WaPo power rankings: The most likely 2024 GOP nominee is now Ron DeSantis

Source: Hot Air

Some of Aaron Blake’s rankings on this list are questionable to the point of making me wonder whether he wrote it while drunk. But his choice of a favorite in the race is, to my mind, defensible.

It’s not my choice. I think Trump is still the most likely nominee and that his chances have only improved since the Mar-a-Lago search. But I can see it from Blake’s point of view.

What I can’t see is how he ended up with Donald Trump Jr ranked behind Mike Pompeo(!) and Rick Scott(!!) as likely nominees. If Daddy Trump decides not to run and Junior gets in, I’d put him no lower than third behind DeSantis and probably Pence to start. And by no means would I rule out him passing Pence for second place by the time the voting began.

But as for the threshold question of who the favorite is, if you read my post last Wednesday then Blake’s reasoning will sound familiar. Yes, it’s true that Trump is more likely today to be nominated than he was before the FBI search for the simple reason that this party now runs almost entirely on spite. And crowning a guy who’s under federal investigation king of the GOP for the third straight cycle is the most spiteful thing Republican voters could do to show their contempt for the political establishment and the “deep state.” The search boosted Trump’s populist appeal as the candidate of spite.

The wrinkle is that it also strengthened DeSantis’s argument as the electable choice in the field by comparison. The more baggage Trump has to carry, the more even some otherwise loyal MAGA voters will begin to think hard about whether he can win a general election. I linked this data point from the new NBC poll earlier but let me post it again here:

Republicans are horrified by the federal investigation of Trump. The rest of the country is not. Some 61 percent of independents want it to play out. Point: DeSantis. That’s why he’s the favorite now, says Blake:

[T]he political impact of the Mar-a-Lago search won’t be measured in the polls conducted in the past couple of weeks. This is a long game. And the legal jeopardy Trump faces could well reinforce some of the reasons DeSantis appears to have gained on him in earlier surveys. Namely: Trump’s uncertain electability and the political baggage he totes along with him…

[Recent Republican] primaries suggest people might be willing to go with Trumpism, and to go without Trump. And DeSantis provides that in spades. He’s constantly pushing the envelope by opening new fronts in the culture wars and pushing actual legislation or executive actions to back that up. But more than that, he does so with the kind of actual attention to detail and policy that Trump has long eschewed…

Crucially, we have yet to see Trump face a truly Trumpian opponent. In 2016, pretty much everyone was going after Trump on the assumption that they had to offer an alternative to his brand of politics — or because they were losing and needed to do something. Today, lots of Republicans are emulating Trump’s in-your-face, own-the-libs style. And nobody has done that more successfully than DeSantis.

That’s precisely what DeSantis and his inner circle are thinking, I suspect. He dutifully denounced the Mar-a-Lago search because he understood that it was a litmus test he had to pass. So he passed it, and now he’s full speed ahead on his electability strategy. Focus on the gubernatorial race, run up the score in November, and hope that the margin is so gaudy that dazzled Republican voters decide they can’t pass up the opportunity to nominate him. Apart from the spite factor, he’s superior to Trump in every way.

Although, as I say, in the modern GOP spite might be enough.

GOP strategists are divided on whether the Mar-a-Lago probe is good for Trump on balance or bad. “It makes him pretty much unbeatable in a primary,” said one to Business Insider. “Basically, what the federal government has done, the FBI, the Biden administration, is they’ve made him into a martyr. It’s going to be really difficult to see a scenario in which he runs in and loses in a primary because of that.” Ted Cruz called the search an in-kind contribution to Trump’s 2024 campaign by the DOJ. But some people close to him worry about the “baggage” factor as the investigations pile up. “He may get closer to the prize but in reality, he’s slipping,” one Trump ally told NBC. “It seems like the net is surrounding him more and more, and his ability to dance around these things is going to get more challenging…. It’s a double-edged sword.”

If he gets indicted, the political dynamics that I described above will intensify by an order of magnitude. Trump probably will be unbeatable in a primary in that case, as the spite factor will be too much to overcome. But he’ll also be weakened in the general election. Normie voters won’t consider it a badge of honor to be facing felony counts in Georgia or in federal court even if “burn it all down” Republicans do.

As for how Never Trumpers are feeling about all this, with Trump under threat from an upstart whom they’re not wild about, David French has it right — mostly:

I agree with points one and two but fear that point three is wishful thinking. There’s no evidence that any Republican besides DeSantis has the juice needed among the base to give Trump a run for his money. It’s an either/or choice, unfortunately. I’ll turn out and vote for DeSantis in the interest of getting rid of Trump if presented with that choice, as I prefer someone who’s lately been governing via publicity stunt to a coup-plotter. But my heart won’t break if figures like Liz Cheney look at DeSantis practicing viewpoint discrimination against Disney and flirting with anti-vaxxers and campaigning for nutty election cranks like Doug Mastriano and Kari Lake and decide, “You know what? I’ll sit this primary out.”

Exit question: If Never Trumpers have a duty to back DeSantis in a primary in the name of forging a “post-Trump coalition,” what duties does the rest of the party have? Shouldn’t all Republicans back Mike Pence if he’s the only candidate to challenge Trump? If Trump wins the nomination anyway, do Republicans have any duty to back the Democratic nominee in the general election in the name of sending Trump down to a decisive defeat that forces Republican voters to rethink the path they’re on?