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The Right Resistance: Mitt Romney wants one main GOP challenger to Trump. Will he get it?

As if we haven’t had enough prominent politicians and celebrities injecting their two cents into the 2024 Republican party primary race conversation thus far, one of the GOP’s most

noteworthy (and notorious?) establishment Republicans earlier this week apparently decided there wasn’t sufficient commentary and strategy to this point and opted to share his invaluable views on the topic.

None other than 2008 party presidential primary runner-up, 2012 nomination winner (and pitiful general election loser) and current Utah senator Mitt Romney bets he’s found the secret to ensuring that Donald Trump doesn’t win the 2024 GOP nomination. Romney thinks if the 2024 Republican candidates with no realistic shot to beat Trump in the caucuses and primaries next year would only remove themselves from the ballot prior to a certain date (in early 2024), it could allow a guy or a gal other than the 45th president to prevail.

Not only that, Romney wants the party’s donors to do the dirty work in pressuring the candidates to leave of their own volition as though the individual hopefuls themselves wouldn’t otherwise realize the incentive to accept the will of the primary voters and get behind Trump for what will be his final campaign. The nebulous and ill-defined Never Trump contingent has been mostly dormant thus far in the 2024 race, but it looks as though their tentative silence is ending.

By the way, where is Liz Cheney? Didn’t she once swear she’d run if it were the only way to keep Trump from winning the Republican nomination?

In an article titled, “Romney calls on GOP donors to pressure noncompetitive Trump rivals to drop out”, Olafimihan Oshin reported at The Hill:

“In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday, Romney suggests party donors should urge candidates whose paths to the nomination are effectively closed to drop out of the race by February 2024.

“’There are incentives for no-hope candidates to overstay their prospects. Coming in behind first place may grease another run in four years or have market value of its own: Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum got paying gigs,’ Romney wrote, referring to two rivals of his in the 2012 GOP presidential primary. ‘And as former New Hampshire Gov. John H. Sununu has observed, ‘It is fun running for president if you know you cannot win,’’ he continued.

“’Left to their own inclinations, expect several of the contenders to stay in the race for a long time,’ Romney added. ‘They will split the non-Trump vote, giving him the prize. A plurality is all that is needed for winner-take-all primaries.’ ... ‘Donors may think that party leaders can narrow the field. Not so. Candidates don’t listen to party officials, because voters don’t listen to them either,’ he wrote. ‘And the last people who would ever encourage a candidate to withdraw are the campaign staff and consultants who want to keep their jobs for as long as possible.’”

And they won’t listen to Mitt Romney either!

Or, it could be said, campaign staff and consultants won’t normally tell their candidates to tuck tail and run because they’re being paid to help the candidate win, not do what washed up ruling class fools like Mitt Romney tell them to do. Likewise, if donors want their candidate to do – or not do – the solution is simple – stop contributing. Candidacies have a way of shriveling up and dying on their own when the other-people’s-money spigot closes.

Besides, most candidates – other than someone like 2016’s John Kasich – realize when it’s time to leave on their own without any prodding from outside. A poor showing in Iowa and/or New Hampshire is typically reason enough to give up the campaign trail, since drawing attention and additional resources after those dates becomes near-impossible. Therefore, donors wouldn’t necessarily have to be the ones out front instructing their candidates to clear out of the way for one main not-Trump rival.

Those who do bow out gracefully always say nice things about the frontrunner as well, leaving behind the vitriol and insults of the campaign. There’s still the vice president’s slot to fill, and an awful lot of cabinet posts waiting for former rivals turned sudden allies. Don’t believe it? How else did the eminently mediocre Pete Buttigieg end up Biden’s Secretary of Transportation?

I chuckled at Romney’s reference to Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum in his Wall Street Journal piece. Regular followers of Republican politics recall that Romney’s main rivals in 2008 and 2012 weren’t big fans of Massachusetts Mitt back in the day and that many of the same types of personality conflicts that Trump is experiencing now existed back then, too. In case you’ve forgotten, Romney himself eventually became the not-McCain “conservative” alternative in 2008 and Santorum turned into the not-Mitt lead contender in 2012.

Conservatives weren’t able to consolidate and rally behind one non-establishment candidate, leading to McCain’s outlasting of the others in ’08 and Romney surviving as the default-choice of frustrated conservatives in ‘12. Therefore, Mitt does understand what he’s talking about here -- he’s just way off base in his approach to the 2024 race.

First, there’s little polling data to indicate that any of the current not-Trump candidates, if they were to wake up tomorrow and find themselves in a one-on-one deadlock with Trump, would beat him. According to the Real Clear Politics polling average (as of yesterday), Trump commands over 53 percent of the primary vote, with Florida’s Ron DeSantis lagging considerably behind at 18 percent. Outsider Vivek Ramaswamy has come from nowhere to register 5.9 percent to best former vice president Mike Pence (at 5.0 percent) for the third spot.

It was further announced, earlier this week, that DeSantis is continuing to lay off staff in large numbers, usually a sure sign of a campaign in trouble. Gov. Ron looked to be the GOP’s main not-Trump alternative all along, but with the horserace about to shift into fall overdrive, there are questions as to whether the Floridian is still a viable candidate to challenge the leader for state wins.

Right now, there is no clear main not-Trump alternative, and even if there were, some of the voters who now back other candidates would switch to Trump if their contender were to exit. Back in 2016, supporters of Ted Cruz, myself included, reasoned that if Marco Rubio, John Kasich and the hangers-on would simply leave the campaign and let Ted go one-on-one with the bombastic Trump that Cruz could give the New Yorker a real race and probably even beat him.

It didn’t work out that way. Early on, John Kasich let it be known that he didn’t like Cruz any better than he did Trump, and, by the time real “discussions” were underway between the campaigns to team-up, it was too late in the primary calendar to make a difference. Fueled by intense grassroots anger at the swamp and a political class that never kept its promises, the people favored Trump. The Washington establishment never appreciated Trump’s appeal, but the voters understood their own values and the type of feistiness that they wanted in a president.

A similar “No, Not Trump Again!” phenomenon appears to be taking place now, with Romney penning opinion columns to try and jumpstart the Never Trump movement to stave off another Trump nomination. As testimony to Trump’s unflinching popularity with the Republican grassroots, the 2024 candidates themselves have been hesitant to directly criticize the 2016 winner for fear of angering his supporters.

Which begs the question: If there was such a groundswell of GOP anti-Trump feeling, wouldn’t Trump’s professed rivals be competing harder for that slice of the conservative electorate?

Besides, by speaking out on this sensitive topic, doesn’t Romney risk driving even more people into Trump’s camp? The mere mention of the legendary flip-flopper’s name engenders negative feelings in most conservatives who value backbone in their leaders. Romney was the only Republican senator to vote to convict Trump in his first impeachment trial (the one that was an even bigger farce than the second) and has since gone out of his way to step on the former president whenever an opportunity presents itself.

If Mitt was so bent on keeping Trump from winning again, wouldn’t he go all out in throwing his support behind someone like Chris Christie or Asa Hutchinson – or former Texas Rep. Will Hurd? To my knowledge, they’re the only 2024 candidates who are openly anti-Trump. Or why doesn’t Romney start tossing out hints that he’s considering launching a late “White Knight” candidacy of his own if the voters don’t come to their senses and reject Donald Trump?

Here's thinking Romney would have just as much of a problem supporting one of the other conservative favorites such as Gov. Ron DeSantis or Vivek Ramaswamy, too. DeSantis has closely followed the MAGA agenda in Florida and Ramaswamy fondly speaks of leading a “revolution” against the politics of the present, scary language for the delicate sensibilities of the “get along” crowd.

No doubt Mitt Romney has spent his entire life trying to find a mushy political middle that would adopt his principle-free brand of governance by tidy elites, and he’s got to be frustrated because he hasn’t discovered it. Donald Trump rose in 2016 because he spoke to the pulse of the “forgotten Americans” who’d been left behind by generations of leaders from both parties.

Until Trump’s enemies find a way to break his hold on the people, their efforts to defeat him are fruitless.

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