WASHINGTON DC – Republicans were supposed to win the US midterm elections. The party in power normally does poorly in them. Inflation is high. Petrol prices are, too. Instead, it was a historically good election for Democrats. They have kept the Senate, and may, if Georgia run-offs go their way, pick up a Senate seat. At the time of writing, they may yet keep the House.
In the face of this gutting defeat – and in light of the fact that Republicans did quite well in one state, which was Florida – many a Republican strategist and Rupert Murdoch-owned property has been eager to suggest that the former president Donald Trump, endorser of some of the more extreme candidates who lost in these elections, is done. And that the party’s future lies with the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis.
Leaving aside that the fault for these election results cannot be placed entirely at Trump’s feet – if abortion was a major issue for voters, the Republican Party should ask itself if its 50-year march towards overturning Roe vs Wade and introducing draconian state legislation against abortions was worth it – this conclusion forgets that to beat Trump, you actually have to beat Trump.
I am not impartial on this issue. I think that Trump, who denied the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election and reportedly wanted his supporters to march, armed, to the Capitol building in Washington DC on the day that votes were being certified, is a unique danger to the country. To put it plainly: I would like it to be true that Trumpism no longer dominates the Republican Party.
But I also remember 2016, when Trump beat ten other candidates, each of whom, we were assured, had a better chance at winning the presidency than he did. I remember how many candidates he debased who then campaigned for him. I remember that after the storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021, the Republican senators whose lives he had an indirect role in endangering still decided not to impeach him, even though doing so would have prevented him from running for public office again. I remember so many other times that we were told it was over for Trump. And I am sure that, each time, Republican pundits meant it. But the voters didn’t.
We’re now meant to believe that DeSantis is the future for Republicans. But to campaign in a state and to campaign in a country are two very different things. We have seen, time and again, a promising star in one state crash and burn when they are introduced to the nation.
And that’s leaving out that a chunk of the Republican Party is still in thrall to Trump. That’s leaving out that, for the past week or so, Trump has lashed out at DeSantis, and DeSantis has not responded. That’s leaving out that, despite some candidates suggesting that Trump might be finished, others, such as JD Vance, have rushed to make sure we all know they think Trump could still be the future.
This is not just up to voters. Republican politicians and pundits have a choice. They can refuse to campaign with Trump. They can refuse to endorse him or defend him. If it looks like he’s winning, they can refuse to drop their principles and continue to condemn him.
Trump will be done not when Republicans wish him away, but when they beat him. For the sake of the country, I sincerely hope they have more courage than they’ve shown in the past.
This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out on Mondays and Fridays; subscribe here.