Trump’s future does not depend on Fox News

Rupert Murdoch, Rich Lowry, Mike Pompeo and Co.: Welcome to the Resistance!

These conservative luminaries are among the many recognized members of the right who have criticized former President Donald Trump after the Republican Party’s historically underwhelming midterm election performance. They’re right about that: Not only have voters rejected many of Trump’s handpicked candidates, but also his attacks on democracy and claims of stolen elections. When a red wave loomed, Trump acted as a levee defending a blue shore.

These protests are not just a dollar short and a few years late. They’re also unlikely to matter much. The traditional conservative establishment did not make Trump and cannot break him. If his political career is over, it will be because the voters who brought him to power are choosing to end it.

“Trump is a bust for Republicans,” said Lowry, the editor-in-chief of National Reviewproclaimed in a column for Politically. Murdoch’s media empire has also laid the blame at Trump’s feet, most prominently with a New York Post Cover on Thursday, which portrays the former president as “TRUMPTY DUMPTY” and adds, “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a big fall – can all the men in the GOP put the party back together?” Party officials across the country are pointing the finger on Trump, including in Michigan, where Democrats have been winning the vote on Trump-backed candidates up and down.

“We lost 18. We lost 20. We lost 21 in Georgia. And now, in 1922, we’re going to lose governorships, we won’t get the number of seats in the House that we thought we would, and we may not win the Senate, despite a president who has 40 percent of the work permit,” said Chris Christie, who former governor of New Jersey who sided with Trump but became a defector (after Trump stuck a dagger in his back). “There’s only one person to blame for this, and that’s Donald Trump.”

Trump has responded with a series of typically testy social media posts, but even former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been careful to remain publicly loyal to Trump, had one snappy response on Twitter: “Conservatives will be elected if we deliver. Not if we just rant on social media. This is how we can win. We fight for families and a strong America.”

The temptation to poke fun at many of these laggards is great, and I won’t resist it. Too many Republicans stood by Trump as he meddled at the Justice Department, begged Vladimir Putin, blackmailed Ukraine and attempted to steal the 2020 election. Many of them disliked Trump personally but were willing to hold their noses for the expected political payoff. But now that they (like many others long ago) have realized that Trump is also an election loser, they’ve had enough.

This attitude takes courage – the courage to know that one is rightly being ridiculed. But anyone worried about the danger a Trump return would pose should welcome allies, however hypocritical or belated. The bigger problem is that the backlash against Trump comes too late to make much of a difference.

One theory about the Republican Party and Trump is that if enough of their makers and makers had turned against him at once, they could have expelled him. But back to the 2016 GOP primary, members of the establishment never liked or wanted him. They worried that he might not win, and they worried that he didn’t agree with their core beliefs on issues like trade and foreign policy. The problem was that the voters did like Trump – although only a majority in the primary – and disliked his rivals. One reason the establishment couldn’t rally effectively around one of its opponents was that Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and the rest all had weaknesses that a unified media front couldn’t eliminate.

They tried anyway. The highlight was the January 2016 issue of “Against Trump”. National Review, the movement’s flagship magazine, which rallied a multitude of writers from across the right to try to delay the inevitable. It did not work. (Some of the contributors remained Never Trumpers, others welcomed him, and a third group opted for anti-anti-Trumpism as a compromise.)

Collective action theory was put to the test again in October 2016 The Washington Post released a recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. Many Republicans and conservative pundits left him, but when it became clear that there was no alternative and that GOP voters were still on board, many of them quietly backed away as well.

This pattern has persisted over and over again. After the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017; after the 2018 Helsinki Summit; after the attempted blackmail of Ukraine; after Trump lost the 2020 election; and then again, after the January 6 riot, swathes of conservatives prepared for a dramatic break and then either changed their minds or held back when they realized that voters were still on Trump’s side. After the election defeat, Murdoch’s real estate briefly deteriorated against Trump, but as their rivals began to gain market share, Fox and his friends had concerns.

Perhaps after January 6, a concerted push by the establishment could really have crushed Trump. The public was appalled; Trump was weak; Many Republicans in Congress were ready to act. A united conservative media front might have given Senate Republicans the bulwark they needed to vote to try Trump in an impeachment trial and prevent him from running again. Instead, the moment passed and many of the players blinked and opened their eyes again to a Trump still in control of the party. The 2022 Midterms show how this hurt not only democracy but also the prospects of the GOP.

Stopping Trump is arguably more difficult now. Unlike in January 2021, he has no formal position from which he could be removed and there is no mechanism to remove him from office. Donors have failed him, but he doesn’t need them to win.

None of this means Trump is unstoppable in a Republican primary for president in 2024. (He appears to be gearing up to announce his campaign Tuesday night in Mar-a-Lago, apparently hoping to quell Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ momentum before he lets his hand down.) But if Trump fizzles, that’s because Republican voters decide he’s done. There are tentative signs that some of them are sick of his antics, worried he just can’t win, or drawn to the prospect of a younger, fresher face like DeSantis. The base made Trump, and only they can break him. Whatever they decide, the establishment will be a step or two behind, desperate to catch up with the people it claims to lead.


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