Of the many quotes wrongly attributed to Einstein is this one: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
But whoever coined it certainly nailed something: a perfect description of the Republican Party in relation to their choice to run against Joe Biden in 2024. Because that choice may be, once again, Donald J Trump. The guy who lost them not only the White House, but the House, and the Senate, too.
By the time the nomination race gets going in earnest early next year, Trump may be facing prosecution on a few fronts.
There is his criminal case in Manhattan, due to start on March 25, a couple of weeks after the Super Tuesday primaries that could have all but confirmed him as the Republican nominee. There is a potential case about Trump’s involvement in trying to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results.
And there are a couple of cases – one focusing on his role in trying to block the peaceful transfer of power in early 2021, the second surrounding 26 boxes of classified White House material which somehow ended up in Mar-a-Lago – that are being worked on by special counsel Jack Smith.
The funniest thing that Trump ever said, as far as I’m concerned, was an aside that he made at a town hall meeting in which he referred to this potential nemesis as: “Jack Smith, whatever his name is”.
It is the kind of thing that you mutter in a wine bar after the first glass, or maybe to your spouse. The catty aside; the thing not loudly said.
But Trump says it, loudly. This is one reason that the people who love him love him.
Some Americans would say that “the guy is real”. Reality being one of the many illusions that US voters cloak their elected officials in.
Americans like to think that people who run for president are just like them. Except, of course, for the ability to raise tens of millions of dollars. You have to be able to do that to head up the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
So it’s popcorn time. Like one of his Apprentice candidates, Trump faces a series of trials, during which he will be scrutinised, mocked, judged. These are more threatening to him and his fragile ego than the rivals who are filling up the boardroom, the most supposedly dangerous of them all being the Truman Capote voice-alike “hammer of Mickey Mouse”, Florida governor Ron DeSantis.
Nikki Hailey, a former governor and UN ambassador under Trump, has also thrown her hat into the ring. On paper, she has a great American story to tell. But I won’t waste your time or mine telling it because none of that matters. Trump will obliterate her.
There is also the African-American Tim Scott, a low-key, hard-working small “c” conservative” who is admired by conventional GOP donors and now the effervescent Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire, a smiley-faced guy who is confident that the Republican Party needs to move on.
Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence will run too, a man who still cannot bring himself to say that Trump aided and abetted insurrection even in the face of the fact that a mock gallows was erected on Capitol Hill during the whole thing, amid the ringing of chants that included “Hang Mike Pence.”
All this is manna for Trump, because he loves a crowded field of dull career politicians in which he can use his brash personality, his say-anything lack of filter to stand out.
Remember 2016? Back then he was a political outsider but savvy when it came to the media. Trump has been a major cultural force since the end of the 1970s. He was always in the news, always making waves. He annihilated the supposed front-runners: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio.
Another of Trump’s super powers is that he “talks back.” Especially to women. He represents every guy who would like to, just on principle, tell off his female boss, his wife, his mother. Just put women and keep women in “their place.”
Remember when he checked out Hillary Clinton’s butt when she walked past him on the debate stage in 2016? Then he gave her a thumbs down. It was ultra-crude, but many people like crude.
“Never apologise, mister,” John Wayne’s character once drawled in some western whose name I can’t recall, “It’s a sign of weakness!” That is the Trump way.
So as the GOP field gets more and more crowded, Trump can have the conditions he prefers: his opponents can step up to the plate one by one and in quick succession, he will strike them out.
DeSantis is counting on the fact that he will be the last at-bat, that by the end it will just be him and Trump. But I wouldn’t be so sure. This quickly growing field of opponents is a threat to DeSantis’s ability to consolidate the non-Trump vote. Every new candidate takes a piece of his pie. Scott is aiming for the college-educated suburbanites, and Pence is wrapping up the evangelicals. Hailey is appealing to women, and her story as the daughter of Asian immigrants who made good is the kind of saga that Americans like to believe is essentially what the country is.
Gamblers like to say that Trump should go to the casino because he’s a lucky guy. Because his opponents, so far, like throwing punches at DeSantis. Not at him.
In fact, given Trump’s popularity with the base, the first person who takes a swing at him during the whole campaign might be the one who defeated him last time, Joe Biden.
Mostly he will use the so-called “Rose Garden” strategy of being ultra-presidential and pointing to his successes. He may also re-use a bit of his pandemic-era “Hidin’ Biden” strategy and make few appearances, confident that when voters finally sit down and look at the choice of Trump v Biden they will pick the sane, safe one.
In the meantime, Hailey and DeSantis and the rest will try to find ways to take Trump down; try to be the standard bearers for the desperate need for generational change that they represent. That the nation needs.
But they also know that immortal adage from The Wire: “You come at the king, you best not miss.”