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Blame GOP elites for Trump's popularity
Trump will be the nominee because Republicans have normalized him
Ron DeSantis fans got some disappointing news yesterday. A graphic from MSNBC floating around the Twitterverse showed the relative state of the endorsement race between Donald Trump and DeSantis, who I should note is not yet officially running for president. The bad news for Ron DeSantis is that the Florida governor has garnered a measly three endorsements to Trump’s 61.
It’s true that DeSantis will likely pick up quite a few endorsements quickly when he formally begins his campaign (if he ever does), but Trump’s lead in the endorsement race should be of concern to DeSantis backers. The fact that Trump has any endorsements at all from Republican politicians should be of great concern to everyone.
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Of course, quantity and quality are not the same things. I wanted to see exactly who endorsed Trump. The most complete list that I could find was on Wikipedia and to a great extent, it’s exactly who you would think. There are Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn. Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene are also on the list.
But it goes beyond that. There are 24 former executive branch officials, nine senators, and 51 congressmen, plus a smattering of state and former officials. I don’t know which ones NBC focused on to get their total of 61, but Trump obviously has more endorsements than that.
And not all of them are loons. Gen. Keith Kellogg, Mike Pence’s national security advisor from 2018 through 2021 is among the Trump supporters. So is Lindsey Graham who said, “Enough is enough” on January 7, 2021, but whose attitude now seems to be “I wish I knew how to quit you.”
To be fair, since I looked up Trump’s list of endorsements on Wikipedia, I did the same for DeSantis. The governor has three former executive branch officials and three current congressmen. As I write this, no senator has endorsed DeSantis, but he does have Elon Musk’s endorsement to offset Mike Lindell’s support of Donald Trump.
What is most astonishing at this point is the lack of support for DeSantis from within Florida. While members of his administration and Republican legislators in the Sunshine State may be holding their fire until his official announcement, many members of Florida’s congressional delegation have no such compunctions about delaying their declarations of support for Donald Trump. NBC News noted that Trump now has the endorsement of at least six members of Florida’s 20-member congressional delegation. That includes Rep. Byron Donalds, who introduced DeSantis at his Election Night victory party less than six months ago.
Defections like that of Donalds, a prominent DeSantis ally, raise the question of how many endorsements the governor can expect when and if he finally does declare his candidacy. Like Republican primary voters who are flocking to Trump, a lot of Republican politicos will realize which side their bread is buttered on and choose to make the voters happy with a Trump endorsement. This is the same pattern that we’ve seen for years now in which Republicans are afraid to cross their own base.
And there are probably more Trump endorsements to come. Steven Cheung, a campaign spokesman for the Trump campaign, said, “We’re strategically rolling out endorsements to coincide with events that we put on. There’s a strategic way to do it to get the most bang out of your buck. We’re being very cognizant of that; we’re being very deliberate. There’s a plan for all of this.”
In the past, endorsements have mattered. FiveThirtyEight points out that endorsements have been more predictive of primary winners than polling since 1972. When a candidate leads in both polling and endorsements, the odds are very good that he will win the nomination.
The people most surprised and dismayed by all this may be the Republican elites who have attempted to coronate DeSantis as the heir to the MAGA crown. Many of the same people who endorsed Trump very early in 2020 in an attempt to freeze out any challengers have now decided that Trump is now so damaged that he is no longer useful. These people want DeSantis to pick up his mantle and they’d still prefer that their candidate not face any meaningful opposition.
But the problem, illustrated not only by Trump’s lead in endorsements but Republican primary polling as well, is that Republican voters don’t want DeSantis. It’s not that they don’t like him, it’s just that they want Donald Trump. They’d prefer that DeSantis wait until 2028.
If the Republican establishment backers of Ron DeSantis are disappointed in their candidate’s failure to catch on, they have no one to blame but themselves. After all, these same people have spent most of the past six or seven years rationalizing away Trump’s flaws and telling their base that Trump was all that stood between them and socialism/authoritarianism/The Apocalypse/[insert disaster here]. As it turns out, the base believed what the elites were telling them, even if the elites didn’t believe it themselves.
The Republican leadership and political class had a transactional relationship with Trump. He gave them votes and occasionally some policy wins while they rescued him from impeachment twice and pledged their loyalty to him. They laid it on so thick that the Republican base came to see Trump as a winner. More than a winner. The base considers him to be a messiah.
And at some point between 2016 and 2023, the Republican base ceased to follow the Republican leaders and started to follow Trump. As I described earlier this week, the GOP was already headed down that road before Trump arrived on the scene, but Republicans got the worst of all worlds in the deal.
In handing the party over to Trump, they got someone who isn’t conservative, who isn’t competent, and who isn’t likely to hand the party back over peacefully when his time is done. Trump’s loyalty is primarily to Trump and he won’t have any problems going scorched earth against the Republican Party when the party ceases to benefit him.
Just this week, Trump fired a shot across DeSantis’s bow with a video warning that if he decides to run, he “would hurt and somewhat divide the Republican Party, which we don’t need. He would lose the cherished and massive MAGA vote and never be able to successfully run for office again.”
Trump’s message is simple: If you oppose me, I will destroy your career. That message can also be extended to the party as a whole.
I think that the Republican elites are right to try to find an alternative to Trump, but there are two problems. The first is that they are seven years too late. Back in 2016, they should have done what the Democrats did in 2020 when faced with a strong insurgent campaign from Bernie Sanders and coalesced around a compromise candidate. That option is no longer viable with polling showing that Trump outperforms all other Republican candidates combined.
The second problem is that the Republican elites are paper tigers for whom the party trumps all else. If Trump can win the nomination, he knows the elites will fall in line. They’ve done it before. Over and over.
How many times have we heard a variation of the line, “I believe that Donald Trump is unfit to be president, but I’ll vote for him over any Democrat?” Expect to hear it a lot in 2024.
The Republican elites missed their chance to stop Trump and they don’t really want to stop him anyway if it means a Democrat will win (again). The political and thought leaders of the GOP turned their party over to Donald Trump when they should have been holding him accountable. They have been paying for their deal with the devil ever since and all signs point to another installment coming due in 2024.
Ron DeSantis will probably have more endorsements coming his way if he ever decides to formalize his campaign, but I don’t think it will matter. The endorsements of the Republican elites won’t matter much to the GOP base because most of the people who endorse DeSantis will be dismissed as RINOs. They have become outsiders in their own party.
ON DESANTIS: While writing this article, I found a gem of a quote about DeSantis. It didn’t really fit within the framework of the main article, but I couldn’t let it go so here it is:
“The only people who like Ron DeSantis are the people who have never met him,” Taylor Budowich, the CEO of MAGA Inc., told NBC News.
I think there may be truth to that statement. Six months ago, I pointed out that many insiders indicated that DeSantis lacked charisma on a personal level. That may be part of why the governor has not caught on with the Republican base.