Donald Trump’s stated mission to destroy the traditional Republican Party from within continued apace in last week’s midterm elections. The performance by Democratic candidates far exceeded expectations for normal off-year voting, especially given rampant inflation and President Biden’s personal unpopularity.
The other, and ultimate, objective of the former president is to replace the GOP with an explicit Trump party. While son Eric Trump recently claimed that his father’s goal already has been accomplished, it also took a significant hit last week.
The cause of both outcomes was the same: Trump’s selection of his own political acolytes to defeat and replace regular — i.e., normal — GOP candidates in the primaries.
In that effort, Democrats agreed with concerned Republicans about the political vulnerability of Trump’s handpicked candidates and sensed real opportunity. They took advantage of states with open primaries to pour in money and advertising to support the flawed Trump designees. They now take perverse satisfaction that, working indirectly but in parallel with Trump, the ultimate cynic, their own dangerous cynicism was vindicated.
Many of the Trump choices went down to predictable defeat, and they took Republican prospects to regain both the House and Senate along with them. They also damaged GOP candidates for governor, state legislatures, and statewide offices down the ballot. The devious ploy is now ready for use in 2024 unless open-primary states take action to prevent the distortion of their electoral processes in that manner by either party. Some governors and legislatures may need to act before they are replaced in January.
But major procedural reform in the presidential campaign must come from the Republican National Committee (RNC), which has the unilateral power to set the rules for choosing the party’s presidential nominees. If it has learned the lesson of the 2016 nominating process, it will change the existing national rules that frustrated the preference of up to three-fourths of the Republican electorate that year, who wanted someone other than Trump to lead the party. His hard-core support remains at around 30 percent.
The RNC should require that each state’s delegates are awarded to the candidate winning a majority, not merely a plurality, of the popular vote. If no candidate wins 50 percent in a crowded field, runoffs of the top two vote-getters would be conducted.
In choosing its U.S. senator this year, Georgia is showing that a runoff can be carried out within a month of the regularly-scheduled election. This change for presidential candidates among all states would ensure the nomination of the person with the broadest support in the party, rather than an outlier with a zealous but consistently narrow following. The nominee also would have the strongest appeal to independents and persuadable Democrats, and thus be best positioned not only to win but to govern on a bipartisan basis.
While it is at it, the RNC should institute other reforms with the cooperation of state parties. When it negotiates the terms of the presidential debates with the Democratic National Committee, it should insist on a minimum of three, with the last to occur at least one day before early voting begins and before mail-in ballots are distributed. This simple procedural reform will ensure that voters at least have the opportunity to be fully informed before they cast their ballots. To achieve that objective, some states may wish to adjust the process for mail-in ballots, except for overseas military personnel, and expand Election Day into a protracted five-day period from the Friday before the official Election Day, through the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday.
Trump, the decidedly minority choice of the Republican Party in 2016, managed to win the election because Democrats nominated the highly vulnerable Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden, a multiple failed presidential candidate, prevailed in 2020 because Trump was his opponent (though Trump lost the popular vote in both elections).
Yet, both Biden and Trump have indicated their intentions to run again in 2024 and their parties seem reluctant to turn the page on them. Making the nominating process more democratic by majority choices in the states’ delegate selection processes would let the voters, not party leaders, determine the party’s future direction. It also would be a less confrontational way of retiring older candidates who are out-of-touch with a new generation of voters and leaders.
Surely, a nation of 330 million Americans, including 50 state governors, 100 U.S. senators, 535 congressmen and congresswomen, and thousands of state and local political, educational and business leaders can find worthy and more unifying prospects to lead it through these perilous domestic and international times.
Voters should be confronted with the choice of two highly-qualified, even inspirational, candidates and decide who is better for the country — not who is worse between two inadequate men or women. The lesser-of-evils dilemma for voters is a failure of both parties and a disservice to the greatness of the nation.
Trump’s GOP-destructive behavior in 2022 followed his performance in the 2018, 2020 and 2021 elections. This is the second consecutive year his ego-driven conduct has cost Republicans control of the Senate. They must decide whether they will tolerate its continuation in 2024. Trump’s pushing of a crop of election-denying candidates in this year’s GOP primaries was effectively equivalent to his statement during the 2021 Virginia race, after he had undermined the two incumbent Georgia U.S. senators. He said then that his followers should boycott all future elections until the 2020 result was reversed.
Trump said last week that he would make a major announcement regarding his political future today, strongly hinting that he would declare his intention to be a candidate in 2024. One inhibiting factor would be the federal laws governing the use of funds raised by political action committees. Trump can use his PAC money for personal purposes as long as he is not a political candidate.
If he re-enters the political arena, however, his access to his PAC’s treasury would be limited. We may learn today whether Trump would be willing to forego the lucrative flow of supporters’ contributions he now enjoys for the sake of an early announcement of candidacy designed to intimidate other GOP aspirants.
The only thing certain about Trump’s actions is that they will not be guided by concern for the best interests of the Republican Party or the country, just by the financial and political interests of one man. The GOP should finally insist it has a say in the matter.
Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He served in the Pentagon when Vladimir Putin invaded Georgia and was involved in Department of Defense discussions about the U.S. response. Follow him on Twitter @BoscoJosephA.