Monday, December 7, 2020

BTRTN: Catch 2024... The Next Republican Candidate for President Will Be the One that Breaks with Trump First

Every now and again, Steve cannot resist giving good advice to Republicans. Don’t worry. They never listen.

So, you are a Republican with a reasonable resume, Fox A-bloc name recognition, and you have spent the last four years cooling your heals, figuring that Donald Trump would get blown out of office in 2020, and that then the coast would be clear for your big shot at the White House in 2024.

Hey, don’t feel lonely. We can name a bunch of you off the top of our heads: Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, to name just the most prominent. It’s not like you’ve been doing a great job of hiding your cards. Do you all mind if, for the sake of this essay, we just kind of lump you all together? We’re just going to refer to the whole lot of you as “Mike PenPomNikki.”

You are one savvy operator, Mike PenPomNikki, so you’ve been doing an exceptionally good job of toadying, playing the loyal, doting servant to Donald Trump. You realized long ago that anyone who hopes to succeed Donald Trump in leading the Republican Party will need his blessing and the support of his base.

Imagine, then, your shock and disappointment when Donald Trump let word go out that he was considering running for President again in 2024. So much for your master plan and the last four years of supplication before Donald Trump. The only thing you accomplished with all that genuflecting was to fortify the legend of just how powerful Donald Trump is.

You kick yourself for your naivete: you had believed that story about how Trump’s post-presidential career would be to launch a media network to compete with Fox. You thought he would use that platform to make billions, ensure fawning attention, savagely critique the Biden White House, and play Republican kingmaker for 2024. All you had to do was to prove that you were the biggest suck-up among the gaggle of sycophants, and you’d secure the 2024 nomination. Then you would become the head of the Republican party, and you could rid yourself of that big orange joke of a yoke forever.

But now everything is different.

If Trump is keeping open the idea of a run in 2024, you are frozen. Let it go, pal. For the first time in forever, you finally realized what has been going on all along.

You can’t do anything, say anything, or even hint that you are interested in the White House, or Trump will slice you to ribbons in a blinding flurry of midnight tweets. If you so much as sneeze in the direction of Iowa, you are persona non grata, a person without a party, DOA before the first television time is purchased in Des Moines.

So all you can do is sit on the sideline and wait.

But that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach has a little further to go on its journey down your alimentary canal, because you also just realized exactly what’s going to happen next.

Trump just may be crazy enough to run again in 2024, but if he doesn’t, there are two people who are so far ahead of you in line for Trump’s blessing that you might as well pack it in. If Trump doesn’t run, he is going to keep it in the family, and the only debate will be whether he anoints Don, Jr. or Ivanka. Trump knows he can control Don Jr. and Ivanka. He also knows he can’t control anybody else.

So, Mike PenPomNikki… how old will you be in 2032? 2036?

And all you can do is keep kneeling. All you can do is sit there on the sideline and pretend to cheer as somebody named Trump keeps running for President until your freshness date expires.

Call it “Catch 2024.” If you announce you are going to run, Trump will skewer you by tweet for disloyalty. If you don’t announce your intention to run, Trump just watches you twist in the wind while he keeps all the media attention, indulges his desperate need to stay at the center of the media universe, enjoys all the suspense and speculation about his intentions, and then either decides to run or anoints Don Jr. or Ivanka to carry the family torch.

Either way, all you Republicans not named Trump are S.O.L., D.O.A, and you have been played. 

Well, Mike PenPomNikki, it’s your lucky day.

You see, we here at Born To Run The Numbers occasionally provide really good advice to Republicans, even while freely acknowledging that we loathe you, your beliefs, your leader, and all of the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, child-abusive, and anti-constitutional behaviors and practices you embrace.

Why do I give this advice, you ask? And why should you trust me?

First of all, we’re pretty darn sure that you don’t spend a lot of time googling “good advice for Republicans from a Democrat,” so it’s kind of low risk that you would ever read this.

Second, we’re also pretty sure that if you did encounter something entitled “pretty darn good advice for Republicans from a Democrat,” you would assume that it is a conspiracy spawned by deep state actors intent on subverting you, Donald, and Rudy. So you would instinctively do the opposite of what I advise, which – frankly – would be awesome.

Now, listen closely, Mike PenPomNikki, because this next part is really key… and this is why you should trust me. When I am giving Republicans advice, I never make an argument based on something being the “right thing to do,” and I never justify an approach by saying it is the “moral” or “ethical” answer. I never urge that a course of action be taken because it is the “patriotic” approach, because it honors the “spirit and intent of the Founding Fathers,” or because you won’t want your children’s children’s kids to find out that great-grandaddy Mike was a cowardly enabler of the worst President in history.

I have learned that any such argument is at best incomprehensible to Republicans and at worst viewed as utterly irrelevant.

No, the only way to get a Republican to listen is if you explain why something is wholly, completely, and powerfully in their own self-interest. You will listen if I promise it will make you richer, better looking, more powerful, or some combination of the above. This is the only approach that will cause Republicans to perk up and listen.

So you can trust me, Mike PenPomNikki, what I am about to tell you is 100% about what’s in it for you.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell: you want to be the next Republican President, and your name is not Trump.

What do you do?

Answer: Break with Trump on something important. Now.

“WHAT???” you scream, screwing up your face in utter disbelief. Trump received 72,700,000 votes, you say. He owns the Republican party. He has spent most of his time since the election in a borderline delusional state of imagined voter fraud and conspiracy theories, and yet only the most moderate of elected Washington Republicans – Romney, Collins, Sasse, Murkowski -- dare whisper their mild protestations.

No other elected Republican who has any aspirations for retaining office – let alone running for the White House – has dared cross the President by labeling his behavior as childish at best and seriously damaging to our democracy at its heart.

Look, Mike PenPomNikki, here is your problem: if you just stand on the sidelines waiting for Donald Trump to decide whether the 2024 nomination is his, Junior’s, or Ivanka’s, then you are looking at an absolute minimum of eight to twelve years of suspended sycophantic silence.  Do you really, really think that Donald Trump is going to decide not to run for President and then anoint you over his one progeny? Get real!

No, if you want to be running for President before 2032, you are going to need to declare your independence from Trump. You cannot abdicate the decisions about your future to him.

Yes, Trump looks powerful now, but let me clue you in on an important secret.

America doesn’t really like losers.

Sure, we hand out “participation trophies” like they are Reece’s Pieces, and – thank heaven – we do teach our kids to shake hands and say “good game” to the winning team, even if such grace is lost on the leader of the free world. But the truth is that our culture places a scarlet “L” on the defeated.

Remember how Democrats were gaga about Hillary Clinton leading up to the election in 2016? If she had won, she would have been lionized – fairly, I hasten to add -- as one of the highest-achieving people of all time and the most powerful woman in history. Senator, Secretary of State, first woman President in the history of the greatest country on earth – yes, she would have deserved every accolade thrown her way, no matter how breathless the hype.

But she did not win. She lost – to Donald Trump, of all people – and we all saw how quickly and harshly she was critiqued.  She was shunned as someone who had run a bad campaign, a chilly technocrat who talked down to people, a lousy campaigner with a tin ear who did not connect with the real suffering of everyday Americans. That became the new narrative.

Run for President again? Uh, Madam Secretary, thanks but no thanks.

No, America is a culture of Super Bowls and Survivor, of massive elimination tournaments designed to reach a climax of drama, all to identify the winner. Singular. The losers do not go to Disneyland.

There are few more exclusive “scarlet L” clubs in America than the tiny group Donald Trump just joined: elected American Presidents who were voted out of office after only one term.  It is actually very rare that this happens. In the last 100 years, only three other Presidents were deemed such failures that they were thrown out after one term.

So Donald Trump thinks he is going to rise from the ashes, run again, and win? Remember the last time a President who lost his bid to be re-elected to a second term came back four years later and won back the White House? Not surprising if you didn’t. It only happened once in American history, 127 years ago.

In recent years, we don’t let anybody get a second shot at the White House. Since 1968, if you ran for President and lost, you never ran again. Period.

America does not like losers. Americans get mad at the person who allowed the horrible opposition party to win. Republicans were mad at John McCain and they were mad at Mitt Romney.

This reality will, indeed, inevitably be bent to some degree by Donald Trump, as he has been able to bend the reality of his hard-core base for four years.

But Trump will not be able to wholly escape or erase the stigma of defeat. Once he is gone from the White House, the stain of defeat will grow ever more apparent. Over time, a new narrative will begin to surface. It always does. He’s the guy who lost the White House. He’s the reason we have Biden running the country. He lost the whole thing with that awful debate. He ran a terrible campaign. He really did ignore the virus, and what a goddam mess he made… and that’s why we lost.  

The stigma of “loser” will drape Trump, and gradually erode his power.

Somehow, Trump seems to understand this better than the rest of the Republicans.

That is why he is clinging to his “election fraud” issue and why he will never let go of it. It is the only way that he can maintain the posture that he did not lose, and that he is not a “loser.” Everything he is doing now – the 40 legal actions, the 46 minute video, his absolute refusal to concede, ever – is about preserving the narrative that he is not a loser. He intends to preserve that narrative at all cost.

Even if that cost is two Senate seats in Georgia, even if that cost is the utter shaming of the Republican Party, and even if the cost is wrecking our national reputation for executing free and fair elections. Trump would rather have the world believe that our elections are as legitimate as those that give Vladimir Putin 98% of the vote count in Russia.

It is all so that he can preserve the narrative that he never “lost,” because he understands precisely what happens in America when you “lose.” This is, after all, the guy who made a living out of branding people “losers.”  And I quote: “You’re fired!”

Yes, Mike PenPompNikki, he may look invincible in the Republican Party now, but that simply is not going to last. He is not going to defy the physics of losing. Nobody argues with gravity and wins.

Which brings me to point two: the first person who breaks from Trump is going to be identified as the pre-eminent “challenger” in 2024.  It is a long-standing idea: the “first mover advantage.” If Mike Pompeo breaks from Trump today, and Mike Pence follows suit in a month, Mike Pence looks like the weakling follower who didn’t have the guts to go first. Sure, it is high risk, but it is high reward… if you break from Trump and you can weather his attacks, you are stronger – and he is weaker.

So, to recap: Mike PenPomNikki, you will need to break from Trump sooner or later… and the sooner the better. You understand that being the first person to break from Trump is a risk, but it is a well-calculated risk: it separates you from the pack.

All you need now is to figure out the perfect reason to break from Trump: an issue where you can take the high ground and argue that Trump is at odds with the best interests of the party.

Hmmmm… what could that possibly be?

May I suggest that you take a look at the State of Georgia, which is currently ground zero for Republican electial dysfuntion, cluster-fxxk’s last stand for two Republican Senators who drank one extra sip of the Kool-Aid, and the place where riding the Trump train to its illogical conclusion means losing control of the Senate.

A quick recap: in January, special elections for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats will determine which party will control the Senate for Joe Biden’s first two years in office. The Republicans need only win one of those two elections and they will be in a position to thwart almost anything Joe Biden wants to do. However, if the Democrats win both seats, they will control all of the Senate, the House, and the Executive branch, putting them in a position to rapidly push through a wide range of Democratic legislation.

The stakes could not possibly be higher.

And yet Georgia is the place where Donald Trump’s desperate need to cling to his “I’m not a loser” narrative collides head-on with the Republican Party’s desperate need to retain the Senate.

The two Georgia Republican candidates for the Senate are craving the support of the president, and are so eager to please him that they are going along with Trump’s assertion that the Georgia election was rigged, fraudulent, and rife with cheating. The problem is that the Georgia Governor and Secretary of State are Republicans. So in saying that the election was fraudulent, the two Senate candidates are blaming the two most senior state Republicans in Georgia.

Here’s just how stupid this situation is: the single, very best argument that either of the Republican candidates have is to tell Georgians that it is vital that the Republicans hold the Senate, or else Joe Biden and the Democrats will control the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.

But they can’t say that. Why? To say that out loud would be to admit that Trump lost!

Oh, but hold on… ‘cause there’s plenty more stupid where that come from. In this circular firing squad, the law of unintended consequences is firing like a Gatling gun. Trump supporters in Georgia are telling Georgia Republicans to not vote in the special elections, contending that it is pointless to participate in a “rigged system.”

Yes, it’s true: in order to gain the votes of Republican Trump voters, Republican candidates Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are standing back quietly as Trump Republicans tell Republican Trump voters not to vote.

In effect, Donald Trump is waging the most effective voter suppression campaign ever witnessed in a state that is known only for peaches, Delta connections, and rampant voter suppression. The problem is that Trump is suppressing his own Republican voters. Trump could well hand both Senate seats to Democrats, all because of his towering need to preserve his narrative.

Do you think Trump cares about Georgia? About holding the majority in the Senate? About anything other than his own narrative? Here’s your answer: Donald Trump traveled to Georgia on Saturday, ostensibly to campaign for Loeffler and Perdue, and he made a speech so drenched in right wingnut conspiracy theory that you would have assumed the text on his teleprompter was written by the alien recovered at Roswell.

There it is, Mike PenPomNikki. There is your opening. Now is your moment.

Now is the time to go on Meet the Press and make a nice, clear, concise statement that it is generally not in the best interests of a political party to categorically dismiss the legitimacy of elections. You may point out that the only real purpose of a political party is to serve as a vehicle for nominating candidates for elections. If you don’t think those elections are legitimate, then what purpose is a political party serving?

Chuck Todd will then look at you incredulously and say, “Mike, are you breaking with the President on this?”

And that’s when you say this:

“Chuck, the President is entitled to his opinion that the elections were flawed or rigged, and he is within his rights to exhaust every legal avenue to make sure that every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is thrown out. But until we get proof – and the Attorney General has declared that we have not yet seen such proof -- then we have to be very careful about causing citizens to doubt the integrity of our election process. If we give Republicans the sense that we have no faith in the election process, then how can we ask them to come out and vote for our candidates?

“Very specifically, Chuck, we have two vitally important elections coming up in January in the state of Georgia. We have two excellent incumbent Senators who are running in very tight races against very well-funded extreme left wing candidates. If we give Georgia Republicans the sense that it is pointless to vote because the elections are rigged, we are just shooting ourselves in the foot. We create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the elections are actually rigged -- against our own candidates, by us.

“And, yes, Chuck, we should point out that it was a Republican -- Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager -- who warned us that the talk of fraudulent elections is causing people to threaten violence. Until we present proof, it’s our responsibility have to cool things down.  

“So I would hope that the President is either able to present evidence of large scale voter fraud soon, or elects to soften his language on this subject given what is at stake in Georgia.”


Go ahead, Mike PenPomNikki, be the one who takes the shot heard round the world. Nobody can argue with the logic. You will sound like a leader. You know, the way Presidents are supposed to sound.

Trust me, by the next morning, you’ll be the lead story in the A-bloc of every cable news program in town. Sure, by then, Donald Trump will have sent 50 tweets about what a disloyal, incompetent, stupid hack you are. Trust me again: the more, the better.

Sure, Mike, life holds no guarantees: for all I know, Trump nation will rise up, spit you out, and you will never, ever be able to run for President. But isn’t that the point? That’s pretty much exactly what happens if you continue to stay silent and allow Donald Trump to continue to make all the decisions in your party. He will never let somebody who is not named Trump get the nomination… because he can only control the people named Trump.

But I don’t think that the downside is how it will play. I think that you will set the internet on fire, with half the Republican voters calling you Satan, and the other half applauding your call for the greater good of the party. I bet all those Republicans who have been cowering and waiting for cover will start crawling out of the woodwork to follow your lead.

All I know for certain is that you are suddenly cast in the role as the challenger to Trump, and talk of 2024 will happen instantly.

Perhaps most important: you will have dealt a devastating blow to Trump’s ability to carry on the self-preserving mantra that he did not “lose,” and that he is not a “loser.” In the very act of strengthening your own position, you instantly weaken his.

In the weeks and months that follow, one of two things will happen. Either you will remain the only potential opponent to Trump (which is good… going one-on-one is good odds), or you will be joined by other would-be contenders (even better… the more people tearing down Trump, the weaker he gets).

Roll the dice, Mike PenPomNikki. Take a walk on the wild side. You’ve only got one life to live. Are you really going to live it as a permanent supplicant to a reality tv star who just got voted off “The Apprentice,” and is now auditioning for “The Biggest Loser?”

Whatever you do, Mike, don’t get me wrong on one point. Don’t conclude that I am telling you to “do the right thing.” Don’t be mistaken that I am arguing for you to take the moral high ground. Don’t be suspicious that this entire post is just another left-wing conspiracy designed to destroy you. All I am trying to do is provide want every Republican wants… a smart strategy that is wholly based on your own self-interest above all other considerations.

If you ignore my excellent advice, I won’t be miffed. Au contraire. That would mean that Republicans would continue their massive, uh, Republican voter suppression program in Georgia, which would result in you losing both Senate seats, and, yeah, I am more than ok with that. It would actually be awesome.

So Mike PenPomNikki and all you other Republican Presidential wannabes, take it or leave it.

If you really want to be President, then stop swimming in a school of frightened guppies. Step out. Stand on your own. Slay the dragon.

I have seen it a million times in my life: the contrarian – the person who has the guts to stand apart from the crowd and speak the uncomfortable truth – is the one people listen to. The ones who wait, hide, cower, swim with the guppies, and who are too frightened to take a stand? They get life’s participation trophies.  

Go ahead, Mike PenPomnikki, whoever you turn out to be. Make your big break.

If you can’t see all of your obvious self-interest in this plan, then sure, tell yourself that you are doing it because it is the right thing to do.

I promise I won’t tell anyone.


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  1. I live in Georgia so I have a front seat to the real world and the alternative universe the Republican's live in in everything from the virus to health care and jobs. My wife and I have a new game we play where we walk into the grocery store and identify the Republican Trump supporters by the complete lack of masks that 90% of everyone else is wearing, their generally white skin and the overwhelming sense of entitlement that accompanies almost every interaction. It is a horrific thing to witness but there it is everyday.

  2. An interesting scenario for advice.

    I'm not certain opposition to Trump is the best approach. McCain didn't challenge Bush; Romney did not challenge Bush or McCain. Trump, the atypical, challenged everybody.

    Seems to me the approach of Haley, Pompeo and Pence ought not to be opposition, not to be "most Trumpian," but to say "we were loyal, but did what we could to help Trump. Now, we need to move on and unite all of the Republicans in order to develop a majority." Don't kowtow to Trump, don't explicitly oppose him -- but talk about being acceptable to everyone.

    The bigger message is going to be absolute opposition to whatever Biden/Harris/Schumer/Pelosi (and other leading Democrats) propose.


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