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Indictments don't matter: Trump's Republican critics trail far behind

IANS | August 20, 2023 12:32 PM

WASHINGTON: Republicans will hold their first presidential primaries debate on August 22. Everyone who can and who qualifies will be on stage, trying to make a first and lasting impression on party voters.

Except one man: former President Donald Trump, who is also the leading candidate for the party nomination to take on his successor Joe Biden, a Democrat, in 2024.

Trump believes he doesn’t need to be there on that stage. He leads every other competitor by a wide margin in opinion polls.

In fact, he leads the second-placed Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor widely expected to snatch the party nomination from Trump, by nearly 40 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls.

The former President may have the first-comer’s advantage because he was the first Republican to declare his candidacy way back in November 2022, which was months ahead of the traditional launch announcements.

Trump wrote on his Truth Social social media platform on Thursday: “Many people are asking whether or not I will be doing the DEBATES? ALL AMERICANS have been clamoring for a President of extremely High Intelligence. As everyone is aware, my Poll numbers, over a ‘wonderful’ field of Republican candidates, are extraordinary.

"In fact, I am leading the runner up, whoever that may now be, by more than 50 Points. Reagan didn’t do it, and neither did others. People know my Record, one of the BEST EVER, so why would I Debate? I’M YOUR MAN. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump has had an unassailable lead on all his rivals, demonstrating a vice-like grip on the party, which has remained seemingly unaffected by his four indictments, which, it is evident, may have strengthened his hand as he raked in millions in donations touting his legal troubles as something he has taken upon himself to protect the party and his supporters.

“I’m being indicted for you. They want to take away my freedom because I will never let them take away your freedom, ” Trump told the crowd at a campaign event in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

“They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you.”

Trump’s grip on the party is such that even his rivals for the nomination hesitate to criticize him, some of them at least.

DeSantis, the man who entered the race with all-around expectation of knocking Trump off his perch, has been so reluctant to take on the former president that his rivals, such as former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is calling him to “endorse Trump and get out of the race”.

DeSantis wants to be the nominee and he knows he must beat Trump to get the nomination, but his hesitation to criticise the man is a manifestation of the Republican Party’s continuing inability to handle Trump and his lies about his election loss, and get past them.

But with Trump in the fray and re-litigating his fraudulent claims, the party appears stuck with him.

Christie has been critical of Trump and the party doesn’t like him. He is in the seventh position in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, trailing Trump by 52 percentage points.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, has become more critical of Trump lately shrugging off initial hesitation.

But he has done only marginally better. Even though he is fourth in the race, he trails Trump by nearly 50 percentage points.

Not going after Trump at this time appears to be paying off for DeSantis and, as it turns out, Vivek Ramaswamy, one of the two Indian-Americans in the fray.

An entrepreneur, Ramaswamy has built his campaign being “anti-woke”, which has touched a chord with Republicans.

But he has also refused to attack Trump and that with his anti-woke campaign, has endeared him to the party base propelling him to the third position.

Trump’s hold on the party’s base is complicated to explain. Many of his supporters believe the lies he has been doling out about his 2020 election defeat and donate generously for his defence and his campaign but there are a lot of Republicans who are repulsed by him, his actions and beliefs.

His party supporters can see him through the primaries, but the key to the White House is held by more moderate elements in the party and independents, both of whom have shown him no real love.

Republicans are largely done with Trump -- both the establishment and the base, most of them at least -- but they have yet to figure out how to give him the bad news.

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