The presidential rematch that becomes likelier the more no one wants it
Yesterday being Groundhog Day, it put me in mind of Bill Murray, whose movie was released 20 years ago this month.
My encounters with him when he won the Mark Twain Prize were both scary and funny. But fun is the operative word, even when he was banging on my hotel door at 1 a.m. After all, the Sasquatch trying to bigfoot me was the man. On the other appendage, what is on my mind is the replay nobody wants to see, but I believe we likely will.
Here’s my nightmare scenario, and my moonlit dream scenes have an unfortunate habit of becoming daytime reality. In this corner: POTUS 46, bidin’ his time to announce for 2024 until his opponent in the ring is clear. In the far-right corner, it pains me to announce, POTUS 45. I know a lot of you, donkeys and RINOs alike, would like to drop the mike on this. The Donald is finished, you say. Ron DeSantis of Florida, or someone of his ilk, is our gator aid.
Well, let’s play some chess here. A fractured GOP, still reeling from Kevin McCarthy’s ordeal and the tyranny of the minority, welcomes someone — anyone — to spare them another defeat at the ballot box. DeSantis and a few fellow culture clash warriors take it to the primaries. Imagine, if you will, a Da-Doo-Ron-Ron or two with competing delegates to the ever-Trumpers going into the hall in Milwaukee in July 2024. In a brokered convention, the master of disaster deploys his trump card: 45 threatens to go independent if he doesn’t get the nod.
An independent Trump would destroy Republican chances to regain the White House, not to mention all the soiled coat-tails for the fourth time in a row. The convention caves and gives the nom to the Donald. Maybe someone such as DeSantis gets the dubious distinction of running as vice president. It doesn’t matter. Anoint whatever prince- or princess-in-waiting you like, the Donald show is as crazy as ever. No way do the Dems risk the presidency on someone without the name recognition of the incumbent. So the octogenarian suits up and we’re off.
Don’t like this picture? Get used to it. Sure, there’s a lot of time between now and then, with many a cheeseburger to be scarfed down and much Delaware beachfront to pedal. No matter. The odds are not in our favor. The night’s top ticket smells like a rematch of old gym shorts. The water bottles are filled with Geritol.
Fine, some would say. Biden is the devil we know, and none too horned at that. He’s our Postum, our Wonder Bread, our calm after the storm. So what if his idea of border control is naming Kamala Harris to swallow her tongue?
Is this groundhogging ghost of Christmas yet-to-be inevitable, or can we reform our ways in time to fend off the future and pump some new blood into the system? To do so, a few things need to happen. The primaries need to run up a sufficient lead for a DeSantis type to make a Trump splinter vote feel survivable. After all, the Florida governor won by almost 20 percentage points — enough, in theory at least, to absorb a third party candidacy. Historically, independent contenders have maxed out at about half that. Ross Perot garnered 8.4 percent of the popular vote. And that billionaire boasted far more real bucks than Trump, the Pinocchio of IRS filings.
The Dems are betting that any fragmentation falls in their favor. But what if it doesn’t? We could get a younger Republican candidate — perhaps one carrying less cultural baggage than DeSantis or tempering the Trumpism and courting the middle — who appeals to moderates more than the sitting president. We could see a scenario in which the economy continues to teeter and the border situation sounds like Edward Lear’s “The Jumblies,” who “went to sea in a Sieve,” akin to the porosity of the Rio Grande border. And Biden stumbles through the debates.
“This is the way the world ends,” as T. S. Eliot wrote in “The Hollow Men” nearly a century ago, “Not with a bang but a whimper.” We endure congressional gridlock, doing little to change our or the world’s parlous predicament. Fire and flood, stalemate in Eastern Europe, China tightening its roads and belts, homeless overrunning the cities, the social safety net still absent when the tightrope walker tumbles.
Not a pretty picture, you say? If you don’t like my Ouija Board, go forth and bring us the head of someone new and different, without the baggage of the criminals we know. A woman not named Hilary would be better this time. Maybe fan-favorite Julia Louis-Dreyfus from “Veep.” Skipping over Trump, the transition from TV worked out pretty well with Volodymyr Zelenskyy.