Why Trump Can’t Win

Posted For: RoomClearer

Don’t fall for the illusion of Trump’s strength in early polling. There’s a reason Democrats are working hard to lure Republicans into nominating him.

It would be way too premature to conclude that former President Donald Trump has strangled Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s candidacy in the cradle. DeSantis’s bid has not even gotten to the cradle yet — even as Trump chooses to hold campaign rallies rather than attend his civil rape trial, all while frantically dancing between the prosecutorial raindrops. The governor is clearly doing everything a politician in his position would do to prepare a formal candidacy, but the best case for him as president is that he’s inclined to solving problems rather than tweeting about them. His best move is to finish the ongoing legislative session and rack up more accomplishments. That will take a few more weeks.

When DeSantis does announce, he’ll get a bump. By contrast, the air is already draining — albeit too slowly — out of the Trump balloon that weirdly inflated upon his being indicted. The nomination race will surely tighten when DeSantis officially enters. He may even pull ahead. That would be a hopeful sign that Republicans still have a self-preservation instinct, but it would hardly be a lock for DeSantis. He’ll still have to prove himself on the national stage. I hope he does, but I could also see the race taking unexpected turns — perhaps a support surge for South Carolina senator Tim Scott, an impossible-to-dislike figure whose conservative leanings and compelling personal story could make up for his policy lightness.

There’s lots of time for all that.

What I want to talk about is the defect in the Wall Street Journal polling that shows Trump ahead of DeSantis by 13 points among likely GOP primary voters, even though those Republicans give DeSantis higher marks than Trump on favorability (84–78), on the likelihood of his ultimately beating Biden (41–31), and on his presidential temperament (48–28). Indeed, when the lens is widened to include all registered voters in the survey (i.e., not just Republicans), the same poll has the governor leading President Biden by three points, while Trump trails Biden by the same margin.

I believe we will remember this poll as Trump’s high-water mark. That should be a hint. What the poll fails to convey is that there is no potential of upward climb for the universally known former president. Donald Trump cannot win a national election.

It is in the interests of the media–Democratic complex to obscure this fact for now because Democrats desperately want Trump to be the Republican nominee. But the question for every Republican is not “Trump or DeSantis?” Nor is it, “How would you vote in a matchup between Trump and Biden?” It is: “Regardless of whether you would vote for Trump in a matchup with the Democratic nominee (likely Biden), do you believe Trump could beat the Democratic nominee in a national election in which the vast majority of voters will not be Republicans?

I realize that this is the point where I am supposed to nod to the remorseless fact that nothing in life is certain. Accepting that caveat, I am supposed to concede that if Trump wins the Republican nomination, anything could happen, so of course he has a chance to be elected president again. For their own very different reasons, Trump diehards and Democrats insist that we grant this admission, intended to admit the rest of us into their national suicide pact: Sure-loser Trump gets nominated, then barely compos mentis Biden romps to a second term.

No, I am not playing along. At this point, I concede only that we cannot say with certainty who will be elected president in November 2024 — or even who the nominee will be for either party. That said, I am as certain as I am writing this that Donald Trump will never again be elected president of these United States.

Understand that, while I could no longer in good conscience vote for Trump, I am not a Trump hater. For eight years, I defended him when I believed he had been wronged (from the 2016 “Russia collusion” nonsense through Alvin Bragg’s recent indictment farce). I’ve been a harsh critic the many times when he has deserved it, but I’ve applauded Trump-administration policies and, in particular, his judicial nominations. I voted for him twice. I wrote a “Trump: Yes” endorsement in National Review’s 2020 election issue (in contrast with Ramesh Ponnuru’s “No” and Charles C. W. Cooke’s “Maybe”), reluctantly concluding that Trump’s incorrigible flaws were worth abiding as the price of maintaining the solid governance of his Republican subordinates rather than enduring a Democratic presidency with Biden as a figurehead and tool of woke progressives.

I can’t do that anymore. I believe Trump should have been impeached on an array of high crimes and misdemeanors in 2021 (not just the ill-conceived, politicized “incitement of insurrection” article pushed through by House Democrats), and then convicted by the Senate and thus disqualified from future public office. I have to answer for having rationalized Trump’s unfitness for office, to the extent that his post-2020-election enormities were merely a more blatant demonstration of that unfitness, which was obvious all along (and that other commentators were savaged for having the temerity to notice). Still, my argument now comes down to what it came down to before the 2020 election: The greatest peril for the country is four (more) years of Democrats in power. The difference this time ’round is that Trump’s nomination would guarantee that this peril becomes our reality.

Trump won an Electoral College majority by a statistical miracle in 2016, earning just 46 percent of the vote in what was essentially a two-person race against a historically bad Democratic candidate who still beat him by 3 million votes nationally. Since then, all he and candidates associated with him have done is lose — which means that all they’ve done is help Democrats win.

With Trump’s zaniness and Tourette tweeting undermining his administration’s policy successes, Republicans lost 41 House seats in the 2018 midterms, handing the chamber to the Democrats (though a thin GOP Senate majority slightly grew — Trump would take care of that for the Democrats in 2020). With the advantages of incumbency, Trump nevertheless got beaten in 2020 by another terrible Democratic nominee — a senescent one who barely left his basement to campaign.

Trump’s “stop the steal” hooey based on voting-fraud claims was laughable (as his lawyers demonstrated by folding every time a judge invited them to provide evidence). Maddeningly, the stolen-election hoax persists in GOP circles, refined into a more respectable theory: Trump was cheated because media-Democratic chicanery combined with the dubious lifting of election-integrity safeguards must have had some effect. Even though Trump lost the popular vote by a whopping 7 million and the electoral vote by 76 (i.e., by slightly more than the 74-vote margin he described as a “landslide” when he was on the winning end in 2016), his champions insist that this “some effect” need only have been marginal to swing the election: just enough to shift 44,000 votes from Biden to Trump in three battleground states — Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin. This, the fantasy goes, would have knotted the Electoral College vote at 269; under the Twelfth Amendment, the election would then have been decided in the House, where the GOP held a 26–24 edge in state delegations. (No point interrupting this pleasant hallucination to observe that Wyoming’s vote would have been decided by anti-Trump Republican Liz Cheney, then the state’s only representative. Had there been a 25–25 tie in the House, the likelihood is that Kamala Harris would have become president under the Twentieth Amendment, though the mind reels at the possibilities.)

This is desperation: from the GOP standpoint, a delusional depiction of a certain 2024 loser as not only a potential winner but as a sympathetic one who is somehow owed the second term he didn’t get in 2020.

First, by that same “if we just shift a few votes” reasoning, Trump should never have been president in the first place. Hillary Clinton would also have won in 2016 if less than half a percentage point of the overall vote, in just the right three or four states, were shifted in her favor — and, after all, the FBI’s indefensible public announcement, ten days before the election, that the criminal investigation of Clinton was being reopened must have had some effect, right? In fact, such a shift would have been more plausible in Clinton’s case than in Trump’s: She clobbered Trump by 3 million votes in the 2016 popular tally; Trump, by comparison, lost to Biden by 7 million votes. To be sure, the relevance of the popular vote is overstated since it’s the Electoral College that matters. But if we’re going to speculate, a potential shift of a tiny slice of votes is more likely to favor a candidate who wins the popular vote by several million than one who loses it by several million.

Second, Trump’s 2020 loss cannot credibly be blamed on election-law changes and media coverage.

Yes, voting safeguards were loosened due to Covid, but, though Democrats led the charge, safeguards were loosened in many red states as well, mostly to expand mail-in voting during the pandemic. The result was that 26 million more votes were cast in 2020 than in 2016. This, however, was hardly an unprecedented phenomenon. Twenty million more Americans voted in the 2004 presidential election than had four years earlier — George W. Bush’s tally increased by about 12 million, while John Kerry got 8 million more votes in 2004 than Al Gore got in 2000. In 2020, Trump won 11 million more votes than he had in 2016, so it’s a reach to claim that he was materially damaged by the loosened safeguards (though he undoubtedly hurt himself by discouraging supporters from voting for him by mail). Biden tallied 15 million more votes in 2020 than Hillary Clinton got in 2016. But, leaving aside that Biden is less unpopular than Hillary, 5 million of the Democrats’ 2020 vote increase is attributable to California and New York — two states that Trump had no chance of winning, and that Biden won by a combined 7 million (Clinton had won them by a combined 6 million).

As for media bias, that comes with the territory for every Republican presidential candidate. It is true that social media tried to suppress the New York Post’s Hunter Biden story, with shameful help from the FBI and former national-security officials. Still, the Post’s reporting, although important, mainly corroborated what was already known about Biden-family influence-peddling and Hunter Biden’s sundry misadventures. It is also probable that the crude suppression effort brought more attention to the Post’s reporting while bolstering Trump’s theme of a corrupt partnership between Democrats, the media, and deep-state insiders.

Third and most important, whatever one thinks of Trump’s erratic performance in the 2020 campaign, it happened before the “stop the steal” coup attempt, the Capitol riot that immediately followed Trump’s unhinged Ellipse speech, and the election denialism in which Trump persists to this day. These now form the enduring image of Trump. To describe them as “yugely” unpopular nationally would be a gross understatement.

Trump’s appalling post-2020-election behavior — however many indictments and civil suits may result from it — cost the Republicans Senate majorities in 2020 and 2022. A Senate majority would have prevented, or at least gutted, the economically ruinous legislation pushed through by Biden and the Democrats. A Senate majority could have forced Biden to nominate fewer radical judges and executive officials. As for the House, Trump’s preferred candidates and his patent influence over House Republicans have repelled the nationwide electorate. In light of Biden’s unpopularity, today’s GOP House majority should be comfortable; instead, it is a precariously thin one.

If you are upset about the catastrophe at the southern border, woke ascendancy, reckless government spending, soaring debt and interest rates, and military and policy unpreparedness for the increasing perils overseas, Donald Trump has done more to bring them about than any Democrat you could name other than Biden. Trump is the Democrats’ chief enabler: He guarantees that they win elections. That’s why they are doing what they can to induce Republicans to nominate him — just as they did what they could do to get Trump-endorsed candidates nominated during the last three congressional election cycles, knowing they would trounce those nominees come November.

This has nothing to do with whether you thought Trump was a good or bad president. It is about recognizing — now, before it’s too late — that he will never be president again.

In what for him was the best of times, solid majorities of Americans voted against Trump. But now, the unimpressive 46 percent he got against Clinton, and the even less impressive less-than-47 percent he got as an incumbent against Biden, are unattainable. Mind you, even if he could attain them, he’d still lose.

Democratic and independent opposition to Trump has intensified since the Capitol riot. On the Republican side, millions who held their noses and gave him a chance as an unknown quantity against Clinton, and then did it again for the sake of having a Republican administration instead of a Biden administration, will never do it again.

Of course, if Republicans are foolish enough to nominate Trump, his base will mau-mau the GOP’s expanded legions of Trump naysayers, arguing that their refusal to “come home” will only result in Biden’s reelection (this will be quite rich coming from Trump enthusiasts who, like their hero, will not commit to supporting any Republican nominee other than Trump). Yet, for most Republican naysayers, the Trump base’s tantrums will fall on deaf ears. Trump is no longer hypothetically unfit to be president; he has been empirically proven to be unfit. Most rational people are not going to vote for an unfit candidate. They won’t think of it as, in effect, electing the Democrat. They will rightly think of it as rejecting a political system that puts them to a choice between two unfit candidates.

We’re now seeing polls — such as the Wall Street Journal one — that show Trump in striking distance of Biden. Some even have him tied or slightly ahead. Understand: For the moment, that’s how Democrats want you to see it. They want Republicans and conservatives to believe he’s got a shot, to be gulled into nominating him. Then, once he gets the nomination, and it’s too late for Republicans to reconsider, Democrats and the media will hit him with everything they’ve got: all of the January 6 ammo, all of his 2020 denialism, his lunatic tweets and “Truths,” his attacks on popular Republicans, his praise for Democrats and dictators, and any possible indictments against him that they’ve been holding back on — long narrative indictments that lay out, in chapter and verse, felonies far more serious than what Alvin Bragg has brought and much tougher to slough off as weaponized law enforcement.

After that onslaught, it would be a miracle if Trump cracked 43 percent of the popular vote. But for the national revulsion against Bolshevik Democrats who lead Biden around by the nose, I’d say it’d be a miracle if Trump cracked 40. Because of that revulsion, the country is probably too divided, even if the unelectable Trump were the GOP standard-bearer, to produce a rout à la FDR 1936, Nixon 1972, or Reagan 1984. Still, a Trump candidacy would produce the closest thing to such a rout as contemporary conditions allow: a thrashing by more than 10 points in the popular vote and a comfortable Biden victory in the Electoral College. Worse, having tried to foist Trump on an unwilling nation, Republicans would very likely lose the Senate and the House. We’d be set up for two or four years of Democratic policy victories, cementing the woke-progressive “fundamental transformation” of the country. One or more national crises — financial collapse, border collapse, war, terrorist attack, Court-packing, and unconstitutional mayhem — would be inevitable.

You can counter that Democrats, too, are in disarray, with a vast majority of them desiring a candidate other than Biden. But Democratic opposition to Biden is saliently different from Republican opposition to Trump. In the end, substantially all Democrats will support Biden, even if they’d prefer a different Democratic candidate. They rightly think he is too old and infirm, but they realize he is already led, rather than leading, and they’re fine with that. Would they prefer another Obama? Sure, but they’ll happily take four more years of an enfeebled empty suit who is kept out of sight while sharp progressive operatives run “his” administration. They would similarly support Vice President Harris if something were to incapacitate Biden during the campaign. Democrats may not swoon over Biden or Harris, but they don’t despise them either. What they want is a Democratic administration. They’ll vote for whoever is at the top of the ticket to get one.

That’s not the Republicans’ situation.

The point is not how Trump is polling today against DeSantis and Biden. It is that he cannot win a national election. That is why Democrats are working so hard to lure Republicans into nominating him. The question is not how you personally feel about Trump, or what you think about the accomplishments of his presidency. The question is whether you are content to have Democrats unilaterally rule Washington. That’s what a Trump nomination would guarantee.

Why Trump Can’t Win

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