If the GOP candidates aren’t running against Trump, why run?

Republican presidential candidate former Vice President Mike Pence waves after speaking at the North Carolina Republican Party Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina, Saturday, June 10, 2023. (AP Photo/ Chuck Burton)

Mike Pence on Saturday in North Carolina attacked the Justice Department, not Donald Trump, over the former president’s 37-count federal indictment. (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

Much like most other Republicans expected to face Donald Trump for the 2024 presidential nomination, his former veep, Mike Pence, went on a show Saturday lamenting Trump’s “unprecedented indictment by a Justice Department led by current President of the United States and potential political rival.

As if chasing Trump in his face is a bad thing, and Joe Biden the bad guy.

Well, here are a few other unprecedented things:

Trump’s conduct, for starters. After leaving office, still refusing to admit defeat, he deliberately kept hundreds of classified documents, including military attack plans; stored them without security, including next to the toilets; showed some of these documents to visitors; and conspired with an aide to withhold property assigned to the U.S. government. All of this is described in his own words and those of his associates and alleged in the indictment for which he was arrested and arraigned on Tuesday.

And then there is the unprecedented spectacle of candidates choosing to run against Trump, but not actually running against him. The half-hearted deference to Trump describes most of the nine Republicans expected to be vying to keep him from winning their party’s presidential nomination.

This phenomenon challenges the very purpose of electoral politics: to persuade voters why they should elect you and not another person – a goal that is usually pressed all the more against a frontrunner or incumbent. (Trump, who led most Republican voters to believe he won in 2020, is actually an incumbent as well as the clear favorite for the 2024 nomination.)

How on earth does Pence and the rest of those longshots — all but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis languish in single digits in the polls, and he’s 30 percentage points behind Trump on average — think they’ll get over it without at least trying to persuade his supporters of the truth: the former president is clearly unfit to be president again.

Why run if you don’t do what it takes to win? Some, it is assumed, aim to be Trump’s vice president. Ask Pence how it worked.

Trump’s “challenges” are so wary of offending his supporters that they can’t bring themselves to convict him for the overwhelmingly credible allegations in the indictment, or even attack the overwhelming evidence. Instead, they echo Trump’s own BS, portraying him as a victim of Special Counsel Jack Smith, the Justice Department, the FBI and ultimately Biden, who somehow conspired to ‘arm’ the levers of government, Third World style, to bring down a political rival.

“How do you beat someone if you don’t talk about them? How do you beat them if you don’t distinguish yourself from them? »

That’s what former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of only two truth-tellers in the Republican race, asked when he spoke Monday night at a town hall on CNN. The other truthful is former Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, a former federal prosecutor who said, “This is obviously a very strong indictment. The grand jury” — not Biden, not the Justice Department — “found probable cause for it.”

Unfortunately, Christie and Hutchinson aren’t enough to defeat Trump when the other seven fire shots.

Pence over the weekend ventured that the indictment was perhaps “the latest example of a Justice Department working on an injustice.” You’d have to think he believes that – I don’t – to understand why Pence would attack and undermine the nation’s premier law enforcement institution rather than the man who not only allegedly stole military secrets but also, as Pence said it, put him in danger. and his family on January 6, 2021.

Before DeSantis reads the indictment, he tweeted, “The militarization of federal law enforcement poses a deadly threat to a free society.” Although DeSantis is at the center of Trump’s campaign snark on a daily basis, he has led Trump’s pack of whataboutism rivals, drawing false comparisons between the Justice Department’s treatment of Trump and that of Hillary Clinton and Hunter. Biden.

The response from Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who was Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, is evolving, shall we say. She first blamed “prosecuting overbreadth, double standards and vendetta politics” for Trump’s indictment. As early as Monday, she went so far as to say on Fox News that “whether this indictment is true… President Trump has been incredibly reckless with our national security. Yet on Tuesday, she told right-wing radio hosts that as president she would be “inclined” to pardon Trump if he were found guilty.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott accused Biden and the Justice Department, without evidence, of “targeting and hunting Republicans.” For what it’s worth, during the time that Attorney Smith took over the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, he reviewed the evidence and dropped separate investigations of several top Republican congressional officials for corruption.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum refuses to name Trump when campaigning; all he said was that Republican voters think the indictment against The Unnamed is unfair. At the opposite extreme, Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotechnology entrepreneur, wins the prize for the most blatant flatterer towards the MAGA base: he appeared outside the Miami courthouse where Trump was arraigned to reiterate his promise to pardon Trump on President Ramaswamy’s first day in office.

Of course, Trump is innocent until proven guilty. But it’s in court. It’s the job of his political rivals to plead in the court of public opinion — for themselves and against Trump, to try to change his mind about the twice-indicted former president (so far).

Perhaps an anti-Trump message is unsellable to Republican voters. For many, it will. But if the rivals don’t try, they should just walk away from this so-called race. It may not be unprecedented, but it would be welcome.


This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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