Donald Trump holds a commanding lead of over forty points over the nearest competitor in the race for the Republican nomination for president. As Yogi Berra famously said, it’s not over till it’s over, but can you blame anyone for believing it is? Newt Gingrich has gone so far as to encourage the Republican Party to cancel the remaining debates. His message appears beautiful in its simplicity: Don’t give anyone who challenges Trump a forum; there’s no point.
Notwithstanding Gringrich’s certainty, reasons for challenging Trump really do exist. In recent days, Trump has managed to lambast the Pro-Life movement as nothing more than a money-grubbing concern. It has, you see, no reason to exist since he and he alone chose the justices who handed down the Dobbs decision. (Forget the Federalist Society and those in the administration—surely not Trump—who vetted its list of prospective Supreme Court judges.) He also has insinuated himself into the UAW strike, traveling to Wisconsin to assure the union’s members that, if re-elected, he will “take their [the automakers’] money and their factories.”
Is that the free market in action or the limits of the executive in a nutshell? Since the nut inside the shell is Trump, maybe so. For the rest of us, or so I hope, something just doesn’t make sense in these pronouncements, not for a Republican and certainly not for a conservative. Yet no matter how outrageous Trump’s statements get—and for Trump the sky’s the limit—his lead remains so firm that no other politician make a dent in it.
However, one must acknowledge that the Republican electorate’s folly does not translate into a second term for the ex-president. Crazy as it seems, Joe Biden stands in the way. Now, I can well see that a roadblock, I mean, one made of real wood, might do better against Trump than the hapless, addled, mendacious current occupant of the White House. Even Democrats think Biden far too old for the job albeit a mere two years older than Trump. Prospective voters have weighed him in the balance and found him wanting. He’s botched the economy, charted a course that lowers American prestige, disgraced us in Afghanistan, and dabbled in corruption with son Hunter. What, according to the pollsters, is the prognostication for the 2024 election? A tie. The fact that it is a tie shows how slim Trump’s chances are because the race shouldn’t be close. Once the hardball campaign begins after Labor Day next year, the tie will evaporate, and Biden’s second term will be a done deal.
But suppose Trump wins. With over ninety felony charges against him, it’s entirely likely that he will be convicted of at least half a dozen counts before the election. Although I take it for granted that his legal team would appeal any guilty verdict, I’m almost as certain that no judge would touch it, including the Supreme Court. In other words, a victorious Trump would be moving into the “Big House,” not the White House.
As a friend of mine (no Trump supporter) has told me more than once, no clause of the Constitution forbids a felon from serving as president. At the same time, no clause can keep an elected president who happens to be a felon out of jail. Crazy as it sounds, come January 2025, the country may find itself in uncharted waters, as will Trump who up to now has managed to stay out of jail.
How would Trump the jailbird president govern? Will he take his oath, risibly, to uphold the Constitution of the United States from the prison yard? Will the new secretaries of state, defense, and other departments visit him in his cell weekly? Will the secret service occupy neighboring cells and accompany the president to meals? Will he receive ambassadors or be granted furlough to attend international conferences, or will he just “Zoom” all of his meetings? The complications boggle the mind.
But there’s another scenarsio or two. First, the new cabinet, once it exists, meets shortly after the inauguration, and concludes the situation untenable and politically intolerable, at which time they promptly act as no administration ever has by invoking the 25th Amendment (Section 4), removing Trump from office. The process is complicated, and there can be little doubt that the president-elect would not graciously submit. If he did not, it’s easy to imagine Congress’ stepping into the breach through impeachment and trial. Could a president with such baggage in tow would survive the vote?
Sound farfetched? Maybe. As unlikely as the Republicans’ nominating someone other than Trump? Again, maybe. But the G.O.P. still can avoid the outright disgrace of “Trump, the Sequel” by sending the Donald back to Mar-a-Lago to slide (noisily, for sure) into retirement. Good alternatives abound: DeSantis, Haley, Scott, the local dogcatcher, anyone of whom can win against Old Joe. All the primary voters need to do is choose with intelligence. That’s a quality in short supply these days, but the sooner Republicans exercise it, the better for all of us.