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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

July 22: Looking for a Republican Loser, Will Democrats Actually Promote Trump ’24?

Every time Democrats give a helping hand to an extremist Republican candidate on grounds of non-electability, I get nervous, and so I pointed out at New York where this logic might lead:

There are three big realities facing Democrats right now that might lead them to look fondly on an old enemy. First, Democrats need a major distraction to mitigate the damage they’re likely to suffer in November’s midterm elections. Second, in this primary season, Democrats have been perfecting the art of promoting wack-a-doodle Republican extremists that they think will make weak general-election opponents. And third, Donald Trump is thought to be the one Republican 2024 presidential aspirant whom Joe Biden might be able to beat.

Nobody is more distracting or erratic than Donald Trump, who is also the man Biden defeated in 2020. So it’s logical to ask this: Will Democrats start promoting him as the putative Republican presidential nominee in 2024?

The idea is a bit shocking, as the fundamental premise of Biden’s 2020 campaign was to end the Trump nightmare and help the country regain something like its past equilibrium. And the months since Biden won have been littered abundantly with evidence that the 45th president has nothing but contempt for democracy, the rule of law, and basic arithmetic. His postelection antics could yet land him in the hoosegow. But he’s the devil Democrats know: a politician so polarizing that he has a low ceiling on support and galvanizes the opposition and its voters like no one else. Honest Republicans admit that a Trump-free landscape is ideal for midterm gains. In the somewhat longer term, Republicans hope to pocket the electoral advantages of Trumpian “populism” without its dangerously volatile source. Democrats naturally want to thwart this effort to sanitize the MAGA movement.

So as Gabriel Debenedetti put it: “A formal reentry by Trump into the political arena could be very good news electorally for both the party and the president — arguably even the best realistic chance of a political turnaround right now.” And if that’s true right now, it will probably remain true after the midterms have ended and we enter the next presidential cycle.

Philip Bump of the Washington Post puts two and two together and gets yikes!

“Let’s assume that Biden easily locks up the Democratic nomination (which is not a sure thing). Let’s assume, too, that this year’s elevation of right-wing candidates doesn’t backfire on Biden’s party. Would Democrats actively work to ensure Trump gets past Republican primary opponents? Would we see ads sponsored by deep-pocketed Democrats disparaging [Ron] DeSantis as insufficiently MAGA in New Hampshire?”

Now to be clear, it’s unwise to extrapolate Democrats’ elevate-the-kooks midterms strategy too strictly for 2024. In several midterm primaries, Democrats have given a crucial lift to little-known and underfunded candidates with fringe views, like Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano and Illinois’s Darren Bailey. Donald Trump isn’t going to be underfunded in 2024, and it’s not like he will need paid ads by Democrats to get attention. But National Review’s Jim Geraghty has already speculated that the all-powerful liberal media might put a thumb on the scales in the 2024 primaries:

“In 2024, which Republican will be perceived by the media as the easiest rival for Joe Biden, or Kamala Harris, or some other Democrat to defeat? I suspect it will be Trump, who just lost a presidential election, will be getting into his late 70s, who won’t stop obsessively ranting about how he was the real winner in the 2020 election, and whose actions and words led to the January 6 Capitol Hill riot …

“The typical Republican may hate the mainstream media, but that doesn’t mean the mainstream media don’t have considerable influence over who Republicans nominate for president.”

Whether or not Democrats or their media allies really do have that kind of power over Republican voters, there’s obviously a moral hazard in even attempting to put Trump a general election away from occupying the Oval Office for a second time. Even if the polls say Trump is the weakest Republican available, the polls were sure wrong in 2016 (and to a considerable extent in 2020). And it’s hard to imagine how liberated the ex-president might feel if he’s lifted to power again after eight straight years of entirely unprecedented misconduct. Could we possibly be lucky enough to survive a second Trump administration with the Constitution (minus some basic rights Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have now denied us) more or less intact?

It’s not an easy thing to figure out. As New York’s Jonathan Chait points out in comparing Trump and DeSantis, there just aren’t any non-authoritarian options for Republican presidential nominations at the moment. Democrats should probably tend to their own problems and let Republicans pick the poison they wish to administer to America in 2024.

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