Note: This is the first in a series of diaries handicapping the Republican presidential field for 2024. You needn’t agree but we can have fun discussing the possibilities. Let’s play.
Driving past our local “TrumpStore,” housed in a pointy tent alongside highway 17, I was reminded of Klan Koveralls— white monoliths surrounded by pick-ups with rifle racks and absurdist signs. I noticed the new merch hanging like rotted pelts around the exterior-- MAGA bumper stickers, Brandon ware, and assorted gun-rights-second amendment signage with target and gun superimposed on a white background. It reminded me of the late P. J. O’Rourke’s quip ”I am a student of stupidity. I am a political reporter.” I might rephrase O’Rourke when looking at the sticker pairing above— a “Trump-DeSantis” ticket wanders into regions of absurdity. Is it even a possibility? More likely the sticker is the work of an ad agency with a sense of humor and an Amazon.com seller’s account.
Political pairings are usually reserved for finalization at the party convention, they are the confetti after the coronation of a standard-bearer. Biden-Harris, for example, was a political marriage of the pragmatic and the ideal. It worked. Say what you will, but Jim Clyburn was prescient. Biden was a practical acknowledgment that in order to defeat Donald Trump the party had to portray stability. Meanwhile, their ticket had to appeal to the reality that the strength of their base was its diversity and the support of women, especially black women. In contrast, the unlikely marriage between the bitter GOP rivals suggests what some may see as a Trump trial balloon or a way of putting DeSantis in his place— beneath Trump. For the moment let us consider that it is a “thing” and that somewhere someone sees a purpose in exploring the improbable. What is the state of the Republican ticket? Who fits with whom— who is the likely nominee”
It brings to mind some fairly serious questions facing Republicans next year. Polls indicate that the potential candidates in the Republican presidential primaries have to consider who will be on the undercard seriously. Any combination that includes competing frontrunners seems highly unlikely. Trump-DeSantis is more fever dream than dream ticket given Trump’s recent attempts to find a more demeaning nickname for DeSantis. His latest immature attempt at a DeSantis sobriquet demonstrates a striking lack of awareness of its possible repercussions, given the fast-food junky’s own ample profile. DeSantis could easily employ the similarly childish “I am rubber, you are glue” defense that would endear him to the Make America Florida crowd (yeesh! buy 2 vowels and you have MAFia.) What’s more, the term denigrates a cherished cuisine and has been used as a slur to refer to those of us of Italian descent— a thought that cannot have escaped the self-anointed master of the smear.
The mere suggestion at this early stage of the campaign of the importance of a vice-presidential choice suggests a glaring weakness in the overall Republican position. They have a surfeit of second-stringers to go along with the heavyweights. Trump has forecast the plight awaiting his choice in his treatment of Mike Pence, the most obedient and obsequious VP in history. It brings to mind the sentiment of FDR vice-president John Nance Garner whose dislike for the role has been etched in political annals as a warning. In addition to likening the position as “not worth a warm bucket of piss...” Cactus John who served under Roosevelt from 1933 through 1941 said aloud what most VP’s before and after must feel:
Worst damnfool mistake I ever made was letting myself be elected Vice President of the United States. Should have stuck with my old chores as Speaker of the House. I gave up the second most important job in the Government for one that didn't amount to a hill of beans. I spent eight long years as Mr. Roosevelt's spare tire.
— John Nance Garner, azquotes
Pence could add to that his near-death. Who would want to be the next pot Trump 2.0 decides to piss on? Trump for his part has made known his own low bar for those who he might consider for a “spare.” He has been reported to have rejected Nikki Haley for the post because of her complexion. Haley has announced her own bid for the top spot and her potential running mate would seem to be a non-starter given the current power structure of her party. Of course, running mates only matter if you win the primary— so why trot out the Trump/DeSantis tease?
One theory may be that if Biden chooses to run, and it is his choice at the moment, the Democratic team is a known quantity. A Republican ticket featuring an old guy and a wise guy may play well in red states but will be questionable in swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan. Neither man plays well in the sandbox with the other. And whoever conjured up the “New Freedom” bumper ticket has a wry sense of humor suggesting that DeSantis would allow himself to be second fiddle to a 21st-century version of the emperor Nero. If one were keeping score, credit one each for Trump and Biden, a net loss for the Florida Mussolini.
If not him, then who
Can the Republicans put a viable team together given the candidates so far? Starting with Trump, the answer could be daunting for Republicans up and down the ticket given his brand. Any VP candidate would have to fully accept the Big Lie, be shamelessly obsequious, and be willing to give his or her life for the president if elected. Given what has transpired since he last lost an election, a Republican woman is certainly in play for the second slot. Trump may prefer a feminine partner out of necessity. Dobbs was an eye-opener for Republicans who thought that women could be denied rights without repercussions. . Kari Lake, MTG, Elise Stefanik, and even Tulsi Gabbard could be options here as each one is callous enough to sublimate their gender to a misogynist. The candidates check most boxes but after reports that Nikki Haley was out of consideration due to her complexion each may consider a spa visit or two before submitting to a Mar-a-Lago catwalk. In any case, any pairing including one of the above would be problematic in most regions except the deepest reds. All the women would have to survive the scrutiny of Trump’s misogynistic bent while seeming to agree with him— difficult since Trump is basically disagreeable. Another factor that may come into play were he to consider a woman is his Access Hollywood “p___y grab” tape. This may be disqualifying on several fronts, especially considering his use of the same word to try to intimidate Pence on January 6.
Male candidates would even have a more difficult path. Each would have to agree, like Pence, to surrender their man parts for the duration of their term while allowing Trump to use them to relieve himself when necessary. Pence was quite good at this but failed to check the box on coup management. The leading candidates in this lane include a sclerotic Rudy Giuliani (it can happen), Mike Flynn (less likely, but a MAGA star), and Kevin McCarthy (loser label hurts and he suffers from any comparison with the women on toughness.) A more likely Trump option would be someone like Tim Scott who would try to mitigate the nominee’s reputation among many voters as a racist. The question would be how willing Scott would be to humiliate himself (my guess, quite.)
A Trump campaign, at least in the early primaries would be weakened by the reported abandonment of wealthy donors whose dollars are in search of a next-generation useful idiot. Recent articles have reported a potential cash crunch in Trump’s future:
Former President Trump could face a surprising problem as he mounts his 2024 campaign: a cash crunch as wealthy megadonors gravitate toward Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other potential contenders.
A loyal army of small-dollar donors will power Trump’s presidential bid, potentially making up for the exodus of billionaire backers, but they’ve shown signs of scaling back their giving.
And while Trump’s political machine is starting off with a war chest of more than $110 million, federal law prevents him from using most of that money to advance his White House campaign.
— The Hill, “Trump faces potential fundraising problem as megadonors jump ship” by Karl Evers Hillstrom
The NYTimes reported earlier this month that the donor network that included Charles Koch has announced that it was looking to “turn the page” and would support a fresh face in the race, leaving Trump to tap his small-dollar donor network of willing suckers. But if Trump could pull off the nomination, the dollars will flow. Biden and his friends pose a significant threat to their status and influence so the Koch dollars would find their way back to Trump.
The most likely ticket that would emerge from the GOP convention will be Trump-Lake or Trump-Scott. Barring an indictment and potential incarceration Trump will benefit from the irrepressible need of Republicans to cultivate a large primary field that will benefit the ugly fat bastard. It could also constitute a Biden dream ticket as Trump tries to avoid the realities of his misdeeds while promoting a Republican agenda that begins and ends with stale promises and bitter whines. No vice presidential choice can overcome his negatives, and it may be difficult to find someone willing to try.
(to be continued)