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This sort of demented hyperpartisanship is, and will continue to be, the ruin of the party until it stops. And no one should be angrier about it than Ron DeSantis fans.
After all, it’s not Democrats who suffer most from this thinking. It’s Republicans not named “Donald J. Trump.”
Explaining at length why Trump is dangerously unfit for office and then chirping merrily that you’ll support him again in 2024 if he’s the nominee has become almost a rite of passage among Trump’s Republican enemies. There was Mitch McConnell, shortly after his famous floor speech blaming the insurrection squarely on Trump:
McConnell says he would support Trump if he was the Republican nominee pic.twitter.com/l0hRgpcmM8
— Acyn (@Acyn) February 25, 2021
There was Bill Barr, who’s been the single most damaging witness against Trump for the January 6 committee:
Even if [Donald Trump] “lied about the election” and “threatened democracy,” as you write in your book, it’s better than a Democrat? –@SavannahGuthrie
As of now, it’s hard for me to conceive that I wouldn’t vote for the Republican nominee. -Former Attorney General William Barr pic.twitter.com/nguVCpt2gh
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 7, 2022
There was Brad Raffensperger, who wouldn’t quite commit to supporting Trump next time but wouldn’t rule it out either:
Watch Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who has been verbally abused & threatened by Trump, whose family got death threats from Trump supporters, *refuse* to rule out voting for Trump again in 2024, in an interview with me.
I was stunned.pic.twitter.com/AGAYD89aXC
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) November 17, 2021
And now there’s Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House, who testified yesterday about Team Trump’s effort to get him to break not just his civic oath but his religious duty. Bowers got emotional remembering how “stop the steal” goons harassed his family at their home, blaring on sound trucks that he’s a pedophile and tormenting his gravely ill daughter in her final weeks before she passed away. The entire point of the hearing at which he told his story was that Trump can never again be trusted with power. He’s too corrupt, too fascist by instinct, and too callous about hurting innocent people who get in his way. More than once during his testimony, Bowers got choked up while remembering what he’d been through.
But he’s all-in on another coup attempt in 2024, he assured the AP yesterday:
Bowers said efforts by Trump’s backers have harmed the nation, undercut trust in elections and the right of people to vote their conscience.
“I just think it is horrendous. It’s terrible,” Bowers said. “The result of throwing the pebble in the pond, the reverberations across the pond, have, I think, been very destructive.”…
But while Bowers said the efforts by Giuliani and other Trump backers have been hurtful, he does not levy any criticism on Trump directly and would support him if he were on the ballot.
“If he is the nominee, if he was up against Biden, I’d vote for him again,” Bowers said. “Simply because what he did the first time, before COVID, was so good for the county. In my view it was great.”
What can you say?
He’s talking about a guy who put out a statement yesterday claiming that Bowers told him privately that Arizona’s election was rigged, which Bowers says is a brazen lie. But even so: Hand him that 2024 ballot with Trump’s name on it and he’ll check the box again. He’s a Republican, isn’t he?
We’ll never see a more disquieting example of the Trump-era sense among righties that any degree of corruption by a Republican can be excused, up to and including an attempted putsch, so long as the other option on the ballot favors more liberal policies. “Autocrat or Democrat?”: For around 80-90 percent of Republicans, there’s an easy answer. And it isn’t “Democrat” or even “third party” or “stay home.”
I repeat: DeSantis and other post-Trump Republicans are the main casualties of that logic, not the Democrats. So long as Trump’s MAGA bloc is the only one in the party willing to draw a red line on who the GOP’s nominee can be, they have all the leverage over the decision. If fans of Trump say “we walk if Trump’s not our candidate” and fans of DeSantis say “we prefer him to Trump but will support the coup-plotter if we have to,” then there’s only one option. The party has to nominate Trump to keep his supporters from staying home and blowing the election.
Whereas the suckers who’ll vote for any ol’ garbage with the Republican brand on it will turn out either way, so they don’t need to be appeased. No doubt McConnell, Barr, Raffensperger, and Bowers would all prefer DeSantis to Trump — but who cares what they prefer? They’ll vote for either. So nominate Trump.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so the wing of the party that’s looking for someone new in 2024 had better get a lot squeakier. It’s useless to appeal to them on moral or civic grounds, such as “we should probably care more about our Constitution than to support a guy who tried to stage an autogolpe less than two years ago.” If that argument won’t work on someone as dignified as Rusty Bowers, it won’t work on the average Republican. But maybe appealing to them in terms of self-interest will matter: “If you want a different nominee next time, you have to be willing to drive just as hard of a bargain as the Trump fanatics do.” The moment a majority of the party decides that Trump is a dealbreaker as nominee — and means it — is the moment the DeSantis era begins.
Of course, if the DOJ ends up locking Trump up, all of the above is moot:
The Justice Department’s investigation of the Jan. 6 attack ratcheted up Wednesday as federal agents dropped subpoenas on people in at least two states, in what appeared to be a widening probe of how political activists supporting President Donald Trump tried to use invalid electors to thwart Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory…
Officials have previously said that the Justice Department and FBI were examining the issue of false electors, who Trump and others hoped might be approved by state legislators in a last-ditch bid to keep Trump in the White House. Until now, however, those investigative efforts seemed to primarily involve talking to people in Republican circles who knew of the scheme and objected; the subpoenas issued Wednesday suggest the Justice Department is now moving to question at least some of those who allegedly agreed to pursue the effort.
Meanwhile, the January 6 committee may end up scheduling additional hearings because new evidence continues to flow in, according to Jamie Raskin, and he’s not just blowing smoke in saying that. Any sane party would cut Trump loose yesterday as damaged goods and a civic abomination and pivot to the popular young guy DeSantis. But if even Rusty Bowers can’t avoid hyperpartisan brain damage, all hope is probably lost.