On Friday, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, once again, called on Republican presidential candidates to make a case about why Trump isn’t fit for the presidency. For Sununu, it’s an old tune… albeit not a hit one. In a NY Times OpEd published right before the debate, Sununu warned Republicans that “If Trump is the Republican nominee for president in 2024, Republicans will lose up and down the ballot.” Not enough Republican voters— as many as half of whom self-identify as MAGAts— seem motivated by that; they just want Trump. In Iowa just 23% of likely Republican caucus goers say they are “anti-Trump.” So Sununu doesn’t have much of an audience, at least not in Iowa.
The strategy he’s offering Republican candidates is to “take it to him. They don’t have to go nuclear, like Chris [Christie] does… but everyone in their own way has to find separation from him. Some of them are doing it, some of them aren’t… I’m opposed to him because he can’t win. I want winners. Why would we do this a fourth time and expect a different result?”
Writing for CNN yesterday, Harry Enten explained why Trump’s rivals won’t attack him. He began by pointing out that “Those who have gone after him have seen their popularity among Republican voters suffer, while those who have risen in primary polling are either mostly not mentioning Trump or are praising him. You needn’t look further than former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to understand what happens when a Republican candidate is highly critical of the former president. Christie is setting records for intraparty unpopularity. His net favorability rating in the latest Quinnipiac University poll stands at minus-44 points among Republicans. An astounding 61% of Republican voters hold an unfavorable view of him. Indeed, Christie has, if anything, become more unpopular as the presidential campaign has gone on. From what I can tell, he appears to have the lowest net favorability rating at this point in the cycle of any Republican running for president since at least 1980… Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson— who has called on the GOP to move on from Trump— was the only presidential contender during the first GOP debate last week not to raise his hand when candidates onstage were asked if they would back the former president as the party nominee even if he were convicted in a court of law… Former Texas Rep. Will Hurd, another Trump critic, didn’t make the debate stage, and the vast majority of Republicans (83%) haven’t heard enough of him to form an opinion. Among those who have, Hurd has a similar net favorability ratio to Hutchinson’s— 4% viewed him favorably and 11% unfavorably. This isn’t shocking given that Hurd has signaled he wouldn’t back Trump if the former president were the nominee.”
Enten sees it like this: “Beyond the fact that Trump is consistently viewed favorably by about 80% of his party— and as ‘strongly favorable’ by more than 50%— most Republicans simply don’t want Republicans making the case against Trump. A CBS News/YouGov poll taken prior to the GOP debate found that 91% of likely Republican primary voters wanted candidates to make their own case for the GOP nomination onstage. Just 9% wanted them to make the case against Trump.”
Let me move away from the numbers and, instead, speculate about the candidates’ possible motivations.
Trump could die, drop out as part of a plea deal or go to prison, in which case everyone will scramble for those MAGA voters. They’re generally extremely dumb people but not dumb enough to fail to recall who backed their hero and who attacked him.
Trump will have to pick a running mate and there’s always a chance— a tiny one— that he might pick one of them instead of Kari Lake or Marjorie Traitor Greene or something like that.
It’s more likely that he would pick a cabinet member or two from among the other candidates, particularly in gratitude for them staying in the race and not allowing DeSantis to consolidate support among Trump-sceptic voters.
If not a cabinet position, there are all kind of jobs Trump could hand out if he’s elected.
And if not an ambassadorship or something along those lines, there’s always a gig on one of the cable news networks— anything from Newsmax to MSNBC.
And then there’s 2028. At this point, no one wants to cede the nomination to DeSantis without a fight.