Maintaining Good MAGA Manners Was Never Going to Work
The last resort of Trump's primary opponents should have been their first one.
There was a time when a political candidate for high office could only dream of a scenario in which they were running against an opponent who did things like… oh, I don’t know — tried to overturn U.S. democracy, caused a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, stole national security secrets (to show to random people at a country club), faced multiple criminal indictments, and was found legally liable for sexual assault.
But when that opponent is Donald Trump, and you’re a fellow Republican, raising such matters is considered poor MAGA manners… at least to a large portion of the political base you’re trying to court. It’s such poor manners, in fact, that it could disqualify you from consideration.
It really is insane when you think about it (and I’ve thought about it a lot). None of the aforementioned baggage — ranging from the impeachable, to the criminal, to the profoundly unpatriotic — are political non-starters when it comes to Trump. But raising the issue of that baggage, as part of an argument for why you would make a better choice to represent your party and the country, may well destroy not only your campaign, but your entire political career.
Heck, you’re even playing with fire if you state, unequivocally, that Trump lost the last election… and that he cost the GOP its largest number of seats in almost 70 years… and that he lost the House and Senate (twice)… and that he blew the midterms for Republicans.
That’s the sad reality of today’s Republican Party, and it explains why only two (now former) GOP primary challengers for this year’s presidential nomination went that route. Since neither achieved better than low single-digits in national polling among party voters, their political strategies were deemed resounding failures. It was people like Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis who supposedly played things smart. They understood that they needed to walk a very fine line when it came Trump. They could talk about how great of president each of them would make, as long as they didn’t offend the base by citing or explaining why, exactly, Trump was unfit for office.
But was it smart?
Only one state has voted in this primary so far, and most seasoned political analysts are looking at the polls and already calling the race. Scores of high-ranking Republicans are tripping over each other to endorse Trump. The GOP establishment is almost entirely on board. At least three primary opponents have followed suit, with more assuredly to come.
So… I’m thinking that maintaining good MAGA manners was also a resounding failure of a political strategy. Politely losing, after all, is still losing.
Nikki Haley would appear to be the last, best hope for Republicans who think another Trump nomination would be a big mistake. Her numbers in New Hampshire are decent, but a recent poll showing her tied with Donald Trump in the state (taken right after Chris Christie dropped out) has been followed by others showing Trump back on top by a comfortable margin.
With just a few days left before the New Hampshire primary, how is Haley responding to the increasingly desperate situation? Interestingly enough, by finally taking a few meaningful shots at Donald Trump.
It’s amazing how staring down the barrel of imminent defeat can fine-tune a mind to what’s been missing all along.
"Trump says things; Americans aren't stupid to just believe what he says," Haley told reporters at a New Hampshire event this week. "The reality is: who lost the House for us? Who lost the Senate? Who lost the White House? Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Nikki Haley will win every single one of those back."
She carried the message over to social media.
It’s a compelling point — a painfully obvious one that she, and anyone else serious about winning, should have been making for months. Sure, Haley and others had been bragging up their electability, but not so much at the expense of Trump.
Then there was this:
Again, good stuff. But it’s still quite tame, and more importantly, it’s coming far too late in the game.
I suppose the key question is: if taking on Trump (like Christie and Hutchinson did) didn’t work, and using good MAGA manners (like the rest of the field did) didn’t work, what would have worked? Anything?
I do think Trump was beatable in this primary. Back in May, I wrote:
Tiptoeing around Trump, rather than making a strong, compelling case against him, is a formula for handing him the nomination on a silver platter.
A political donnybrook needs to happen. Those challenging Trump by no means need to act as petty and cruel as he routinely does (nor should they), but they need to put up a fight. They need to take chances, and unapologetically call out Trump’s glaring shortcomings. It would be especially effective if it was done in concert, to help contend with those in the field running interference for Trump.
The correct play all along was to take the fight to Donald Trump. He was the heavy front-runner from the beginning. He needed to be weakened. But it had to be done as a collective effort, not an individual one. There needed to be a consensus, or at least something close to one (Vivek Ramaswamy was a Trump surrogate from the beginning). Without an accepted set of inarguable facts illustrating why Trump should never be allowed near the White House again, the message to voters was that the premise of him returning would be an adequate outcome. Non-Trump candidates bludgeoning each other for months on stage and in campaign ads, while effectively letting Trump off the hook, could only ever be good enough for a distant second-place finish.
I get that Trump’s primary opponents had a terrible script to work with. I really do. That script was written over years by Trump, his surrogates, servile politicians, and media opportunists to — after January 6 — portray Trump not as an enemy of democracy and the Constitution, but rather an eternal, messianic victim of “deep state” conspiracies and persecution.
Trump’s base loved the folklore, and adopted it as their reality, but a serious Republican opponent would have never sheepishly advanced it. One didn’t have to read the story in its entirety to know where it was going to end.
Do you know who’s not going to follow the script, nor concern themselves even a little with good MAGA manners? Democrats.
In the months leading up to the November election, the Democratic Party and their PACs will be flooding television, radio, and the internet with very graphic January 6 footage. Voters, especially in key states, will hear over and over again from police officers who were beaten by MAGA insurrectionists that day (some so badly they had to retire from the force). They may even hear from widows of the officers who committed suicide following the ordeal.
Voters will be introduced, possibly for the first time, to extremely sympathetic election workers and state officials whose lives were ruined because of Trump’s incessant lies about them and the last election.
They’ll hear from potentially dozens of members of the last Trump administration, through recorded testimony (or in some other capacity), about his unfitness for office and the behind-the-scene chaos the last time Trump was given power. They’ll hear stories they probably hadn’t previously heard, including about Trump’s profound distaste for disabled veterans (especially those missing limbs).
Then there’s that matter of likely criminal convictions arriving before election day, which won’t even require ads… unless, of course, the Dems decide they want to compare Trump’s criminality with his recent declaration that U.S. presidents should be fully immune from the law. Either way, if you think “Trump the criminal” will be romanticized by persuadable voters, the way MAGA faithfuls assuredly will, think again.
And this is all stuff that’s happened (or been revealed) just since the last time Trump lost. I don’t know about you, but to me it sounds like a pretty devastating case.
If only the Republican field had had the courage to prosecute it.