Republicans Are on a Crash Course With Trump With No Off-Ramp | Opinion

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this: Eighteen months from now, on a warm July night in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, former President Donald Trump—fresh off a long and bruising primary defeat—struts across the stage live on national television at the Republican National Convention having accepted the defeat and holds his arm in the air with the winning nominee to pass the torch of the Republican Party to the next generation of leadership.

If you believe that is a likely scenario—or even a possible scenario—you have been living under a rock for the last seven years, or you are lying to yourself.

Nikki Haley's entrance into the 2024 race this week gives Donald Trump his first, but likely not last, opponent. And she, along with likely candidates Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Tim Scott, and the elite donor class within the Republican Party, want the public to believe such a scenario is possible.

Haley Supporters
Supporters of former South Carolina Governor and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley wait in line for an event where Haley is expected to announce her candidacy for the presidency on Feb. 15, in Charleston, South Carolina. Win McNamee/Getty Images

But the truth of the matter is the Republican Party is on an 18-month-long slow-motion crash course with Donald Trump, with no off-ramp.

What is clear to anyone who has followed politics for the last seven years is that Donald Trump will neither accept defeat nor willingly relinquish his iron grip over the Republican Party. This leaves Republicans with a tortured choice: nominate Trump again and watch him likely lose for the sixth election cycle in a row, dragging down candidates up and down the ballot, or attempt to move on from him and watch him take his ball, and his significant support among Republican voters, and go home—cannibalizing the party in the process.

The reality for Republicans is there is zero chance Trump supports a nominee that is not him, and there is zero chance a Republican can win the White House if the former president is sitting on the sidelines ginning up his supporters by claiming the primary was rigged and stolen from him—which he most certainly would do.

So they either nominate him, and likely lose. Or they don't nominate him, he refuses to support the nominee, and they likely lose.

Of course, Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for this lose-lose situation. At numerous points over the last eight years, Republicans have had off-ramps from the Trump trainwreck and repeatedly took the cowardly and politically expedient course back to Trump. Now, once again, the train is veering off the tracks, and they are trapped.

Predicting who will win the primary at this point in the process is a pointless exercise. Polls this far out are largely clickbait. Just ask Fred Thompson, Tim Pawlenty, or Rudy Giuliani—all of whom led the Republican field at this point in previous cycles, none of whom would go on to win the nomination. Most didn't even make it out of Iowa. A similar fate will likely meet many of the most buzzed-about Republican candidates today.

I have no idea who the Republican nominee will be. And neither does anyone else. We are in truly uncharted territory, with a former president seeking the third straight nomination of his party and a second nonconsecutive term.

While predicting what voters will ultimately do is hard, predicting what Trump will do is not. We have a mountain of evidence that tells us, 18 months from now at the end of the primaries, there is no chance he will accept defeat, nor will he put the good of the party before his own political (and legal) interests. And if he is not the nominee, he will crash the party.

Eight years ago this June, Trump came down the gold-plated escalator at Trump Tower and embarked on a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party. In the years since, Republicans have demonstrated they have no desire, will, ability or strategy to do anything about it. It strains credibility to think that this year will be any different.

So here we are 18 months before the Republican nominee will take the stage in Wisconsin, and Republicans find themselves in a position where they likely can't win with Trump and they certainly can't win without Trump.

A crash course of their own making, with no off-ramp.

Doug Gordon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of UpShift Strategies who has worked on numerous federal, state, and local campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He is on Twitter at @dgordon52.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.