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Republicans Are Acting Like the 2024 Election Is Their Last

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Trump’s choice to co-chair the RNC: his daughter-in-law Lara.
Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

It’s understandable that Donald Trump regards the 2024 election as his final shot at redemption after a 2020 defeat he still cannot admit. In August, he will very likely become a three-time presidential nominee at the age of 78. His principal agenda (beyond taking the steps necessary to quash criminal prosecutions) revolves around vengeance against his enemies, from the highest levels of the Democratic and Republican Party Establishments and major media organizations to the lowliest “deep state” bureaucrat. That’s a deeply personal undertaking, not something he can pass on to any political or ideological heirs.

If Trump loses again and cannot achieve the insurrectionary reversal of the outcome he attempted last time around, the odds are pretty good that he will wind up in the slammer or at least spend his declining years in courtrooms, watching his business empire dissolve in the acid of adverse civil judgments and astronomical legal fees.

So win or lose, in an existential sense it’s all or nothing in November for this turbulent man.

The former president’s bulletproof standing in the 2024 presidential-nomination contest has made it exceptionally easy for him to begin remolding his party in his own image. This project achieved an early milestone with his planned replacement of RNC chair Ronna McDaniel with an ultraloyalist North Carolina operative named Michael Whatley, along with Trump’s own daughter-in-law Lara, another North Carolinian (in blatant disregard of traditional notions of balanced leadership) as co-chair.

Lara Trump is not simply a political nepo baby, however. She could well represent the final subjugation of any broader goals or purpose of the national party beyond hailing the chief. Her first comment about what she wanted to do with her RNC post, as Fox News reported, was highly illustrative:

“The RNC needs to be the leanest, most lethal political fighting machine we’ve ever seen in American history,” Lara Trump told Newsmax …

“Every single penny will go to the No. 1 and the only job of the RNC — that is electing Donald J. Trump as president of the United States and saving this country.”

Sure, every presidential campaign and its party satraps treat victory as all-important, but we sometimes forget to notice how often Trump and his supporters identify a second term for him with the continued existence of the United States. That’s the subtext of their exceptionally vicious attacks on Joe Biden as “the destroyer of democracy” and their treatment of boring old mainstream Democrats as “the Radical Left,” “Marxists,” or even “communists.”

In other words, Trump is projecting his own intense desperation about winning in 2024 onto the party he increasingly controls. That could matter, and not just because making this one election seem like the eschaton is a good way to turn the GOP into “the leanest, most lethal political fighting machine we’ve ever seen.” Supposing Trump loses and again tries to take the election into overtime; Republicans would be more likely to support efforts to reverse the results if they had been told for months that their country could all but cease to exist if Biden remained president. They are already more favorably inclined toward the attempted insurrection than they were in the days immediately after January 6. Michael Anton (later a Trump White House official) earned great notoriety for an essay describing the 2016 presidential election as “the Flight 93 Election,” comparing a Trump victory over Hillary Clinton as a patriotic necessity as urgent as the self-sacrificing attack against 9/11 hijackers by airline passengers. An entire major political party infused with this attitude could become much more authoritarian-leaning than it already is.

Being a narcissist, Trump himself cannot be expected to distinguish his own fate from that of his party or his country. But Republicans can and should refuse to completely subordinate their party to its leader and force themselves to recognize there are values more basic than the desire to grind their opponents into dust. But they probably won’t.

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