Senate Republican: C'mon, Trump won't run in 2024, and that's fine

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

So says The Hill based on background chats with Senate Republicans, but color me very skeptical on the biggest claim here. The unnamed caucus member thinks that the January 6 testimony may shame Donald Trump out of the 2024 primary race, but shame isn’t a word in Trump’s vocabulary:

One Republican senator, who requested anonymity to comment on the former president, said the “cascade” of embarrassing details about Trump’s conduct in the weeks before Jan. 6, 2021, and during the attack on the U.S. Capitol will seriously damage his political viability ahead of the 2024 election.

“I don’t think he’ll run again and that’s a good thing, because of the whole cascade of events,” the senator said, referring to testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson that Trump lunged at a Secret Service agent when he refused to drive him to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

If anything, the hearings are likely fueling Trump’s determination to run again in the next presidential cycle. They certainly have made him the center of American political attention these days, which Trump sees as winning regardless of the context. The more that the January 6 committee holds prime-time hearings to discuss Trump, the larger he becomes as a political figure — and the smaller his potential rivals in 2024 become in comparison. It’s another version of the same strategy Trump used in 2015-16, especially with the media.

Even Joe Biden has decided to get in on Trump’s strategy recently. The Associated Press notices that Biden is saying Trump’s name again and making Trump the bete noire … rather than Biden himself:

One month into his presidency, Joe Biden made clear his distaste for even naming the man he had ousted from the Oval Office, declaring, “I’m tired of talking about Trump.”

“The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people,” he said in a CNN town hall.

But now, Biden is eagerly naming and singling out the erstwhile “former guy” in prepared remarks and on social media, elevating Donald Trump in a way that Biden and White House aides didn’t do during the first 18 months of his term.

Speaking virtually to a group of Black law enforcement executives this past week, Biden accused the former president of stoking a “medieval hell” for police officers who fended off Jan. 6 rioters, adding that “Donald Trump lacked the courage to act.”

Biden’s Twitter feed repeated those words — a jarring sight for a White House that has tried to expunge any references to the former president and, in particular, his name.

This is a desperation move on Biden’s part. He needs people to hate someone more than they dislike Biden, and voters really dislike Biden. Even apart from his record low job approval ratings, Biden also has awful personal favorability ratings. The RCP average on those polls puts him at 39.6/55.6, and that’s only because a significant number of those data points come from two friendly polling series — YouGov and Morning Consult. Civiqs has Biden’s favorability this week at 35/58, his worst reading yet in that series. Biden’s tossing Trump’s name out there as a kind of political body shield in a final attempt to avoid accountability for his own incompetence.

That undoubtedly suits Trump just fine, too. The more that Biden shapes the political battleground as a grudge rematch, the more central it makes Trump to national politics, too. Plus, it forces a comparison between the performance of the American economy between the two men, and Trump must be dying to have that debate.

But will he get the chance? Other Senate Republicans aren’t as convinced that he won’t run, but they are increasingly convinced that Trump can’t win the nomination in 2024. The baggage from the hearings, especially in its revelations of Trump’s personal conduct, will be too heavy a lift:

A second GOP senator, who requested anonymity, said the overwhelming majority of Republican senators don’t want him to be the party’s nominee for president again.

“I could count on one hand the number of Republican senators who want Donald Trump to be our nominee,” said the lawmaker, adding: “I could count it on one finger.”

The senator said “the cumulative effect” of the Jan. 6 hearings is weighing on Trump’s viability in 2024.

This is a more arguable point, although it’s still just that: arguable. The impact of the committee hearings may not be all that great among those who will vote in GOP primaries and caucuses, especially not those who still love Trump and want a Vengeance Tour after the last two years of Biden. It will make a difference in a general election, but Trump could still win the primaries and force the GOP to overlook and/or excuse the baggage. Or can he? There are signs that the impact may be more significant in recent polling, at least indirectly, as Ron DeSantis gains significant ground against Trump.

But is that because of the January 6 committee, or is it based on more practical considerations? As I’ve written before, Trump’s January 6 and “stop the steal” baggage aren’t the only problems his primary bid would carry. Trump will be 78 years old in 2024, the same age as Biden in 2020, and America’s long look at a geriatric presidency is certain to raise second thoughts. If Democrats run someone else in 2024, especially someone younger, that question becomes more acute.

And finally, Trump’s only eligible for one more term in office, which means the GOP would only postpone its necessary leadership fight. Even if Trump won the general election, he’d become a lame duck almost immediately. The 2026 midterms would be brutal for Republicans with Trump in office, especially if they win a wide swath of House seats in these midterms. Why spend a billion-plus dollars of donor money on the limited gains Trump would provide rather than go with a fresher face without the baggage and the built-in electoral backlash? Given the propensity of American voters to switch parties at the White House at the natural term-limited end of presidencies, that’s running a risk for 2028 that they don’t need to take with a younger, fresher candidate.

If there is a movement away from Trump within the GOP, it will be based on those considerations more than the committee hearings. We may already be seeing that shift, too. One has to wonder whether these stunt hearings and Biden’s desperation is counteracting that shift … unintended or not.