Progress Report

Is it too late for Taylor Swift to enter the race for president? By Inauguration Day, she’ll be 35!

Okay, back to earth. But as it’s now February and matters have crystallized a bit, let’s take a realistic look at the prospects: not wishfully, not cynically, but with due regard for the future.

Nikki Haley is still around and has somewhat sharpened her attacks on Trump. Many never-Trumpers bemoan her failure to go the full Liz Cheney/Chris Christie and call out Trump as the bullying, lying, utterly self-interested, strongman-loving fraud he is. In their longing for Haley to give Trump hell, they forget one minor difference between her and all of Liz, Christie, Mitt and themselves: Nikki, at least for the time being, is an actual candidate.  For president.  She’s not running for vice president, she’s not running for headlines, and she’s not running to be Democrats’ favorite Republican.

Which means Nikki Haley is pursuing a chosen course that she calculates (I use the term advisedly) gives her the best chance to win — even if that chance is maybe 5 percent as compared to another strategy’s 1 percent.

The never-Trumpers also condemn her expected eventual endorsement of Trump, when she will fall in line like DeSantis, Scott and most of the rest, and humiliate herself to preserve some (probably illusory) future in today’s GOP.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  I hope it doesn’t happen.  I’d be disappointed, although not shocked.  More importantly, I don’t believe that in her own mind, Haley has made that decision yet.  I believe that she is following the mantra of most successful athletes: focus only on the next pitch, the next play, the next game — don’t worry about things outside your control.  

We all fall into the trap of projecting the future based on current conditions.  Based on current conditions, Trump is the inevitable nominee, Biden is his party’s nominee, and the election will be close.  And yes, that’s the waterfall I fear we’re drifting toward, and there is no telling whether we survive the fall.

But this much I guarantee: the present conditions will change.  We don’t know how they will change, but they will.  The environment will be different. People, at home and abroad, will do things yet unknown, and those changes will affect the outcome.  As Ebenezer Scrooge said, “Man’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.  But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”

Given the limited outcomes of the election, we might finish in the same place, but almost surely we will get there by a different path than what we expect.  Let us count the ways.

First, what might help Trump’s chances?   Some business sector collapses and the economy – now well on the road to recovery – nosedives instead.  Or some recent illegal immigrant goes berserk in a mass killing.  Or the Mideast explodes into a broader war or concerted terrorism, in which hundreds of US troops lose their lives.  The last of these risks seems particularly realistic and must weigh on President Biden as he chooses a response to the recent attack that left three US soldiers dead.

Alternatively, what might help Biden’s – or even Haley’s – chances?   Trump suffers a massive judgment in the New York business fraud case, north of $300 million, and we learn he can not in fact pay it without a fire sale of assets.   Or he becomes increasingly erratic under legal and electoral pressure.  Or his personal scuttling of the border security/foreign aid compromise won by Republicans in Congress backfires as Biden exploits Trump’s cynical political move.  Or the obstruction of government/January 6 trial actually goes forward by this summer and results in a conviction.  Any of these could cause his aura of invincibility in MAGA-world to flicker.

Then there are the more open-ended ‘what ifs’:  a ‘health event’ on the part of either Biden or Trump.  Or major battlefield and territory losses by Ukraine during the summer campaign — which way would that cut politically?  Or a firefight between federal agents and state police at the border in Texas, with neighboring states (you can name them) pledging to send Governor Abbott reinforcements?

I do not include the outcome of the Colorado disqualification case, as it seems almost inconceivable that the Supreme Court affirm Trump’s disqualification from the ballot; it’s too massive a political step.  I will not discuss the legal questions prior to reading Trump’s reply brief, due February 5th. But having read the main parties’ briefs to date and several of the many amicus briefs, I am at a loss to see any attractive ground for reversal.  I don’t know whether even the smartest person in Washington, Chief Justice Roberts, can find one.

So the ‘known unknowns,’ as Donald Rumsfeld would have it, abound.  And then there are the unknown unknowns — which, for reasons I hope are obvious, cannot be named.

Sooner or later, something will shift: the puzzle pieces will rearrange themselves, and the picture will be different.  Then they will shift again and the picture will change. And again.

Given all this, Nikki Haley’s cautiously calibrated criticism of Trump, be it ever so frustrating, is the right choice.  For now.

This entry was posted in Election 2024 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *