It’s now a few weeks after the first Republican debate, and I’m still sure the smart play for Republicans is to get behind Vivek Ramaswamy as their nominee and put someone on the ticket with him who might actually be able to run a country. Doesn’t matter that he’s non-white – evangelicals didn’t turn up their nose at Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, the number of liberals caught off-guard by conservative Black and Brown folks is very small now, and right-wingers may not love Black and Brown folks in the abstract or the tangible but they’ll defend their Black and Brown fellow-travelers to the death. Doesn’t matter that he sounds batshit, either. That fool Ron DeSantis actually thinks all his precious oppo research will make a difference? Was he paying attention in 2016? What does matter, though, is that Mr. Ramaswamy helps Republicans get the Trumphole vote without actually having to have Trump on the ticket. How stupid do Republican politicians sound trying to defend Donald Trump these days? Very, very stupid, that’s how. Now imagine a world in which they don’t even have to talk about Donald Trump anymore, let alone defend him, but can run someone who’s pushes all the same emotional buttons without having any of the Trump baggage. Then imagine those Republican politicians reassuring nose-holders that since someone like Tim Scott is on the ticket, things will actually get done. That sure is a better idea than letting Donald Trump run again (and again!), and it’s also a better idea than getting behind the trans-hating, race-baiting, book-banning, COVID-enabling Ron DeSantis.
That doesn’t mean Mr. Ramaswamy will beat Joe Biden. Joe Biden’s done a good job. Doesn’t matter that Mr. Biden’s approvals are low now, or even next year, because I suspect our economy will keep on chooglin’ into Election Day 2024. And it also doesn’t mean Mr. Ramaswamy will have the same coattails Donald Trump obviously had on Election Day 2020, when Republicans picked up 15 House seats and damn near held our Senate. But Republicans need to face facts: they are the party of masturbatory rage now, and nothing else. They can still win elections wherever they can gerrymander districts or suppress voting rights, but that’s a tough thing to do across an entire nation, and the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in six of the last seven elections – the exception being George W. Bush in 2004, who would never have been able to win re-election in the first place but for the Electoral College. So the best strategy for Republicans, going forward, is to nominate freak candidates for President. It’s not a good strategy. But it is their best one.
At the risk of opening up a hole in space-time, I will devote a small amount of space to understanding the Trumphole a little better. Like Amanda Marcotte, I am enormously tempted to say that Trump supporters are “deplorable bitter clingers” and nothing else, but I really think it’s more than that: just like murderers think of themselves law-and-order adherents facing extenuating and unprecedented circumstances, Trumpholes throw tantrums they feel perfectly justified in throwing – and yet would happily use the word “tantrum” on anyone else on the other side who ever got emotional. A lot of Trumpholes have been provoked, I suppose, but not by liberals, or immigrants, or transgender folks, or public school teachers, or whomever the Enemy of the Week is. Big corporations provoke them, and the politicians who suck up to big corporations – which has, as you know, been a bipartisan attitude for some time – also provoke them.
Many Trumpholes will agree with that analysis; some will even volunteer it – and then support candidates who have enabled their provokers, because Critical Race Theory Cancel Culture Bud Light Trans People Try That in a Small Town. Even this ain’t entirely stupid – everyone knows Democrats have been chasing big campaign donation money as much as Republicans, and Democrats have long pushed so-smart-they’re-stupid solutions to our problems (we’re going to teach construction workers to write code! No, I am never letting that go!) for decades. But Democrats have also come around a bit lately – Joe Biden is the most anti-monopoly President we’ve had since FDR, and it’s not exactly business-as-usual to see large-scale public investment (mainly through the Inflation Reduction Act, but also through the American Rescue Plan Act) that actually moves us forward as a civilization. That dilemma will impale Mr. Ramaswamy; he’s not stupid enough to oppose public investment or support monopolies, but saying “I’ll just do all of that better” won’t win hearts and minds, either. And yet he represents a better bet than hoping the Big Man himself survives all his interlocking indictments with all their interlocking co-defendants. In or out of jail, Mr. Trump could still get the nomination and win, though likely not if the economy’s still humming along. But if you’re a Republican politico, you’d rather not keep drawing to an inside straight.