Opinion | Trump Must Be Pleased With the Way the Republican Race Is Shaping Up

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By Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

This week, two candidates officially joined the Republican presidential field: Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida.

They join four other declared candidates: Donald Trump; a former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley; a former Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson; and a businessman, Vivek Ramaswamy. Also, Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey, is poised to make another bid for the presidential nomination, and the governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, is reconsidering his decision to take himself out of the race. Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota (who?) might make a run, and Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, continues to act as if he’s in the ring.

All told, the Republican presidential field might end up almost as large and divided as the one in 2016. Which is to say that the 2024 Republican primary is, at this stage, shaping up to be a retread of the one that catapulted Trump to the commanding heights of the American political system.

Once again, it is clear that many Republican elites would prefer to have someone other than Trump at the top of the ticket. But once again, those elites — donors, intellectuals, activists — are having a hard time finding a single alternative candidate to challenge the former president. DeSantis was supposed to play that part, but he has struggled to gain a foothold with Republican voters and has shown a tin ear for the challenges of national politics. As of Friday, he is far behind Trump in nearly every major poll of the national Republican primary electorate.

If DeSantis continues to recede, other candidates will try to claim his spot as the party’s main alternative to Trump. And therein lies the problem. As long as there are multiple candidates vying for this position, Trump has the political space he needs to consolidate his support, which is still much greater than his rivals’.

What’s more, there’s no sign that any candidate is ready to truly go on the offensive against the former president and try to render him anathema to Republican voters. Supporters of DeSantis, for example, can point to his credentials and fund-raising and conservative record in Florida. But none of that matters unless he is willing and able to make the case against Trump. So far, DeSantis hasn’t been. So far, none of the most viable candidates in the Republican presidential field appear to be ready to take that step.

You could even say that there are no truly anti-Trump candidates in the Republican primary, just people hoping to take his place in the conservative political imagination. That’s why DeSantis has, as part of his campaign rollout, said he will consider pardoning some of the Jan. 6 rioters.

Unless any of this changes, we can expect this Republican primary to unfold like the one in 2016, with each candidate doing everything in their power to avoid alienating Trump voters too much in the vain hope that they might capture them once Trump is out of the race. But now as then, there’s no reason to think he will leave. Which means that now as then, there’s no reason to think Trump will lose.

What I Wrote

My Tuesday column was on Justice Neil Gorsuch’s blinkered view of American history.

In which case, Gorsuch’s denunciation of pandemic restrictions acts as an inadvertent glimpse into his view of the United States. With one notable exception (and it is quite notable) — the history of Native Americans — he is willing to ignore or doesn’t even see our long, peacetime history of repression and internal tyranny. What he seems to see instead is a long history of liberty with some significant exceptions, including our recent experience with the pandemic.

My Friday column was on state governments as threats to American freedom rather than defenders of American liberties.

That it is states, and specifically state legislatures, that are the vanguard of a repressive turn in American life shouldn’t be a surprise. Americans have a long history with various forms of subnational authoritarianism: state and local tyrannies that sustained themselves through exclusion, violence and the political security provided by the federal structure of the American political system.

And in the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we discuss the 1995 film “Judge Dredd.”

Now Reading

Kate Aronoff on the Inflation Reduction Act for Dissent.

Michael Kazin on the Industrial Workers of the World for The Nation.

Jeremy Lybarger on Rainer Werner Fassbinder for The Baffler.

Sheryll Cashin on American poverty for Politico magazine.

Moira Donegan on the connection between conservative attacks on abortion and trans health care for The Guardian.

Photo of the Week

There’s an old hotel in Charlottesville that caught fire and sat dilapidated for years until recently, when it was bulldozed. This is a photo of the hotel just before it was razed. I think the owners are, as you might expect, going to build a new hotel.

Now Eating: Chile-Oil Noodles With Cilantro

I am going to spend most of Memorial Day cooking a big meal for friends and family, which means that I don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen on Sunday. Enter chile-oil noodles. They are extremely easy to throw together, and I can serve them with virtually any protein. (In this case, I’ll stir-fry some chicken I have in the freezer.) Most important, I know the kids will eat them. The children are, for reasons I don’t completely understand, obsessed with noodles.

Recipe comes from New York Times Cooking.


14 ounces dried udon noodles

¼ cup chile oil with crunchy garlic

2 tablespoons pure sesame oil

2 teaspoons Sichuan chile oil, or to taste

2 teaspoons soy sauce

½ cup finely sliced garlic scapes or scallions, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons store-bought fried shallots, crumbled by hand (optional)

½ cup finely chopped cilantro (see Note), plus a few sprigs for garnish


Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook noodles according to package instructions, stirring from time to time to prevent them from sticking. Drain well in a colander, then run noodles under cold water until cooled.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine all three oils with the soy sauce and ½ cup garlic chives.

Toss cooled noodles into the chile oil mixture. Gently fold in the crumbled fried shallots and chopped cilantro. Divide among four bowls and top with more garlic chives and cilantro sprigs.

Jamelle Bouie became a New York Times Opinion columnist in 2019. Before that he was the chief political correspondent for Slate magazine. He is based in Charlottesville, Va., and Washington. @jbouie

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