AUSTIN PETERSEN: The 'fight for second place' in the GOP primary can serve a useful purpose

At this point, the Republican primary seems to be nothing but a high-profile battle for second place. With Trump polling so high, skipping debates, and the rest of the field in single digits… the future primaries would seem to be a foregone conclusion. So does the actually primary really matter at this point? I think it does, but more on that in a moment.

As Matthew Continetti of the Free Beacon has pointed out, the GOP primary seems to be playing out much as it did in 2016. Too many Trump alternatives eat into each other’s votes and therefore none of them can consolidate until one John Kasich character stands alone with Trump taking the nomination. History doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme as my fellow Missourian Mark Twain said.

Ron DeSantis is a terrific governor of the state of Florida. But despite his hero status in the GOP, the lackluster campaign he’s running for president doesn’t approach that level of greatness which would have seen him become the credible contender to Trump in the primary that so many Never Trumpers wanted to see. Now those factions of Neocons, left libertarians, the decorum-at-any-cost crowd are bemoaning their choice in DeSantis, thinking they should have backed Nikki Haley instead.

Trump’s greatest flaws in my view aren’t his rejection of the types of free market policies I would prefer, but the fact that the people he surrounds himself with are treacherous or even opposed to the important parts of the MAGA agenda that I do agree with, as with John Bolton’s opposition to dovish foreign policy. It’s for that reason that the fight for second place in the GOP primary is of utmost importance. We need to see and hear from these candidates that Trump might pick for cabinet positions, and letting this primary contest play out without rushing it is good for that reason. 

It may be unlikely that Trump will pick any of the candidates currently running for his VP. Tim Scott could be a possibility as he fits the mold of the tokenism required for modern identity politics voters. I would prefer it were Vivek, as he most aligns with Trump’s mission of taking out the Deep State with his promise to fire 1 million federal employees. That sends a thrill up my leg, at least, but I suspect it’s not people like me Trump needs to worry about winning with his Veep slot.

Yet another thing the debates can do is compensate for a long-running Republican weakness: namely, building a strong bench of up-and-comers for higher office. Vivek fits the bill of someone who might make a good senate candidate one day, and as I wrote in this magazine a few weeks ago, he’s poised to take the mantle of the MAGA movement better than most. He has his flaws but he reflects the intellectualization of MAGA populism that is more focused on policy over personality.

A friend asked me on my morning Wake Up America talk show essentially if I thought things were better during the Trump years. I answered unequivocally yes, but was surprised by the question as I thought that was fairly obvious to limited government types like ourselves. Cutting regulations, the First Step Act, Right to Try, tax cuts, and lower gas prices were more than enough to get me to pull the lever for Trump in 2020… despite the fact I literally ran against him in 2016. If Ramaswamy becomes his VP I’ve pledged to wear a MAGA hat for the first time ever.

The fight for second place in the GOP primary is the fight to see who will make up a Trump cabinet, and will show us where Trump’s head is at and what lessons he’s learned from 2020, if any. If Ramaswamy or Scott can distinguish themselves through this, we have at least two good candidates as potential for future high office. If DeSantis can get through it without being too humiliated, he may make a good presidential candidate in 2028.

A popular meme that was shared in 2008 featured George W. Bush with the caption, “Miss me yet?” And while no respectable right winger was glad Obama took over, it’s clear the new Republican Party isn’t longing for a return to the Bush years. But even those of us who weren’t the biggest MAGA Trumpers are looking at the cost to fill up our F150s and thinking we’d be more than happy to see Trump beat Joe Biden next year. And there are plenty of enthusiastic Trump supporters who make up the majority of the party who absolutely do miss the guy a lot. For my part, I miss the economy and yes, I even miss the mean tweets. But for those for whom that isn’t enough, seeing the potential leaders who they might be elevating to the cabinet, or vice presidency, if not the presidency itself, might be a source of comfort.

Image: Title: desantis vivek haley


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