It has never been that Donald Trump defies political gravity as much as it has been that Republican elites refused to let him fall. This was how he survived the scandals of the 2016 presidential election, consolidating support from conservative and Republican elites in the wake of the emergence of the “Access Hollywood” tape.
It’s how he survived the many scandals of his administration, from his callous and offensive response to the violence in 2017 in Charlottesville, Va., to his attempt to extort the government of Ukraine into supporting his domestic political objectives. And it is how he has managed to stay in the limelight as a free man even after he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election and bring about the end of constitutional government in the United States.
At each point, at each juncture, conservative and Republican elites were given the chance to dump Trump, to send him packing and to break his official ties to the Republican Party. They would have lost something in the short-term — a presidential election, a tax bill and a conservative Supreme Court majority — but they would have set themselves free of a figure who has been a hindrance as much as he has ever been a help.
Now, after a poor showing in the midterm elections, Republican elites are trying to show Trump the door. They even have a preferred alternative: Ron DeSantis, the ambitious governor of Florida, who has tried to make himself the vessel for the energy Trump unleashed.
I wrote last week that I was skeptical that Republicans could rid themselves of their meddlesome former president. And I’m even more confident of that assessment now, in the wake of Trump’s Tuesday night event, where he announced his campaign for the Republican nomination.
It’s not that the party fell immediately in line — although several Fox News commentators had nothing but effusive praise for the speech — but that the reaction was mostly muted. Key Republicans may want Trump out of the presidential race, but they’re not going to say so out loud. At most, they’ve said that they want a competitive primary with more than a few candidates.
Of course, a competitive primary with many candidates makes it even more likely that Trump wins the nomination for the second time in an open contest. Not only does he still have real support from elected Republicans from around the country — like Senator-elect J.D. Vance of Ohio, who urged Republicans not to blame the former president for their midterm defeat — but he still has support from nearly half of Republican primary voters.
In short, Trump is as well-prepared to win now as he was six years ago. And none of his Republican antagonists have learned, yet, what it might take to make him irrelevant. They’re even making the same mistakes; sources close to DeSantis say the governor intends to just ignore Trump’s attacks and provocations rather than confront them head-on. It didn’t work to ignore Trump in the last primary, and I doubt it will work in this one.
For years, Democrats and their allies have been warned not to underestimate Trump or his abilities. He’s a corrupt buffoon, yes, but there’s a power to him that his enemies ignore at their peril. If there is anyone who now needs to take that advice, it is Republicans.
As long as they are the ones underestimating Trump and the hold he has on a large part of the Republican base — as long as they treat him as a force to be managed rather than an opponent to be confronted and defeated — then they will be at his mercy and the mercy of his supporters for as long as he wants to treat the Republican Party as his own personal plaything.
What I Wrote
In my Friday column I wrote about our 50 state constitutions as possible models for constitutional reform.
Dan Hancox on nostalgia, for The Guardian.
Linda Kinstler on effective altruism for The Economist.
Goran Thernborn on the global left in the 21st century for New Left Review.
David A. Bell on the Paris Commune for The Nation.
Dana Stevens on Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Fablemans” for Slate magazine.
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Photo of the Week
A few days ago I was riding my bike to pick up dinner when I looked up and saw the light from the setting sun trying to break through the clouds. It was a striking scene so I took a picture with my phone. I made a few edits, but this is more or less what I saw with my eyes.
Now Eating: Sweet Potato Pie
At this point it’s a tradition: Every year, for the newsletter before Thanksgiving, I share my recipe for sweet potato pie. This is modified from a recipe my mom gave me when I was fresh out of college. She uses less ginger and doesn’t include the orange liqueur. I happen to like ginger quite a bit and I think the liqueur helps balance the flavor of the pie. I also like to serve this with orange whipped cream.
Makes 2 pies
2 pounds sweet potatoes
4 ounces butter, softened
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon freshly ground cloves
2 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces evaporated milk
two pie crusts, preferably homemade
Roast sweet potatoes. (Preheat oven to 425, place potatoes in, roast for 25 minutes, reduce heat to 350, roast for an hour.) Allow to cool completely.
When ready to make pies, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove skins from potatoes, and place in a large bowl with softened butter. Using an electric mixer or stand mixer, blend butter and sweet potatoes.
Add sugar and mix completely. Add eggs one at a time. Add spices and vanilla extract, then mix thoroughly. Add evaporated milk. Pour the filling in the two prepared pie crusts and bake for 50 minutes, checking at the 40 minute mark for doneness. Allow to cool and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.