The Republicans’ unacknowledged problem is Trump

He cannot lose the 2024 Republican nomination but he also cannot win the 2024 presidential election

Former President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters during the Save America Rally at the Sarasota Fairgrounds in Sarasota, Florida, U.S. July 3, 2021.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to his supporters during the Save America Rally at the Sarasota Fairgrounds in Sarasota, Florida, U.S. July 3, 2021.


Growing up amid a loving, if resolutely practical, Midwestern American family, one of our favorite sayings was: “Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” In this case playing on the gallows humor of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, this adage denoted someone entirely missing the point.

I am certain that many of those assessing American politics at the moment would be met by my family’s mocking reply. On the surface, it would seem a very good time to be a Republican. After high initial hopes, President Joe Biden has failed to heal the political breach in the country. Worse, his administration has had its basic competence called into question.

The pandemic limps gloomily along. The long-tamed beast of endemic inflation seems to have slipped its leash and once again is on the rampage. The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan — even if the correct strategic call — was executed horrendously, to universal public disgust. Even with majorities in both houses of Congress, Biden’s hugely ambitious domestic agenda sits on a knife-edge, the prisoner of profound internal squabbles between moderates and progressives within the Democratic Party, a rift that the White House has yet to bridge.

All of this has taken a dramatic toll on the president’s standing in the country. In July, CNN found that independents — who had crucially supported Biden over Donald Trump by 13 points in the 2020 election — have deserted him in droves. In July, Biden’s net approval rating among independents was plus 3 percent; in October, it was dramatically underwater, standing at minus 16 percent. As of this past week, the RealClearPolitics overall average of polls found 43 percent approving of Biden’s efforts, while a dominant 52 percent disapproved.

Even when the president’s popularity was markedly higher, the Democrats were politically sailing into the wind of history. With just a few exceptions, such as the 1934 congressional elections at the height of the Great Depression, the first midterm of a new president’s tenure tends to lead to his party being decisively defeated, as buyer’s remorse sets in. This was the case for Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010.

With the Democrats only maintaining a razor-thin majority in the House and with a 50-50 Senate, the odds were that — even before Biden’s dramatic approval rating plunge — the Democrats were highly likely to lose control of the House, with the Senate still in play.

If 2022 goes the Republicans’ way, then Biden’s domestic agenda is effectively at an end. Two years of domestic drift following on from 2022 are unlikely to recommend Biden to his countrymen for another four years. The presidency would seem to be the GOP’s for the taking.

All of this is true and yet, if the analysis were to end here, my family’s heckling about the Lincoln assassination would burst out. For it leaves out the most important present political consideration of 2024: The Republican Party is ruinously shackled to Donald Trump, a man who cannot lose the 2024 Republican nomination but also a man who cannot win the 2024 general election.

First, it is true that, in all its history, no losing candidate for the presidency has ever retained anything like Trump’s present grip on the Republican Party. Gallup polling, around since the 1920s, has regularly found Trump’s approval rating within the Republican Party to be north of 80 percent, higher than that of party icons such as Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Even after the disastrous Capitol Hill riot of Jan. 6,

Trump’s support within the party has remained strong. Tellingly, a Politico/Morning Consult poll of Feb. 16 found that, if the Republican presidential primary were held then, a dominant 54 percent would back Trump as the party’s nominee, with former Vice President Mike Pence trailing far behind, at only 12 percent. Much to his many enemies’ amazement, the nomination is Trump’s to lose.

But while this is true, so is the fact that Trump will never again be president, for all the current hyperventilating. The country’s moderate and independent voters may well find the Biden White House incompetent and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party dogmatic and even dangerous, but the riots of January have left an indelible impression on the country, one that the GOP leadership simply cannot wish away. At a minimum, the president winked at the rioters, hoping that somehow they would put pressure on the Congress not to certify the results of the 2020 election. It is simply impossible to think of any other modern chief executive, whatever their many faults, who would have put themselves above the safety and good order of the country like that.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus got it right when saying, “Character is destiny.” The joke goes that Trump has never bothered to read the US Constitution because he is not mentioned in it.

Moderate voters are surely disappointed by the Biden administration. But they are not about to let Republicans back into the White House as long as the man emblematic of so much chaotic disorder marches at their head. Trump remains the best single thing the Democrats have going for them. That is the unspoken political reality in the US at the moment.

  • John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also a senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via
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