I think that’s right.
Some of those pundits also say that, if Trump is defeated in the Republican primaries, he will run as an independent.
I think that’s wrong.
Trump has his diehard supporters. Other Republicans either hate Trump with a passion or have lost faith in his capacity to win a national election.
The diehard supporters number about 30% of the Republican Party. If Trump runs in the Republican primaries, and the field opposing him is split three or four ways, that 30% plurality will be enough for Trump to emerge victorious. In winner-take-all primaries, Trump will be awarded 100% of the delegates from the states in which he wins with 30% of the vote, and he’ll be the Republican nominee.
On the other hand, if Republicans can coalesce around a single person to oppose Trump, then that person will win, say, 70% of the vote in the Republican primaries, Trump will win 30%, and Trump will not be the nominee.
The question is what Trump will do if he’s not the nominee. Pundits rightfully fret (or delight) that Trump will tear the Republican Party in half. Trump will never admit that he’s been legitimately defeated in the Republican primaries. If Trump loses, he will insist that the primaries were rigged and that the person who defeated him should be drawn and quartered.
Here’s where many pundits go off the rails. Many pundits insist that, if Trump does not win the Republican primaries, he will tear the party in half by running as an independent in the general election. If he ran as an independent, the diehards would vote for Trump; the rest of the Republicans would vote for the Republican nominee; and, the Republican vote having been split, the Democrat would win the presidency. (How would either the Republican, or Trump as an independent, possibly win in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania if Trump were siphoning off a significant percentage of the Republican vote?)
But this scenario is inconceivable. Trump could, of course, win the Republican nomination. But, if he loses the Republican nomination, it’s inconceivable that he’ll run as an independent.
Because it’s impossible for an independent to win the presidency in the United States. There are too many problems with ballot access, and the weight of the parties aligning against independents, for an independent to win. Look at Ross Perot, or John Anderson, or George Wallace. You can run as an independent, but you can’t win.
Do you really think that Trump wants to run as an independent and lose another election?
I don’t doubt that Trump will do something to spite the Republican Party if he loses in the primaries. But I’m certain that Trump’s spite won’t manifest itself in a third-party (or independent) candidacy.
Trump surely will do everything in his power to tear the Republican Party in half if he enters the Republican primaries and loses. He will denigrate whoever defeats him in the Republican primaries. He may well tell his supporters to stay home on Election Day, costing the Republicans the election. He may do something else to hurt the Republicans, which is beyond the scope of my feeble imagination.
So he’ll do everything in his power (which is probably a great deal) to hurt the Republicans.
But he ain’t gonna run as an independent.
(I concede that Trump could continue to do his fund-raising if he were running as an independent. And he could offer to give up his run as an independent in return for some sort of promise — such as a pardon — if the Republican were elected. But I don’t think that either of those motivations matters more to Trump than avoiding another defeat. The man just doesn’t like losing.)
What could defeat Trump in the Republican primaries and take him off the playing field?
A criminal conviction.
Not an indictment, mind you. An indictment could (and possibly would) be dismissed as the product of a witch-hunt.
But a conviction, where 12 good men and true decided that Trump belonged behind bars.
All but the most diehard Trump supporters would support a different candidate if Trump were convicted of a crime.
That’s funny (peculiar, not ha-ha), isn’t it?
The Democrats are itching for Trump to be indicted, but that may be the only thing that saves the Republican Party from defeat in 2024.
Mark Herrmann spent 17 years as a partner at a leading international law firm and is now deputy general counsel at a large international company. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Drug and Device Product Liability Litigation Strategy (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.