May 10, 2023 - 9:00 pm
As Donald Trump maintains and builds on his commanding lead in polling of the Republican presidential nominating contest, the notion of the former president’s “inevitability” gains momentum.
Trump’s nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has yet to announce his intentions but trails by as much as 30 points in the early surveys. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has failed to gain traction, as has former Vice President Mike Pence. Others, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, barely register.
Any candidate wouldn’t get a second look if they were weighed down by the baggage Trump carries — a criminal indictment, the subject of three state or federal investigations and his loss Tuesday in a defamation suit connected to a rape allegation. Trump has airily dismissed all of the allegations as a witch hunt by a government/media cabal to deny him a return to the presidency.
In the face of all the legal issues, Trump’s grip on GOP voters hasn’t weakened. In fact, support rose following his indictment on fraud charges by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Trump gave impetus to the inevitability theory by suggesting he would not participate in party-sanctioned debates because the issue has already been decided in his favor and any face-to-face confrontations would be pointless.
The loyalty of the party base is a testament to his ability to connect at a visceral level with the disaffected, those millions who share Trump’s disdain for the “elites,” the upper class who look down upon working men and women as unthinking, uneducated rubes incapable of understanding the issues the nation faces.
In an America as deeply polarized as the country is, Trump’s message resonates. His supporters delight in his swagger and his pugnacious personality. They see someone whose toughness will deter the nation’s enemies and is unafraid to challenge rather than cringe in the face of opposition.
Many believe his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden resulted from a fraudulent and corrupt election process and are willing to overlook the lack of any contrary evidence. They share his characterization of the media as “an enemy of the people,” believing it guilty of misinformation, biased reporting, a hatred of all things Trump.
The start of the primary election season is less than a year away, and a great deal can happen in the intervening months. For instance, will his supporters reconsider or his support erode if he is charged with criminal conduct for allegedly interfering in the election process, possessing classified material or — worse yet — encouraging a mob of supporters to assault the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to prevent the official certification of Biden’s victory?
His support at this stage appears unshakeable but not invincible. For party leaders who fear his candidacy will cost Republicans the White House and Congress, it is their obligation to coalesce behind an alternative, marshal their organizational and fundraising prowess and convince Trump voters that their concerns are the party’s.
President Biden enters his 2024 re-election campaign as one of the more vulnerable incumbents in recent history. The stars are in alignment for a Republican victory, but someone other than Trump must be the person reaching for them.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.