There are now two rivals to former President Donald Trump officially in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. But neither of them is sufficiently anti-Trump for the media to be excited.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, the estimable Jason L. Riley took umbrage with Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and UN ambassador, for launching her campaign Feb. 15 without challenging Trump directly.
He said Haley missed her chance:
Even more curious was her reluctance to mention Donald Trump by name. … Ms. Haley might think that she can pretend he doesn’t exist, or somehow play down his presence in the race, but the reality is that any Republican who wants to challenge Joe Biden first needs to take down Mr. Trump. … Someone will have to mount a frontal attack at some point. Ms. Haley could have taken credit for going first.
Haley has said that she does not “kick sideways.” Evidently, neither does biotech entrepreneur and anti-“woke” activist Vivek Ramaswamy, who wrote an entire op-ed in the Journal explaining why he is running for the 2024 nomination, and did not mention Trump once.
Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who many Republicans see as the top contender to take on the former president, has preferred to focus on the issues rather than on Trump.
That is not to say no one is taking on Trump.
At the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership conference last November, potential GOP candidates Chris Christie, Larry Hogan, and Mike Pompeo all attacked Trump, in varying degrees of intensity. New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has said outright that he thinks Trump cannot beat President Joe Biden in 2024, given the negative reactions Trump provokes among some voters.
Attacking Trump is a good way to guarantee an interview on the Sunday morning news shows, and glowing profiles in Politico or even the New York Times. But it is also a good way to alienate Republican voters.
The reason was clear this week, when Trump showed up in East Palestine, Ohio, this week to show solidarity and deliver relief to communities that have been affected by a recent trail derailment and toxic chemical release.
Every other Republican candidate, theoretically, could have made the same trip. But only Trump did so. He told residents: “You are not forgotten.”
It was a message that connected.
One was reminded of Trump’s visit, in July 2015, with families of those who had lost loved ones to crimes committed by illegal aliens. The image of Trump standing together with those families, listening to their stories, catapulted Trump to the top of the 2016 polls.
Attacking Trump when he is standing with people who have been abandoned by their government can very easily feel like attacking those people — which is not something that any sensible Republican wants to do.
Trump has a knack for gestures of empathy — and for terse policy pronouncements that say what everyone is thinking.
While other politicians were issuing lengthy press statements on the Chinese spy balloon, Trump had a four-word message: “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!”.
Certainly some of what Trump says on social media is regrettable, and self-defeating, but no one can compete with him at articulating the opposition viewpoint.
Again, to attack Trump when he is calling out the failures of the Biden administration more effectively than anyone else would be foolish. That, more than Trump’s infamous insults, is why rivals are holding their fire.
As long as Trump continues to do things like visiting East Palestine, the right strategy for Trump’s rivals is to follow closely in his slipstream, for now, echoing his policies and reaching out to the same voters he is courting, waiting for the right moment to mount a challenge.
It is like drafting in a NASCAR race — following the lead car closely, taking advantage of the aerodynamic changes it creates, then overtaking on the last turn of the track.
The kind of fight the media want — a direct confrontation with Trump — might be good for clicks and ratings, but it would also be good for Trump. He thrives when moderate, establishment-friendly Republicans attack him; it lets him remind voters that he remains an outsider. And don’t expect the special counsel or the Georgia grand jury to help.
Trump can be beaten, but if and when that happens, it will not be on the media’s terms.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.
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