at some point he’ll have to throw punches. And when you throw punches at Trump, you put yourself in the line of fire. Unlike in boxing, a sociopath won’t get tired. You’ll have to take those shots.

Douglas was tested (four losses before Tyson) and underestimated. DeSantis, on the other hand, is barely tested (statewide only) and probably overestimated. Republican leaks say he is awkward and weird. He has a small circle of advisers that aren’t enough for national primetime. Most importantly, he hasn’t declared his candidacy yet.

As an adviser told Obama in 2006, you’ll never be hotter than you are now. That is where DeSantis finds himself, and he is being told the same. He’ll probably get in the ring, but it’s not a given. And he just won a second term for governor. He’ll have to wait a while, during which Trump and his following will attack.

Trump May Enjoy a Crowded Field

This is where the boxing analogy departs from the reality of the American political system. When Trump tells it, you’d think he defeated 16 opponents, as in consecutive boxing matches. Primary elections are more like the WWE Royal Rumble. Everybody is in the ring at the same time, and you have to stay alive until the end and knock off the last few standing.

Trump did not win a majority of votes in any state primary until April 16, when the field was whittled down to just three candidates. But in a winner-take-all system, he won most states with an average of 40%. If he would have faced either Ted Cruz or John Kasich (not both) sooner in the process, he probably would have lost. He only converted the Cruz coalition as president in the following years, and the Kasich people probably left the party.

With blood in the water, more candidates may jump in, which helps Trump. He may have a football team with subs on stage, in which he needs only a diehard plurality.

On the other hand, the Democrats learned from the Republicans and, fearful of an unviable candidate in Bernie Sanders, pressured all the non-Bernie candidates to coalesce around the strongest moderate, Joe Biden. Did the Republicans learn from the Democrats? Will the establishment Republicans eager to move on pressure non-MAGA candidates to drop out and coalesce around the strongest?

Watch Mitch McConnell. He could have ended the Trump show after the insurrection. He “had him in his crosshairs” is not the right metaphor. McConnell had to take action to let him live. He had Trump handcuffed to a chair. Gun in one hand and keys to the cuffs in the other, he unlocked the cuffs and set Trump free. Then the party failed to retake the Senate. McConnell is the most effective Republican politician in a generation, but nobody bats 1.000. I know that eats him up. He will lean on the scales.

Also watch the money men. Republicans still need big donors, and big donors want a return on their investment (tax cuts). Especially those who earned their fortunes (as opposed to inherited) are not keen to throw good money after bad. While Trump delivered tax cuts in 2017, I think many will balk at writing big checks if he’s at the top of the ticket after leading the party to three consecutive wipeouts, with the most recent being so historic. Will the GOP donor class insist on a pivot?

Trump May Have Help

Some Democrats employed a curious strategy in the 2022 Republican primaries. They spent money to boost the kookiest crackpots parroting Trump’s talking points about stolen elections and tinfoil-hat stuff (Mastriano in PA, Gibbs in MI-03).

Some pro-democracy pundits criticized this as reckless. By helping an antidemocratic candidate gain access to the general election ticket, you run the risk of putting an antidemocratic politician in power. I sympathized with that view … but then it worked. All the Republican crackpots who received Democratic help lost their general elections.

Given the strategy worked with 100% effectiveness, it’s impossible to believe there aren’t conversations in the Democratic ivory tower that it wouldn’t work in 2024. Boost Trump in the primary, then destroy him in the general. Will they do it?

Joe Biden put out this ad immediately after Trump’s announcement. Damn good ad, but it doesn’t look like he wants to help Trump. Maybe he needs to keep his hands clean, and somebody outside the ivory tower will do it.

It would be surreal to see the Republican establishment undermining Trump in a primary while Democrats boost him. Surreal, but not outside reality.

The Case for Trump

I just can’t picture the party choosing someone else. What does that look like? Does Trump concede and vow to throw his energy and resources behind the nominee? Outside reality. Does he move on? No way, he needs the attention. Does he run as an independent? I doubt it, but I can see a convention-floor fight.

I wouldn’t bet one nuevo sol on my prediction. I could see it going either way. But I’m going to put myself out there and bet on Trump being the GOP nominee in 2024.

Leave your prediction in the comments. Trump, DeSantis, Pence, Pompeo, whoever. Correct predictions will get a freebie from Peruvian Naturals, shipped anywhere in the United States, UK or Europe. Place your predictions now!

2 comments

  1. Colin,
    If Trump is the nominee I think he will lose the election again. He’s too toxic now. The interesting part is what happens if Trump loses the Republican nomination? I could see him quickly building a third party and even running candidates for Congress across the country. He would decimate the Republican party not only by losing the White House (like happened when Ross Perot ran in 1992) but maybe even losing large majorities in Congress by splitting off the Trump vote. But he may not have enough time to put together a slate of candidates across the country. I’m good with all of that. Trump and the Republicans have been trying to touch the “third rail of American politics”, Social Security. I’m going to keep spreading that message.

    Like

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