Thursday, March 23, 2023
March 23, 2023

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Leubsdorf: Has Trump finally gone too far?


Ever since Donald Trump emerged on the political scene, pundits have predicted his imminent demise.

It never happened, even after Trump refused to accept his 2020 defeat and incited an insurrection that invaded the Capitol to keep Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election. The latter initially drew substantial — though mostly temporary — GOP criticism.

But now, in the wake of widespread condemnation for his role in last month’s GOP electoral setbacks and a series of acts that seem beyond the pale even for Trump, it’s happening again.

For the first time, there are tangible signs that the former president has gone too far, even for many GOP allies. But the history of the past seven years provides a warning against any premature judgments on the former president’s long-term political viability.

The latest evidence that Trump may be wearing out his welcome came in a USA Today/Suffolk University Poll showing a sharp drop in the proportion of Republicans who want him to run in 2024. It showed Republicans and GOP-leaning voters, by a margin of 2-to-1, favored another nominee who pursued the former president’s policies.

In another signal, Trump’s announcement last month that he would seek to regain the presidency in 2024 was greeted by a loud silence among top Republicans.

There are indications that his future may be even worse. While a recent New York court verdict condemning the business practices of his real estate organization did not directly mention Trump, he is the target of a series of pending legal investigations. What nobody can predict is how these legal cases will play out — and how their result will impact his political prospects.

Assuming he goes through with his candidacy, many state Republican primary rules enable a candidate who finishes first in a large field to get most of its delegates. Republicans almost certainly will have a large field.

Republican chances in 2024 could be affected by the degree to which Trump helps the ultimate nominee in the general election. In a worst-case scenario, a Trump independent candidacy would almost certainly drain off enough GOP votes to cost Republicans the presidency.

Finally, Trump has enormous financial resources. He retains most of the millions he has collected over the past two years, either to fight his unproven contention he was cheated in 2020 or to support various Republican candidates. How and where he chooses to use that money could also have an impact on GOP chances.

One thing seems certain: More Republicans than ever want nothing to do with Trump after he hosted two antisemitic allies and raised the question of suspending the Constitution in his never-ending but futile quest to overturn the election more than two years ago.

But that attitude remains far more true among leading party figures who have long chosen to enable him than among the rank-and-file. Indeed, direct top-level GOP condemnation of Trump was harsher at some points in 2016 than it is today.

On the other hand, just enough 2016 Trump voters had tired of him by 2020 to cost him re-election. Even more have reached that conclusion now, clearly threatening his standing among the Republicans who will pick their party’s next presidential nominee.