Lynn Schmidt: It's too late to challenge Trump and his control of the party and base

Lynn Schmidt, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Op Eds

It is 2016 all over again, and very few have seemed to learn the lesson when it comes to Donald Trump. The Show-Me state’s record can demonstrate why Trump will most likely be the 2024 Republican nominee.

Some pundits have speculated that Trump couldn’t possibly be the Republican nominee, asserting that he is an albatross on the party and blaming him for their losses. While correct, that makes little difference at this point. Many are busy casting wishes that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or others would take Trump out. Many donors are literally banking on alternatives. From my perspective here in flyover country, it is too late. Republican base voters haven’t changed. They are not listening to elites, they will not care about any Trump indictment, and the mainstream news media is missing it again.

The days for stopping Trump were back in 2016, before he became the Republican presidential nominee, or in 2021 with his second impeachment trial. The establishment shirked its responsibilities both times, and now it is too late. Trump has enough voters, he has control of the state parties, he has a significant influence over the national party, and his opponents have done too little to distinguish themselves from Trump, let alone explain why he shouldn’t be president again.

After his 2016 win, reporters from all over the country descended on rural diners to study the Trump voter in order to understand the grievances and to explain what had just happened. The resentments that these voters feel haven’t changed over the last seven years, and to think they have is foolish.

My neighbor just replaced his somewhat tattered Trump flag with a brand new one, which incidentally hangs next to a flag exclaiming “Biden Sucks.” He, like other Republican base voters, still loves Trump. They think he did a great job and was robbed of his reelection in 2020. Polling confirms their stories. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans remains around 70%. Six in 10 Republicans continue to believe that Joe Biden didn’t win the 2020 presidential election legitimately. These voters believe Trump will continue to fight for them and are ready to vote for him.

Most state Republican Parties, Missouri included, are fully controlled by the MAGA wing of the party. Candidates for elected office seek out Trump’s endorsement, and his endorsement matters in red states. Think Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio or Rep. Harriet Hageman of Wyoming. State elected officials, at least in states like Missouri, have been quick to endorse Trump, including our junior senator, Eric Schmitt. Feel free to speculate why Missouri’s senior senator, Josh Hawley, has not.

State parties have control over how delegates are awarded. A crowded primary field would guarantee to split the anti-Trump vote, clearing his path to the lion’s share of delegates. Repeating 2016 all over again.


On the national scene, things look about the same. Trump’s hand-picked Republican National Committee chair in 2017, Ronna McDaniel, was just reelected for her fourth term. McDaniel suggested on CNN’s “State of the Union” that all Republicans will be required to sign a pledge to support whoever wins the party nomination to be allowed on the debate stage. The party made that requirement as well in 2016.

Asked if he would abide by it, Trump told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt: “I would give you the same answer I gave in 2016, during the debate: It would have to depend on who the nominee was.” I am doubtful that McDaniel or others Trump packed into the national committee would dare speak out publicly against him. Despite the losses and the grumblings, this is still Trump’s party, and very little has changed.

Perhaps the most compelling case for why I believe Trump will be the Republican nominee is that he continues to hold the party hostage. In a poll from The Bulwark/North Star Opinion Research, 28% of Republican respondents said they’d vote for Trump over either a Republican or a Democrat if he made a third-party run in 2024. Republicans’ chances of winning would be nearly nil if almost 30% of GOP voters left to vote for Trump.

It is also important to consider what would motivate Republican primary voters to choose another candidate over Trump. On Fox News’ Sean Hannity show, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described the other candidates who are running or considering it as offering nothing different from Trump’s policies. A candidate would need to make a strong case for why Trump should not be president again while walking the very fine line and not offending his voters.

The time for wishing Trump out of the national picture is long gone. He still has the voters, the state parties and the national party. There is little reason to think the outcome will be different this time.


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