After rallying around Donald Trump following news of his indictment, Trump’s 2024 Republican rivals are mystified that he’s wiping the floor with them as he soaks up all the media coverage.
“It feels like fucking 2016,” one GOP strategist and supporter of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told Politico.
Sure does. Too afraid of their own shadow to take a stand, Republicans are once again caving to Trump. This time around, they’re on the glide path to handing the party’s nomination to a twice-impeached perennial loser whose sole concern now is trying to avoid jail time.
Unless you count DeSantis coming out of his bunker just long enough to make one mediocre stab at bashing Trump’s porn star hush money payments before immediately retreating for cover.
DeSantis’ comments did whip up a firestorm of coverage, but he just couldn’t take the heat. By the time the indictment dropped, DeSantis was doing backflips to disparage the charges as “un-American” and a “weaponization of the legal system” for political purposes.
On the day Trump was arraigned last week, DeSantis was literally doing puppy photo ops at a pet adoption event hosted by the Republican Party of Florida. But even puppies, face painting, and ice cream felt a little too dicey for the once-burned governor, whose team asked three reporters to leave the event lest another public relations flap overwhelm them.
But DeSantis wasn’t alone in being outshined by Trump’s run-in with the law.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Ukraine drew less coverage than DeSantis’ puppies.
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley became the first 2024 candidate to campaign at the southern border, but her Fox News interview was interspersed with footage of Trump’s plane preparing to leave Florida for his court date in New York.
After the Fox News anchor interrupted Haley to note that Trump had raised a “staggering” $5 million in the 48 hours since his indictment, an exasperated Haley responded that, there she was, “sitting here in Del Rio, Texas” to bring attention to illegal immigration at the border, and “no one is talking about it.”
“That’s the issue,” Haley said emphatically, adding that Trump’s indictment was just a heap of “unnecessary” political drama.
Terry Sullivan, who ran Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, found the entire GOP dynamic uncomfortably familiar.
“This is deja vu all over again,” Sullivan said. “Trump dominates media coverage, making it impossible for his competitors to get any coverage or forward traction.”
Remember all the ink that has been devoted to Republicans plotting to take out Trump? Talk is once again proving to be very cheap, a reality many GOP operatives find absolutely vexing.
“What’s frustrating to me is we didn’t learn a damn thing from 2015 and 2016 when it comes to just giving him absolute, roadblock media coverage,” explained David Kochel, who’s worked on six Republican presidential campaigns. “I get it, it’s a big story. But this was getting covered like … the opening of the war in Iraq or the O.J. chase. You couldn’t escape it.”
In actuality, Trump’s predicament is akin to the first days of the Iraq War or the O.J. Simpson trial, in the sense that a twice-impeached standard-bearer and presidential frontrunner of a major political party getting criminally charged is indeed a historic first.
If only Republicans could have done something to take Trump out of the running, they might be having a relatively normal primary process. But that would have required the GOP to behave like a relatively normal party, lining up the votes to convict Trump for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and then cutting him loose.
And there’s nothing normal about today’s Republican Party.
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