Pat Buchanan, the great apostle of the Republican realignment toward the working class and the idea that Americans should come first in the hearts and minds of their leaders, once accurately noted that the greatest vacuum in American politics was to the right of Ronald Reagan.
That seems like an especially trenchant observation as the Republican contest for the presidential nomination begins in earnest this week with Governor DeSantis’s announcement of his candidacy.
The prevailing narrative among campaign consultants and the chattering class is that the only way to defeat the frontrunner is to let him talk and tweet and hope he disqualifies himself. Or perhaps hope that the various legal challenges he faces will eventually sink his campaign. Or maybe count on Mr. Trump to come off as a bully.
If any of that was sufficient to deny him the Republican nomination, he wouldn’t have been the nominee in 2016 and 2020. In both election cycles, it was manifestly obvious that Mr. Trump’s own worst enemy is his inability to restrain his most egregious impulses. Despite that, however, he was the Republican nominee in both 2016 and 2020.
A sizable chunk of the Republican electorate is aware of the character and personality of Mr. Trump and have decided they are not disqualifiers.
Those Republicans who want a different nominee are going to have to try a different approach. They are going to have to run a content-based campaign that disqualifies Mr. Trump not because of flaws in his character, but because of flaws in his policies. More specifically, they are going to have to attack Mr. Trump from the right.
Fortunately, for his competitors, there are examples and instances where the former president was unable or unwilling to drive a conservative agenda. For example, under his watchful eye, federal spending increased about 66%. The deficit went from $779 billion to $2.775 trillion.
In 2016, we were promised a wall on our southern border. We were promised a repeal of Obamacare. We are still waiting on both.
With respect to COVID, Mr. Trump originated and then enforced lockdowns. The vaccines – which were, of course, not vaccines as that term is commonly defined – were developed by his administration. He empowered and repeatedly gave Dr. Fauci a platform.
Anxious to avoid that part of his record, Mr. Trump has gone as far as to say that Andrew Cuomo, the former governor of New York, performed better with respect to COVID than Governor DeSantis.
Moreover, there are no signs that the former president is going to get any better.
Team Trump recently attacked Governor DeSantis for rightly questioning the underlying economic assumptions about Social Security, Medicare, and the retirement age. For those who may have lost the thread, Medicare is projected to be insolvent in five years; Social Security might make it to 2033 before becoming insolvent.
That probably makes more sense once you remember Mr. Trump’s own lack of attention to the looming problems in Social Security and other entitlements, or the COVID lockdowns that he started and helped enforce and that exacerbated those problems.
Team Trump also recently launched a new ad hitting Governor DeSantis for supporting a national sales tax, which would lower the overall tax burden on individuals by replacing all federal taxes, including the income tax. The plan would abolish the IRS.
The truly embarrassing part of the story is that Team Trump used the same line of attack as the very moderate Republican Adam Putnam used against Mr. DeSantis in 2018 and which was ripped by fact-checkers. It’s bad enough to defend the income tax and the IRS, but when you start parroting already-discredited material from Adam Putnam, you might want to rethink your life choices.
The Republican frontrunner is all about his personal grievances with the process, with the opposition, and even with his fellow Republicans. No one can beat him by playing that game. The only way for any contender to succeed is to change the game, attack from the right, and make the fight about policies.
Michael McKenna was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House. He co-hosts a weekly podcast, The Unregulated.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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