Like many other political aficionados, I have been anxiously awaiting Tuesday. That’s the official release day of Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin’s new book This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America’s Future. It’s also the day the 2022 primary season kicks off in earnest with the hotly contested GOP Senate primary in Ohio.
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for pre-publication book publicity, Simon and Schuster would surely win, given the steady stream of juicy political stories teasing the book, like Monday’s New York Times piece on the warnings that the Biden White House received over the last year from their pollster that the presidential ship of state was headed for a nasty reef. Here’s hoping there are plenty more tidbits where that came from.
Burns and Martin’s book follows on the heels of their colleague Jeremy Peters’s Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted, a thought-provoking look at the events and people that molded the current Republican Party, which bears no resemblance to the one of 30 or 40 years ago. There are plenty of theories and explanations for what caused this profound GOP metamorphosis, but Peters turns the lens on the roles played by individuals well before Donald Trump's political emergence, such as Roger Ailes, Pat Buchanan, Roy Moore, Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin, and others, including some whose names I had never heard.
He also lingers on the impacts of specific controversies—some highly visible like the fight over Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and others that may have been forgotten, like the fight over what was purported to be a mosque to be built near the site of the World Trade Center. Dozens of such events fueled the frustration and, ultimately, rage and rebellion that transformed what had been a fairly predictable and occasionally stodgy party into something today that is anything but.
For evidence, look no further than the Senate contest (some might call it a dumpster fire) in the Buckeye State. Although there are primaries in a dozen states between now and the end of the month, none are likely to get nearly the same attention, or be imbued with as much meaning.
For starters, political observers will read the tea leaves coming out of Ohio to predict the contours of the 2024 Republican presidential nomination fight. Whether Trump runs or not, the chemistry in the party matters.
To be sure, a third or more of Republicans are and will remain loyal to Trump. They’d walk on hot coals for him. But there are about as many who like much of what Trump has said or done, but see his act as wearing a bit thin. They are looking for a less flawed vehicle for substantially the same message. Finally, one or more Republican contenders will plant a flag representing a very different GOP than Trump’s, curious to see just how many will gather around it.
Over the years it has been frequently useful to think about nomination contests in terms of lanes, like in track or swimming competitions, in which similarly situated or positioned candidates compete with one another before going on to face fundamentally different ones.
Obviously there will be a Trump/MAGA lane, which may well include Trump himself. Today, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is getting the most attention, but notwithstanding George Will’s Sunday column suggesting a constitutional prohibition on current and former senators seeking the presidency, Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Ted Cruz of Texas may also make a play.
Of course there would likely be a less pugilistic, MAGA-Lite lane that could include former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, at least two governors—Greg Abbott of Texas and Kristi Noem of South Dakota—as well as former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Two more preliminary heats might take place in the “Un-Trump Lane,” comprising candidates who demonstrate clear stylistic differences with the former president, even if they agree on policy, and a “Never Trump Lane,” which would be diametrically opposed on nearly every measure. Who fits into which category is highly debatable, but you may see names here like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; Govs. Larry Hogan of Maryland, Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire; Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Rick Scott of Florida, and Tim Scott of South Carolina; Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois; and former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas.
And given the bizarre happenings of the last few years, who is to say that this couldn't take yet another unexpected turn?