The GOP Is Starting to Plot Against Donald Trump


It is also a conversation reminiscent of one many had before. Back in 2016, senior Republicans fretted that putting Trump on top of the ticket would spell certain doom. “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed,” later Trump acolyte Lindsey Graham notoriously tweeted. “And we will deserve it.” Those concerns proved to be unfounded, of course, as Trump prevailed over a split Republican field and then went on to defeat Hillary Clinton while Republicans held the House and Senate. But this time around, few Republicans think Trump can pull it off again, not after spending the last three years nursing his grievances over 2020, and especially not after his hand-picked candidates were walloped in the midterms.

Back in 2020, the buzzword among Democrats was “electability,” as the need to defeat Trump came to outweigh any other concerns or considerations including those of ideology, vision, competence and style. And the winner of the “electability” primary, at least for donors and liberal pundits, was Joe Biden, which led to most of his competitors dropping out and endorsing him when he was still trailing in the delegate count to Bernie Sanders. Republicans are now hoping that a similar dynamic plays out on their side this year and that even Trump loyalists will understand the stakes. Trump did not respond to requests for comment.

“I don’t think it is fair to call Donald Trump a damaged candidate,” said Eric Levine, a top GOP fundraiser who has been calling on the party to move on from Trump since the 2020 election and the uprising at the Capitol. “He is a metastasizing cancer who if he is not stopped is going to destroy the party. Donald Trump is a loser. He is the first president since Hoover to lose the House, the Senate and the presidency in a single term. Because of him Chuck Schumer is the Leader Schumer, and the progressive agenda is threatening to take over the country. And he is probably the only Republican in the country, if not the only person in the country, who can’t beat Joe Biden.”

The big fear among donors like Levine and other party players is that, like in 2016, a number of challengers to Trump will jump into the primary and linger too long, splitting the field and allowing Trump to win. And some of these top Republicans are meeting with potential candidates and telling them that if they want to run, they should by all means do so — but that they should also be prepared to drop out well before voting begins in order to make sure that the GOP puts their best candidate forward against Biden.

“I am worried about this, but experience is a good teacher, and there is no education in the second kick of a mule,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and longtime adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell. “My hope is that those exploring a race [for president] right now are asking themselves what is best for the party.”

Bob Vander Plaats, the president of The Family Leader, a socially conservative advocacy group, is one of the most sought-after endorsers in the Iowa Caucus. He said that he is speaking with every potential candidate about the need to not overstay their welcome in the race.

“I tell them that there is an open and fair playing field here in the state of Iowa, and that we will introduce you to our base, and we will give you all kinds of opportunities for you to introduce yourself. And if you have the call in your heart to run for president, I am the last person to tell you to not to.

“But,” he also tells them. “Do not listen to your consultants, who have a vested interest in you staying in. I can help you decide if you should stay in or not.”

“They all agree right away,” he added.

Leading donors who have spoken with the top-non-Trump contenders like Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence say that all get it, that none of them are looking to play the spoiler and are aware of the dangers to the party, if not the country, of a Trump Redux. For evidence, these donors point to the potential candidate’s public statements and recent memoirs, in which all are critical of Trump in one way or another.

“Does Mike Pence really want his legacy to be that he got four percent of the vote and helped elected Donald Trump?” asked one adviser to a major Republican giver. “Same goes for [Mike] Pompeo, same goes for [Nikki] Haley. They want to get traction, of course, but there is a higher motivation to pull out more quickly based on what it would mean for the country and the party.”

Yet if the Haleys and Pompeos of the world end up running, they are doing so to win, and despite what they tell donors now, once they start getting a warm reception on the stump it can be hard to stop. “Everybody on every campaign says, ‘Why is it our responsibility to keep Donald Trump from winning?’” said GOP strategist Dave Carney. “You have some people that are just running to sell books, but most of the folks that are looking at this are doing so because they think there is a path for them to win.”

Trump seems to recognize how the prospect of a crowded field would help him, keeping quiet even as some of his former closest aides consider their own campaigns, and training his fire instead on Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who is leading him in some polls. Trump has been reluctant to take the bait as his former ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, taunts her former boss by calling for a “new generation” of leadership. Trump is Trump, so he has hit back occasionally, but has also said publicly that Haley “should do it,” a sign that, as former chair of the South Carolina Republican Party Katon Dawson put it, “Trump has a solid 31 [percent]. And if it’s a big field a solid 31 can carry you to the nomination. The only way to defeat him is if some of these folks team up.”

The question is how, and on this, even some of the Republican rich are at a loss on how to proceed. No more are there party bosses with the power to clear the field. The rise of online fundraising means that even the effect of the donor class can be limited. And while leaders of religious and grassroots groups hold sway, they have their own politics to think about, and can’t very well step much beyond where their members want to go.

“I don’t even know who would be having these kinds of conversations,” said Jennings. “There is no convening authority. You just hope the candidates figure it out and we don’t come in to next January with another John Kasich running around dividing the field.”

On the Democratic side, back in 2016, the party’s donors and senior leadership united well before the primaries behind Hillary Clinton only to see the folly of that approach when her weaknesses as a candidate revealed themselves as she struggled to fend off a challenge from Bernie Sanders.

For Republicans, the likeliest beneficiary of any similar effort would be DeSantis, who is outpacing Trump in some head-to-head polls. DeSantis has advantages, not least among them the fact that he just raised over $200 million for his reelection bid, and that he has a knack for using his perch in the Florida statehouse to hammer Democrats over culture war issues. But he is untested on the national stage, and there are persistent whispers that he can be clumsy about the normal give-and-take of politics. Many party bigwigs say they would rather watch the process play out for at least a year before picking favorites, with the understanding that if candidates now polling in the single digits don’t see their prospects improve, they move to consolidate behind one Not Trump after the first couple of primaries. “The great hope for DeSantis is that he breaks through quickly, and that convinces everyone else there is no path,” said one former Trump adviser who now thinks the former president can’t win.

One oddity of the current moment is that the weaker Trump seems, with federal and local investigations piling up and his campaign launch landing with a thud, the higher the chances that more possible candidates will launch their own bids, seeing a path to victory more likely. And the more candidates enter, the easier it becomes for Trump to win with an increasingly smaller share of the vote.

There may be no convening authority, but there are conversations among donors and party activists who point to how on the other side of the aisle, in 2020, nearly the entire remaining Democratic field dropped out almost at the same time and endorsed Biden. Republicans fret that there is no equivalent of a Nancy Pelosi or a Jim Clyburn in their party who can apply pressure to the dreams of would-be presidents. Still, donors are talking now about pooling money together once the primary gets under way in earnest and a true Trump alternative emerges.

“Donors have wised up,” said Liam Donovan, a GOP strategist. “That is the main control mechanism. There is not going to be oxygen for a lot of these guys, and there are not going to be resources.”

There is already some movement along these lines.

“I don’t see a big bunch of donors coming behind Trump at this point,” said Andy Sabin, a metal mogul who gave over $100,000 to Trump over the years and who opened his Hamptons estate for a Trump fundraiser in 2019. “I wouldn’t give Trump a fucking nickel, and that hasn’t changed. As we get closer Trump is going to see the handwriting on the wall. Now, he may not care if he fucks everybody up. Trump worries only about Trump, so he may not care if we lose as long as he has his day in the park, but I don’t know any donor that wants to give a red nickel to Trump.”

Sabin isn’t alone. Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of Blackstone who donated $3.7 million to Trump and Trump affiliated groups over the last several years, said after the midterms that “It is time for the Republican Party to turn to a new generation of leaders, and I intend to support one of them in the presidential primaries.” Ken Griffin, the CEO of Citadel who gave $60 million to Republican candidates and campaigns in the 2022 cycle, also said after the midterms that “I’d like to think that the Republican Party is ready to move on from somebody who has been for this party a three-time loser,” and announced his support for DeSantis.

These public clarion calls, donors and party leaders say, are all part of a larger strategy to raise an alarm on Trump’s weaknesses; they hope that GOP primary voters start prioritizing electability like their Democratic counterparts did four years ago. Republicans tend to get enthralled with several candidates throughout the course of a presidential primary. The hope this year, senior strategists said, is that voters’ minds stay focused on who can best beat Biden, so that even if DeSantis — or whomever the frontrunner of the moment is — stumbles, attention and affection coalesces around the next Non-Trump in the field.

There is a concerted effort afoot to reach out even to some of Trump’s most loyal voters. Evangelical leaders have said they are reminding their voters about comments Trump made after the midterms in which he seemed to blame evangelicals for the disappointing results and accused them of “disloyalty” for not already lining up behind his ’24 effort. Plus, they say, even the evangelical movement needs to start thinking long term, and Trump would come into office an immediate lame duck.

“Trump can only offer four more years,” said Dave Wilson, the president of the Palmetto Family Council, an influential evangelical group in South Carolina. “How are we going to build a movement that goes beyond the next four years to the next eight years to the next twenty years, that parallels what we have seen over on the progressive side?”

For many party leaders however, such sentiments are just a hope. There is as of now no real effort to consolidate the field, no real plan among the donor class to pull their billions behind a single non-Trump candidate. There is a belief that somehow the Republican collective consciousness has learned from 2016 and that candidates, donors and party leaders will move in concert behind the right person once the process starts to play out.

“Republicans are very motivated to defeat Joe Biden,” said Tom Rath, a longtime Republican hand in New Hampshire. “The Trump people aren’t at the table for them, but there are already discussions happening about what we do. If we get in a situation where Trump is winning primaries with 40 percent of the vote and losing badly to Biden, I think you are going to see those discussion begin to accelerate, to say the least. We just hope it’s not too late by then.”

#GOP #Starting #Plot #Donald #Trump
( With inputs from : )


TheNewsCaravan News Desk

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