Stuart Stevens, an advisor to The Lincoln Project, has looked into the future, and he’s convinced me.
Donald Trump has announced that he’s running for president in the Republican primaries.
Suppose someone else — Ron DeSantis, Glenn Youngkin, Larry Hogan, whoever — announces that they’ll also run. Suppose that other person defeats Trump in the primaries.
In a non-Trump world, the vanquished in the primaries then endorses the victor, and a united party goes on to contest the general election.
That’s the non-Trump world.
Trump, in case you haven’t noticed, doesn’t lose with grace. It’s inconceivable that he’ll endorse the person who defeats him in the Republican primaries. Instead, Trump will devote the rest of his life to trying to destroy that person.
In that environment, the Republicans cannot win the general election in 2024.
If Trump loses the Republican primaries, I doubt that Trump will announce that he’s running as an independent. Trump knows that, as an independent, he couldn’t secure enough votes in the Electoral College to become president, and he could never win if an election with an inconclusive electoral vote were turned over to the House of Representatives.
So Trump won’t run as an independent. He’ll just stand on the sidelines, ranting that the Republican who appeared to defeat him in rigged primaries is the scum of the earth. The 30% of Republican voters who are irreversibly committed to Trump will not vote for the Republican candidate, and the Republicans will lose by a landslide in the general election.
I suspect that DeSantis, and Youngkin, and Hogan, and every other Republican knows this, so those folks may decline to enter the Republican primaries in 2024.
(Remember that people learn from events. If future politicians see that Trump benefits from refusing to endorse the person who wins the Republican primaries, then future politicians may refuse to endorse the winner of their party’s primaries. That’s a funny world. Suppose Bernie Sanders had refused to endorse Joe Biden, instead insisting that the “Bernie Bros” stay home in 2020. In those conditions, could the Democrats have won in 2020? Given that, how will the traditional loser-endorses-the-primary-winner game play out? Will some candidate in 2028 or 2032 refuse to endorse the person who wins that candidate’s primaries?
Trump thus may well be the Republican nominee in 2024.
My guess is that Trump will have been indicted (either in Georgia or by the Department of Justice) toward the end of this year or by early next. I suspect the resulting criminal trial will result in either a conviction or a hung jury (hung because a die-hard pro-Trump Republican survived voir dire, was seated on the jury, and then refused to vote to convict). An acquittal strikes me as a long-shot.
(I know, I know: Everyone’s innocent until proven guilty. But I heard Trump admit that he had classified documents at Mar-a-Lago; I heard a tape recording of Trump trying to convince folks in Georgia to change the election results; and I saw Trump do nothing for three hours while the Capitol Building was ransacked on January 6. So Trump is of course innocent until proven guilty, but the evidence looks pretty strong to me.)
The criminal trial, or trials, won’t conclude until the end of 2023, at the earliest. Criminal trials take time.
If the jury is hung; a retrial would take yet more time.
If Trump is convicted, sentencing takes time, and surely at least the appeal would still be pending at the time of the 2024 election.
We may thus have an election in which one of the candidates has criminal charges pending against him. You know that candidate can never win. Oh, wait: What happened in Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu?
Mark Herrmann spent 17 years as a partner at a leading international law firm and is now deputy general counsel at a large international company. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Drug and Device Product Liability Litigation Strategy (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.