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The Republican Case for Lying Down for Trump Again 
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The Republican Case for Lying Down for Trump Again 

Should GOP candidates grin and bear it one more time?

Former President Donald Trump speaks to guests at an NRA event on April 14, 2023, in Indianapolis. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Imagine you’re a Republican senator or governor looking glumly at the 18 months to come. 

You’re wondering the same thing you’ve been wondering for more than seven years now: Is it worth the trouble of fighting Donald Trump? If there’s a bull in your china shop, are you better off to let him roam at will than perhaps doing greater harm trying to chase him out?

The recent burst of endorsements from members of the Republican power structure, including Montana Sen. Steve Daines, chairman of the party’s Senate campaign arm, and Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn, suggests that the answer will yet again be to let the bull do as it pleases and hope for the best.

Is a party that couldn’t summon the will to convict Trump for sending a mob to the Capitol to try to steal a second term really now willing to endure a painful, protracted nomination fight to try to keep him from joining Richard Nixon as the only men to thrice win the party’s nomination? And what if that fight results in Trump bolting the party and playing spoiler next November either as some kind of Bull Moose or just trashing his former team and further alienating his supporters from it?

Like the first time Trump won the prize, many Republicans will eventually support him even knowing that he is likely to lose in the general election, maybe even hoping that he does. Indeed, for lots of mainstream Republicans, that might be the best-case scenario.

Consider: Democrats are in serious trouble in three Senate races—West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio—and have three more races where they have vulnerable incumbents in competitive states—Nevada, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—a retirement and an open seat in Michigan, and the chaos of Arizona, where Kyrsten Sinema, an Democrat-turned-independent who still counts toward the narrow Democratic Senate majority, looks to be running against both an R and a D next fall.

That’s eight seats where Democrats have their fat in the fire compared to only two for the GOP—Texas and Florida—both of which right now look like reaches for the Democrats. 

Imagine a 2024 election that plays out like the one in 2020, in which President Joe Biden rolls to a big popular vote victory but the contest remains close in swing states, and it’s not at all hard to see Republicans losing the presidency and picking up a total of four Senate seats, double what they would need to retake the chamber.

In that scenario, Republicans would have only a small hope of retaining their narrow House majority, but a repeat of the 2020 result that left Democrats with a similarly skinny margin in the House wouldn’t be a catastrophe for the red team, especially if Republicans were in control of the Senate.

If your assumption is that Biden wins the same 306 electoral votes again against Trump, or actually even adding a state to his column, say, North Carolina and its 15 electors, it would be very reasonable to assume that Biden would start his second term in divided government and gridlock. 

Best of all for Republicans, they would finally be done with Trump. Right? At 82 and a two-time loser, he wouldn’t be a serious contender in 2028, could he? And anyway, they would have some time to sort things out by then … almost certainly, probably.

If you fight Trump now, though, things could be so much worse. First, if Trump does the same thing in Senate races he did in 2022—backing nuts and long shots over qualified establishment picks—he could not only lose the presidency again but leave the Democrats in control of both houses. As an incumbent, Trump was far more willing to defer to Senate leadership on candidate selections. 

In fact, had Trump not been trying to steal a second term at the same time Georgia was holding its Senate runoff elections, Republicans wouldn’t have lost the upper chamber in the first place. There are no competitive races in states with runoffs this time around, so if treating Trump like an incumbent gets him to play nice in the Senate primaries, who cares what he does after Election Day? Just grin and bear it one more time and finally the Trump era will be over … 

And if something happens to Trump, some act of God or a jury of his peers, and by some miracle a normal candidate with a solid chance for victory gets the nomination, he or she would be eager to cooperate with the party to boost down-ballot chances. The beauty of the grin-and-bear-it strategy of Trump acquiescence is that all of the candidates aren’t vindictive, reckless, solipsists in the way he is. It’s practically the platform for all their campaigns!

There are two worse options for Republicans to consider, though. 

One is that Trump lays such an enormous egg in the general election that he wipes out the House and Senate, too. This is what many Republicans were preparing for in both 2016 and 2020, but it never materialized. As a result, Republicans are less prone to believe that this could be the time it actually does happen, even though the chances are probably greater, à la William Jennings Bryan. But it’s easy to imagine an off-the-rails Trump losing Florida and Texas, and maybe even Ohio and Iowa in a 400-plus electoral vote rout for Biden.

The other is that Trump wins. 

The Republican Party barely survived the first Trump presidency, which ended in world-historic disgrace. God help them if they have to try to flatter and wheedle their way through four more years, this time with Trump wise to the efforts of his courtiers to control him.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.