Conversion Or Exile

Former President Donald Trump delivers remarks alongside supporters, campaign staff, and family members during his primary night rally at the Sheraton in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23, 2024. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The first order of business for conventional politicians who win a primary is to reconcile with enemies within their party to build a winning coalition in the fall.

Donald Trump has never been a conventional politician.

Good news, sir. The Romneys have already been gotten rid of. Both of them.

One can understand why Trump is willing to antagonize admirers of his predecessor as the Republican nominee for president. Those admirers have already been alienated beyond repair, so there’s no political cost to doing so. Mitt Romney and Donald Trump are poles apart in measures of character, respect for the constitutional order, and foreign policy; at this point, I can’t imagine how anyone could like both of them. Romney himself said bluntly last week that he won’t vote for Trump in November, as one might expect of a senator who voted to convict him in two separate impeachment trials.

So, Trump gratuitously antagonizing Romney fans isn’t all that interesting. 

But Trump gratuitously antagonizing Ron DeSantis fans is quite interesting.

In fairness, it wasn’t Trump himself who recently picked a new fight with DeSantis. He offered a small olive branch to the governor of Florida by mentioning him as a potential running mate, in fact, although no one thinks he’s serious about it. But when DeSantis made some very mild criticisms of the VP shortlist in an interview, no fewer than three of Trump’s top advisers tore into him publicly on social media. “Chicken fingers and pudding cups is what you will be remembered for, you sad little man,” Chris LaCivita tweeted. Spokesmen Jason Miller and Steven Cheung openly threatened retribution if the governor kept it up.

DeSantis got more than 20 percent of the vote in Iowa. His base includes loads of traditional conservatives who are willing to compromise on populism but feel exasperated at the prospect of a third Trump nomination. Symbolically flipping them the bird by treating their favorite candidate as an enemy is not the obvious path to post-primary unity.

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