Reviews | Trump is not unstoppable. Here’s how the GOP can beat it.

It’s important to remember how Trump won the nomination in 2016. It had more to do with basic math than some sort of political genius. His biggest asset was a crowded field in which all the candidates split most of the votes, making Trump’s roughly 20% in the polls seem like a tsunami by comparison.

Trump did not claim a majority of primary voters until his nomination seemed inevitable, at which point the desperate pleas of his opponents sounded only like the groan of the establishment.

Eight years later, if Trump runs again, he’s likely to see a set of more formidable faces on the Republican debate stage — people like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Tim Scott (SC) and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

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In 2016, Trump was a blank slate; many Republicans bought into the baseless notion that Trump, if elected, would surround himself with brilliance and fight for normality. At a minimum, many GOP voters thought they had nothing to lose by taking a chance on Trump rather than another Bush-era Republican.

Now Trump is the most well-known quantity on the planet, and he’s likely to face far fewer challengers in 2024 — more than one or two, maybe, but probably not a dozen. That means the field could narrow faster, giving voters a clearer choice between Trump and a few alternatives — something Trump has never had to contend with.

In the upcoming GOP contest, voters are likely to break down into three groups.

The first is what a friend of mine calls the “Fifth Avenue” crowd. Remember how Trump once said that even if he stood on Fifth Avenue and shot someone, his constituents would still support him? It’s those voters; they admire everything about Trump, but especially the way he gets leftists and elite media off the hook every time he opens his mouth.

In a second, smaller group are the self-proclaimed “Never Trumpers”. They still identify as Republicans, but they would vote for flesh-eating bacteria if they thought that was the only thing standing between the country and Trump’s return.

The final block is Trump’s soft vote. These voters voted twice for Trump because they hate Democrats even more. But they are not married to him.

The latter group is the one on which Trump’s fate will depend in a contested primary, and his grip on them is weaker than before. Consider that in the annual straw survey held at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, Trump won with 59%, compared to 28% for DeSantis, who came in second.

It was a definitive victory, except that we are talking about the most partisan and conservative activists in the party. When pushed, 4 in 10 are already inclined to vote for someone else, and that’s before any of the other candidates have had an audition.

Why? Because what matters most to soft Trump voters is that a Republican – any Republican – winning back the White House.

And if winning in 2024 is your obsession, then Trump is much more problematic than he was in 2016, when what mattered most to you was sticking to the party elite.

Nothing that’s happened since has made Trump a safer bet with those voters. On two issues he went well beyond the bounds of respectability and disqualified himself along with many who might otherwise vote Republican.

The first is how he incited the January 6 insurgents, then later said he would “absolutely grant them a pardon if things don’t go fairly.” The second is his enslavement to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a record that now threatens to become a nightmare for the GOP.

Either way, Trump’s rantings are unpatriotic and dangerous, and they surely repel many mainstream Republicans who were already open to an alternative.

If you’re running against Trump, you don’t need to argue directly against Trump, and you shouldn’t. Eligibility as a campaign message inspires no one.

Corn to be more eligible than the other can be a powerful asset when voters are desperate to retake the White House, and there are ways to clarify that contrast.

If I were a Republican planning to take on Trump, I would already be planning a series of speeches about returning to core conservative ideals. It means being the world’s indispensable beacon for freedom (as opposed to being a pro-dictator); it means standing up for federal law enforcement (rather than supporting rioters and indulging in crazy conspiracy theorists); and run government like a business (not a criminal family business).

I would commend Trump for all the good things you think he’s done – but only for how you praise an erratic boss at his retirement party. I would talk about him in the past tense, emphasizing at every opportunity that his moment had passed.

That would resonate with a lot of primary voters, and it would make Trump apoplectic. The more he feels patronized, the more he will rant, and the more he will rant, the more he will remind these finicky voters of what makes him a bad risk.

I know what my skeptical friends on the left will say: Everyone still proclaims Trump dead, and yet he’s still in charge of his party after all these years.

But some of the smartest Republican strategists I know will tell you that Trump is now a damaged messenger who would likely lose a general election — and many GOP voters suspect that. Both signal the desire for a strong and attractive alternative that can campaign smartly.

Even within the Republican Party, it can’t be that hard to find.

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