On one hand, they view Donald J. Trump as a clear and present danger to the republic, a menace who must be stopped at all costs. On the other hand, they may well believe he would be the easiest Republican to defeat for the presidency in 2024. Indeed, in the post-Mar-A-Lago-Raid world in which we now find ourselves, both of those opposing arguments have merit – but only one will carry the day. So, the burning question is whether Democrats, in their heart of hearts, want Trump in or out of the upcoming presidential sweepstakes. Their behavior in the coming months will determine the answer, but Democrats have already openly supported MAGA apostles in GOP primaries this year, believing such candidates would be easier to vanquish in November than standard-issue Republicans.
Of course, you would be forgiven for believing the Democrats will do almost anything to rid the political world of Trump once and for all. The years-long Russia collusion hoax provides more than ample evidence of what has become a truism. And together with all their other assaults on his person, it would strongly suggest they don’t want to roll the dice on ever having to face him again. But given the enduring lack of popularity of their present aging chief executive – and the elaborate Jan. 6 TV show trial conducted for the singular purpose of torpedoing the previous – and potentially future – president, they may well conclude that Trump would be the GOP’s most vulnerable option. Indeed, as even a few Republicans have stated, Democrats could thrive in a media-aided climate focused one more time on Trump’s behavior instead of their own beliefs and record.
Once the FBI decided to go where no government agency had gone before in raiding the home of not only a former president, but a subject who was, by most public accounts, cooperating with authorities, the perverse fallout is that Trump is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Even anti-Trump Republicans like Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan have spoken out forcefully about the drastic, Rubicon-crossing actions of federal authorities. It is highly unlikely that the deliberately vague explanation provided by Attorney General Merrick Garland Thursday will ever satisfy either Trump’s infuriated base or Republicans writ large. Independent voters are likely not thrilled about it either. Thus, Trump has been transformed overnight from a scoundrel to a martyr, making a third straight GOP presidential nomination more likely than ever.
Trump in Like Flint?
Even in the face of the Jan. 6 congressional “hearings” and unrelenting negative attention, Trump was already surprisingly well positioned for 2024 prior to the FBI operation at Mar-a-Lago – finishing four points clear in a head-to-head rematch with Joe Biden, according to the latest Harvard-Harris survey, and six points ahead in the most recent Rasmussen poll – both conducted in the first week of August, before the raid.
Several factors complicate the Democrats’ planning. Almost nobody wants Joe Biden to run again, but according to multiple accounts, this 46th president still believes he is the only one who can beat Trump. So, as the party man he has always been, will he go quietly and dutifully into the night? That is hardly a certainty, especially given that there is no one waiting in the wings to carry forward the mantle of the left. Kamala Harris has been an even bigger bust than Biden, and the rogue’s gallery of failed presidential candidates from 2020 – Buttigieg, Warren, Booker et al – show little promise. Most informed observers believe the Dems will have to reach outside the DC beltway for an as-yet unidentified nominee – think California’s Gavin Newsom – who could effectively take the fight to Trump, or rising star Ron DeSantis.
Ultimately, the question of how Democrats view Trump’s chances in 2024 will hinge on what other Republicans figure to be in the mix for the nomination. DeSantis, the Florida governor who quickly decried the FBI action, was gaining ground on Trump pre-raid, but now has likely been knocked back a peg by Trump’s newfound martyrdom. Would the Democrats rather face DeSantis than Donald Trump? Opinions are divided on the left. But either way, the answer to the question of how Democrats view Trump’s electability will influence, even guide, their short- and long-term strategy from now until Election Day 2024.