Try to imagine a scenario in which Donald Trump does not win the 2024 Republican nomination for president. Can’t do it, can you? The former president was indicted again this week, but it seems no scandal, pileup of charges — not even criminal convictions — or revelation of misbehavior could puncture his overwhelming support among the party’s base. While his opponents hope they can eventually pull ahead of him, thanks either to external events or their powers of persuasion, that seems unlikely, to put it kindly.
The understandable response of Democrats to this situation is horror, especially since polls show him and President Joe Biden running roughly even. There is no question that if Trump is the GOP nominee, he could win the general election. There is ample reason to think it won’t happen and Biden will prevail, but it certainly could happen.
But if we are stuck with a third election with Trump as the GOP standard bearer, we might as well consider the silver linings of a Trump nomination, because they are enormous.
Begin with this undeniable fact: Any election in which Donald Trump is involved will be almost entirely about Donald Trump. And that is not good for his party. Republicans fared poorly in all three elections since he won the presidency in 2016, and each poor performance can be attributed in large part to Trump’s malign influence.
Just look at what happened in 2022. Republicans nominated the Trumpiest candidate they could find in many of the most important races — and lost again and again, precisely because voters clearly rejected election conspiracists and candidates defined solely by inexperience and fury. In one vital, winnable race after another, in key states including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Michigan, reasonable Democrats beat outrageous Republicans. It could happen again in 2024.
In between elections, Trumpism has been a poison to Republican state parties. In some cases, loony election deniers have taken over and in some cases crippled their organizations with mismanagement; the Arizona and Michigan parties are practically bankrupt. That’s a trend Democrats should be only too happy to see continue.
Over the period of Trump’s dominance, Democrats also made significant gains in state legislatures. At the beginning of 2016, Republicans had full control of 30 state legislatures, Democrats controlled just 11, and eight were divided between the two parties (one state, Nebraska, has a nonpartisan unicameral Legislature). Today, Republicans still control 28 legislatures and two are divided, but the number of states in which Democrats have total control has almost doubled, to 19. The states with both Democratic state legislatures and governors have more than doubled, from seven to 17. The result in those states, including Washington, Colorado and Minnesota, has been a wave of progressive legislation.
A Republican Party with Trump at its head is a divided Republican Party, and a general election with Trump in it will feature many prominent Republicans working to convince their co-partisans not to vote for him. Chris Sununu, the popular outgoing governor of New Hampshire, recently wrote that if Trump is the GOP nominee, “Republicans will lose again. Just as we did in 2018, 2020 and 2022. This is indisputable, and I am not willing to let it happen without a fight.” The outcome may be unclear, but the divisions are indisputable.
Then there’s Trump’s obsession with the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from him, which he still rambles on about at every rally. He will not only remind independent voters of one of the things they dislike most about him, but will force other Republicans up and down the ballot to back him up — and keep answering questions about it. While most Republican voters agree with this lie, those independents do not, nor are they likely to warm to defenses of the Jan. 6 insurrection — something else Trump will keep reminding everyone about. The fact that Trump could be facing as many as four separate criminal trials during the campaign guarantees that his alleged misdeeds will be an inescapable election topic.
In short, few down-ballot Republican candidates would be hurt by a ticket led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, but many will be hurt by their association with Trump. All that will help make it more likely that Democrats take back the House and retain the Senate.
Then there are the likely long-term effects of extending Trump’s control of the GOP. Trump is deeply unpopular with younger voters, more of whom come of voting age every day. If Democrats can secure their partisan loyalties now, they’ll be likely to keep voting for Democrats in the future. Biden may not exactly thrill young voters, but if he could pick one opponent who would pull more millennial and Gen Z votes into the Democratic camp, it would be Trump.
And young voters — who have moved left on issues such as guns and climate change in recent years — will be absolutely essential next year. According to some analyses, those two generations will make up more than a third of the electorate in 2024, the same proportion as the far more conservative (and whiter) baby boomers and Silent Generation.
None of these factors mean it would be anything less than a catastrophe if Trump were to win the White House next November. But Democrats have no control over which candidate their opponents select. So in the highly likely event that Republicans choose him yet again, Democrats can temper their fear by looking at all the potential benefits of a Trump nomination. This might just work out splendidly.