The Never Trump Temptation
The thing to understand about the coming Republican presidential primary is that it’s a referendum, not a choice.
Superficially it’s a choice. There’s Trump, soon there’ll be Nikki Haley, eventually there’ll be Ron DeSantis and a few others, each offering a different blend of conservatism and populism. Trump might go full metal nationalist next time while Haley reverts to her center-right roots; DeSantis and figures like Mike Pence will steer somewhere in between. That’s a complex choice for voters, no?
Nah. Not really.
A “choice” election is one in which the electorate weighs the strengths and weaknesses of multiple candidates before settling on one. A referendum is one in which the strengths and weaknesses of a single candidate drive their decision. Between the time Ronald Reagan left politics and the time Donald Trump entered, I’d argue that the only true referendum Republican voters experienced in a primary was 1992. That was the year Pat Buchanan forced a right-wing gut check on the success of George H.W. Bush’s first term as president.