Politics /

WSJ: The 2024 Republican Choice A second, chaotic Trump term, or a new conservative beginning?

  |   By Polling+ Staff

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal is not happy.

Longtime non-Trump fans, as the former President appears on the brink of winning New Hampshire and effectively the GOP nomination, Rupert Murdoch’s flag ship headlines:

The 2024 Republican Choice A second, chaotic Trump term, or a new conservative beginning?

The editorial board opines:

“The polls show Americans want to move on from President Biden, and Republicans have a choice to make about the alternative to offer voters in November. Will it be the prospect of a second Donald Trump term, with its inevitable turmoil and polarization, or will the GOP look forward to forge a new conservative governing coalition? 

That’s the essence of the choice facing Republicans as New Hampshire holds its primary on Tuesday. The Trump campaign, the press and the Biden Democrats say the race is over. Mr. Biden wants Mr. Trump as the nominee because he believes Mr. Trump is the easiest to beat. But before the die is cast, it’s worth thinking about the risks GOP voters would be taking, both in November and in a second term if by some chance Mr. Trump defeated Mr. Biden. 

The election risks are sitting in plain sight. Mr. Trump faces 91 felony charges in four different indictments. You can think the indictments are politically motivated and an awful precedent, as these columns have argued. But they exist, and amid the legal battling a jury could convict Mr. Trump by the summer.

Then what? Mr. Trump would never withdraw. But no fewer than 31% of Iowa caucus voters said in the entrance poll that a conviction would make Mr. Trump unfit for the White House. That would mean Mr. Trump can’t win. GOP voters would have played into Democratic and media hands.

If Mr. Trump does somehow win, Democrats predict a second Trump term will end in dictatorship. But that undersells the resilience of American institutions, which have held up so far against the stress test of Mr. Trump and his enemies, including the riot of Jan. 6, 2021. Congress responded quickly and ratified the Electoral College votes. The plotters were a rump group opposed across the government. There was nothing close to a coup d’état.

The better question in our view is whether Mr. Trump can deliver the policy and political victories that GOP voters want. There are many reasons to think he can’t.

Start with the fact that Mr. Trump would be an immediate lame duck. He can’t serve more than one more term, and if he does win it will be narrowly with little political capital. He has never reached an approval rating above 50%, and his rolling seven-week RealClearPolitics average favorability is 41.5%. If there’s a strong third-party ticket, he might win with the smallest plurality since 1912. Mr. Trump would lack the most potent presidential power—the ability to persuade.

Republicans are favored to win a Senate majority, albeit narrowly. But the House is up for grabs and could easily go Democratic. If the first term is a guide, Democrats will oppose anything Mr. Trump proposes that isn’t one of their priorities. Mr. Trump could use executive power to repeal Mr. Biden’s regulations and appoint judges. He could approve drilling for domestic energy in particular. But if Democrats control either house of Congress, conservative legislative priorities would be dead on arrival.

Trump supporters say his first term was successful until the midterms and Covid, and it was on the economy, deregulation and judges. But tax reform was teed up for him by years of spade work in the House GOP. The Federalist Society gave him a list of judges to nominate and Mitch McConnell moved them through the Senate. A GOP Senate could still confirm judges, but the current Republican House can’t pass a budget, much less come up with a governing agenda for 2025.

One reason is the intellectual confusion of the Trump-era GOP. There’s nothing like the unified agenda that Ronald Reagan carried into office after 1980, or even Mr. Trump after 2016. Republicans favor lower taxes, but Mr. Trump wants to raise the price of every import with a 10% border tax. They want to reduce the national debt but he won’t touch entitlements. They favor “peace through strength” but won’t seriously increase defense spending. The MAGA GOP has no desire to limit government but wants to use it for its own political purposes.

Mr. Trump says he now knows from hard experience how to manage the executive branch, but his governing style is undisciplined to say the least. The internal opposition will still be implacable, the leaks unending, the press relentlessly hostile. This is another reason the Trump-as-Hitler fears are implausible.

It also isn’t clear Mr. Trump could attract first-rate advisers. The lure of power is strong, but anyone who takes a job had better have a lawyer on retainer. No conservative who wants a career in the law is likely to accept a job in the White House or Justice—not after what Mr. Trump asked his lawyers to do after the 2020 election.

Looking ahead, a second Trump term would surely mean a Republican wipeout in the 2026 midterms. The Senate map that year tilts strongly Democratic. There would be no more Supreme Court confirmations. If the GOP takes another MAGA turn in 2028, the stage would be set for Democrats to run the election table, break the Senate filibuster, and pack the Court. 

The failing Biden Presidency obscures all of this for millions of GOP voters, who see a Trump victory as a return to better, pre-Covid times. This misses that Mr. Biden’s failure presents the GOP with an historic opportunity. The President hasn’t fulfilled his promise of a return to normalcy and instead has delivered more polarization. Bidenomics hasn’t lifted real incomes, while the world is more dangerous than at any time since the 1930s.

But a Trump victory will bring no return to normalcy, nor the “unity” he sometimes mentions before he denounces some other former ally. A different GOP nominee would shake up political categories, win independents, and offer a better chance at a conservative restoration.

If Republicans nominate Mr. Trump again, that’s democracy—the worst system except for all the others. But our unhappy guess is that, sooner or later, the choice will end in tears for his voters.”

There are polls aplenty that show Trump beating Biden. But the WSJ persists.