And here’s the most frightening thing for rival Republicans with an eye on 2024: It’s very hard to imagine anyone can keep Trump from the 2024 nomination if he wants it.
Consider what we know of the candidates in the 2024 mix.
Vice President Mike Pence, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will all probably take a pass if Trump indicated he wants the nomination again, knowing they aren’t likely to beat him and don’t want to destroy their future chances by trying.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio might run even if Trump was in the race, but we’ve seen this movie before. Trump beat both of them soundly in 2016 — and that was before he got elected president.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse? Both might run as the anti-Trump candidate whether or not the 45th president is actually in the race. But while they might have a slim chance of winning the nomination without Trump in the field, they would have no chance if the ex-president was running.
Trump has transformed the base of the Republican Party over the last five years from a group of people generally connected by similar views on economic and social policy (lower taxes, smaller government, protecting the unborn, appointing conservative judges) into what is best understood as a cult of personality revolving around him.
Whatever Trump says, the base takes as truth. Whoever he likes, they like. Whoever he attacks, they attack. It’s borderline Pavlovian. And it’s made all the more remarkable by the fact that Trump’s views on lots of issues (size of government, debt and deficit, trade) are anathema to where the party’s base (and its elected leadership) was just a decade ago.
But what’s clear is that unless the Republican base undergoes a drastic rethinking of its opinions of Trump, the next Republican presidential nomination is his for the taking.