'Anyone but Trump' is the only way forward for the GOP

Ronda Churchill/Getty

Ronda Churchill/Getty

The Republican Party has never been closer to outpacing Donald Trump.

the January 6th. committee hearingscoupled with Trump’s mixed midterm record primary endorsements, have left the 45th president bloodied and bruised even in the eyes of loyal Republican voters. And that is generating speculation that the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis could eventually replace Trump as a party flag bearer.

This fledgling development has sparked a debate between people who see DeSantis’ rise as cause for celebration, and those who see this as equivalent to jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It’s a reminder that long before Triumph arrived on the scene, there were deep fissures within the Republican Party over politics, style, and temperament.

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“The test for the intellectuals of ‘NeverTrump’ [sic] is where they’re standing on DeSantis.” Cristóbal Rufo tweets, the right-wing activist most responsible for making critical race theory a potent culture war issue. “[DeSantis] should be your guy: elite education, military background, leadership experience, impeccable character. If they can’t support it, the moral is clear: it’s not about principles; they serve the left.”

But is this true? Just because DeSantis has conventionally impressive credentials doesn’t mean conservatives at Never Trump should automatically go to the mats for him. Joe Walsh, the former Tea Party congressman turned Never Trumper, answered Rufocalling DeSantis an “authoritarian” and pointing out that DeSantis has used the power of the government “to punish individuals and private companies…”

This debate about DeSantis’ fitness may not be academic. In fact, it may be crucial for anyone who desperately wants to get away from Trump. In making this determination, Never Trump Republicans will have to ask themselves a couple of serious questions.

The first question is this: Is DeSantis the only plausible Republican who can defeat Trump (if Trump seeks the GOP nomination in 2024)?

It’s too early to definitively answer that question, but it’s not too early to start asking it. We saw what happened in 2016 when Republicans split their votes broadly, refusing to coalesce around a single alternative. Trump won with a plurality.

My operating theory is this: The only way to stand a fighting chance of beating Trump is by putting together a coalition of (a) former Trumpers who think it’s time to move on to a younger, less chaotic fighter. who really wins their fightsand (b) the Reagan conservatives who never liked Trump.

And there’s only one name in the middle of that Venn diagram: Ron DeSantis.

The hypothesis suggests that it is unrealistic to expect Republicans to disavow Trump or even Trumpism. Instead of trying the foolish thing to support someone who (fairly or not) would be perceived as a never succeed candidate, you settle for a not trump candidate.

Now, for those of us who prefer a kinder, gentler alternative to DeSantis, this choice should be seen as the only plausible way out and possibly a step in the right direction. In other words, before we can get past Trumpismwe just have to go from Triumph.

This does not bode well for the Never Trump candidates. Similarly, it does not suggest that there is much appetite for a “sunny conservative” like Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, as much as some of us wish he existed. (Former Vice President Mike Pence could potentially fall into both categories.)

Assuming my theory is correct, DeSantis may be the only person standing between us and Donald Trump in 2024. And this is important because, as we’ve seen, once you’re a major party candidate, you have a decent chance of become president (especially if Joe Biden or Kamala Harris are the other alternatives). The second question is this: Is Donald Trump a only dangerous person?

This question is not as easy to answer as it seems. Trump may I was exceptionally dangerous, but that his presidency also exposed weaknesses in the American system that could be exploited by some future authoritarian with a less chaotic nature.

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This is, I think, what Max Boot is coming when you type, “Just because DeSantis is smarter than Trump doesn’t mean he’s any less dangerous. In fact, he could be an even bigger threat for that very reason.

Best known baddie? I’m not so sure. In the binary scenario of this theory, the fact that Trump literally tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power should make this choice a no-brainer.

It is important that Never Trump conservatives take these questions seriously and prevent a repeat of 2016 (and January 6, 2021). My advice? If it starts to become clear that Ron DeSantis is the only Republican who can stop Trump, well, as the saying goes, “Any port in the storm.”

Democrats dispatched Trump in 2020 by rallying around a less than perfect candidate. Republicans may do the same in 2024.

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