The Republican establishment thinks it can stop Trump in 2024. Good luck with that.

Donald Trump standing at a podium giving a speech
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It’s deja vu all over again.

The Republican establishment is desperately trying to stop Donald Trump from winning the GOP presidential nomination. But in a repeat of its 2016 playbook, it can’t quite figure out how to do so.

Americans for Prosperity, the donor network founded by the Koch brothers, recently issued a memo saying that it would be backing candidates in the presidential primary but made it clear that Trump would not be among them.

“The Republican Party is nominating bad candidates who are advocating for things that go against core American principles,” the memo said. “And the American people are rejecting them.” The memo called for “turning a page on the past.”

Club for Growth, the anti-tax group, will be holding a conference for candidates next month and everyone is invited–except for Trump. At this point, Trump is the only declared candidate, so the decision is a pointed slap in the face. Adding insult to injury, the event will be held in Trump’s backyard, Florida. That also happens to be the same state where Trump’s main tormentor, Ron DeSantis (R), is governor.

Conspicuously absent in both groups’ decisions was mention of Trump by name. To be fair, Club for Growth President David McIntosh subsequently told the Financial Times that “when [Trump is] either on the ballot himself or an issue in the campaign… it brings out the Democrat base, and that ends up hurting you.”

If this all seems familiar, it’s because the same establishment types tried to derail Trump’s first campaign. Indeed, some of Trump’s staunchest sycophants today were his harshest critics then. “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed. And we will deserve it,” Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) tweeted back then.

There’s no question that Trump has a lot of weaknesses. There is his losing streak, his endless prattling about the 2020 election, and the investigations he’s facing. He’s not exactly flying high in the polls right now, either.

But Trump was a weak candidate in 2016, too. He was dogged by scandals, ran short of money, and resorted to assembling a team of misfits to run his campaign. Remember that he had to pull Mike Pence onto the ticket in order to prove his credibility to conservative evangelicals, who rightly were suspicious of a thrice-married casino owner.

Back then, the Republican establishment declared that Trump had to be stopped at all costs. The National Review, the bible of the conservative movement, even ran a cover that declared “Never Trump.”

We all know how that worked out.

Things will be different this time, the establishment reassures itself. Trump is weak. DeSantis is a fabulous candidate. The party needs to get back on track.

That last point may be right, but otherwise the establishment is just as delusional today as it was in 2016. For one thing, it’s still afraid to go after Trump head-on. No one is willing to say that he’s a corrupt narcissistic would-be authoritarian because no one wants to call into question everything he did during his tenure. The same groups that are trying to break away from Trump have also been spending money on candidates who echo Trump’s line that the 2020 election was stolen. In short, they don’t want Trump but they’re fine with Trumpism.

As for the rest of the delusions, DeSantis has his own weaknesses, not the least of which is that as a Congressman he proposed gutting Social Security. Moreover, DeSantis isn’t going to be the only candidate in the field. Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is getting ready to run, and Pence is all but certainly running. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also looking like a possible candidate.

A crowded field benefits Trump. A majority of Republicans will never line up with him, but he has a solid core of supporters who always will. That’s what happened in 2016. He won by plurality over and over again. As one Republican party official told Politico, “Trump has a solid 31 [percent]. And if it’s a big field a solid 31 can carry you to the nomination.”

Privately, many Republicans think that Trump is a cancer on the party. But apparently they think the way to get rid of that cancer is to simply wish it away. Instead, it will only continue to metastasize.

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