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GOP race

Trump still terrifies his rivals

“To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” Chip Somodevilla/Getty

“Donald Trump has had a terrible couple of months,” says Rich Lowry in Politico. He helped blow the Republicans’ chances in the midterms, entered the 2024 presidential race with a “limp” announcement, and immersed himself in various bizarre and pointless controversies. Yet the former president still – still – leads national polling for the Republican nomination, and by some margin. The usual caveats apply: the only other serious confirmed candidate is former UN ambassador Nikki Haley; Ron DeSantis has established a national brand and cultivated big donors. But unless Trump’s support in polls is a “complete mirage”, he still has “a formidable grip on the GOP”.

For his rivals, that’s a “daunting prospect”. It’s one thing hoping to supplant Trump “as he slip-slides away” into insignificance, quite another to “figure out a way to topple him”. He remains the candidate “everyone fears”. Haley wouldn’t even mention him by name at her campaign launch; former vice president Mike Pence has criticised his old boss only in “oblique terms”; even DeSantis has responded to Trump’s jibes with “very subtle counterpunches”. This is all perfectly rational – none of the candidates wants to become the target of Trump’s ire. But if they continue “waiting for someone else to take him on”, in the hope they can then emerge unscathed, it’ll be an exact repeat of 2016. Someone, eventually, has to make the case against him. In the “immortal” words of pro wrestler Ric Flair: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

🎤🤪 A Fox News segment this week “perfectly captured” the state of the GOP race, says Mike Allen in Axios. It’s at a diner in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, within walking distance of where Ron DeSantis lived when he represented the area in Congress. Host Brian Kilmeade goes around asking patrons who they are backing. “Trump,” says the first. “Trump,” says the second. And the third, and fourth, and fifth, and sixth. Finally, Kilmeade asks a woman wearing a DeSantis t-shirt. “Oh, gosh! I don’t know,” she replies. “Trump or DeSantis – I’m either/or.”