Former President Trump is on the cusp of becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee for the third time.
It’s a scenario that leaves the band of conservatives opposed to him appalled — and deeply pessimistic about the future of the party.
“It’s his party, plain and simple. I’m not a fan of his, but it’s a MAGA party now, and he’s the leader of that,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who mounted a long-shot primary challenge to Trump in 2020 and left the GOP soon afterward.
“This party cannot be reformed, cannot be fixed. It’s on the track it’s on,” Walsh acknowledged. “I don’t see, in my lifetime, it getting off this track.”
Susan Del Percio, a strategist who has remained a Republican despite her fervent opposition to Trump, struck a broadly similar note — though she believes the party could move back onto a more traditional footing once Trump eventually leaves the political stage.
“The party needs to burn to the ground and rebuild itself,” Del Percio said. “It’s not going to happen in two years.”
Talk of political self-immolation or a party requiring decades to get back on track may seem hyperbolic to some.
But it’s understandable when looking at the past four years through the lens of the so-called “Never Trumpers.”
The 45th president lost the 2020 election, trailing President Biden by about 7 million votes. He made repeated and false claims of election fraud, in the process fueling the violence of Jan. 6, 2021. He continues to push those falsehoods.
He was impeached for his role in Jan. 6 — becoming the only president in American history to be twice impeached. Over the course of 2023, he was indicted four times. He faces 91 criminal charges. Separately, in a civil trial last May, he was found liable for the sexual abuse of writer E. Jean Carroll.
Despite all this, he is sweeping everything before him on his way to the GOP nomination.
Trump’s 30-point victory in the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses drove Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) out of the race.
On Sunday, DeSantis endorsed Trump.
Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley needs a major surprise in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary if she is to just remain viable until her home-state primary in South Carolina on Feb. 24.
On Monday evening, Haley lagged Trump by 14 points in the Granite State, according to the polling average maintained by The Hill and Decision Desk HQ (DDHQ).
Stay updated on how top contenders Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ram…
Trump is currently polling at about double Haley’s level of support in South Carolina.
DeSantis and Haley had been tentative in their jabs at Trump for most of their campaigns. The most prominent and forceful anti-Trump figure in the race, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), went nowhere.
Virtually everybody believes Trump will be the nominee.
“I would bet the ranch on it,” said John ‘Mac’ Stipanovich, a longtime GOP operative in Florida and another staunch Trump critic.
Stipanovich, like many others in the Never Trump camp, believes the only really plausible way out of the MAGA morass is through repeated electoral defeats for the GOP.
“The Republican Party — or whatever it is that goes by that name now — will not change until they have been defeated enough that they have to change out of self-interest,” Stipanovich said.
Trump’s defeat in November is very far from guaranteed, of course.
Most polls of a Biden-Trump rematch show the former president to be at worst a 50-50 bet when it comes to defeating his successor.
In The Hill/DDHQ average, Trump leads Biden by 1 point, 44 percent to 43 percent.
But the Never Trump forces discern the faintest of silver linings in him seemingly wrapping up the nomination fight early.
They contend that, once he becomes the presumptive nominee, voters will be more focused on the choice before them in November. This, they say, will be to Biden’s benefit.
Trump’s strategy in the primary “is another somber reminder of how far the Republican Party has fallen and how appalling it is to think that one major party could nominate this guy again,” said Lucy Caldwell, a strategist who describes herself as a former Republican.
But Caldwell added that “as the next few months unfurl, it is going to give more time to clarify this choice” between Biden and Trump.
Stipanovich agreed, saying “the story is soon not going to be all about the ins-and-outs and ups-and-downs of the Republican nomination process. … When people focus on [the general election choice], it is going to increase the intensity of Democrats and independents.”
Rick Tyler, who back in 2016 served as communications director for Trump’s main primary rival, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), said voters would in the end blanche at the idea of throwing over the relative calm of the Biden years for a return to Trump’s maelstrom.
Citing economic factors such as job growth and a stock market at an all-time high, Tyler asked rhetorically, “You want to trade all the progress for chaos? I don’t think people are going to do that.”
For all that, simply hoping for Trump’s defeat in November is a rather thin reed to hold onto for conservatives who have been staunchly opposed to him for the better part of a decade.
A common thread for all of them is that Trump — with his egotism, willingness to use government to reward friends and punish enemies, and disregard for any kind of norms or guardrails — is simply not a conservative.
“The party of Reagan is gone. It has all been squandered,” said Tyler.
“I think people who are really ideologically conservative need to take stock. He’s not conservative at all. Saying he is, is like someone claiming to be a vegan while chewing on raw meat.”
Walsh, the former congressman, put it even more bluntly, describing opposition to Trump in today’s GOP as a “career-killer.”
“People like me who have spoken out against him, we forgot about any future in the party,” Walsh added.
“That’s why most Republicans just keep their f‑‑king mouths shut and hope the day comes when Trump is no longer there.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.