The Capitolist Crystal Ball: Is Trump’s nomination inevitable?

by | Oct 8, 2023

In a Republican presidential primary contest without historical precedent, many media and polling pundits have already crowned Donald Trump as the inevitable nominee, believing that the 2024 path to the nomination will inevitably follow the same script as 2016.

It won’t.

While it’s true that the outcome may be the same, the path we’re about to take to decide that outcome will be starkly different. While currently down in polling, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis remains the most likely to go the distance from Trump, and therefore cannot be counted out of the race. We take a look at how things are likely to unfold over the winter and into next spring.

DeSantis’s political death has been greatly exaggerated

Is Trump is the “inevitable” GOP nominee for president? Conventional wisdom says yes. But this is no conventional primary. Things are still far too early and there’s far more variables this cycle than we’ve seen in the past. Get ready for a wild ride. One of the biggest differences between this cycle and the 2016 primary, which Trump had sewn up long before the voting began, this year’s schedule promises some unprecedented twists and turns. Among them, no fewer than four completely separate criminal cases: (1) multiple felony indictments for allegedly mishandling classified documents and obstruction of justice, (2) four counts of conspiracy to allegedly defraud the government (elections interference case), (3) a  34-count indictment for allegedly falsifying business records, and of course, (4) the 13 state charges filed for alleged elections interference in Georgia.

In all, that’s 91 felony counts in four criminal cases filed in four different jurisdictions: New York, Washington D.C., Florida, and Georgia. While many political observers believe that polling indicates Trump’s political support among Republicans only grows stronger with each new indictment, there is also evidence that the long legal slog is taking its toll, both on Trump himself and on Republican voters who might be sympathetic, but who harbor significant doubts about Trump’s political viability. Voters aren’t really paying attention yet.

The takeaway this time around is that Trump’s path to the 2024 GOP nomination is going to be considerably more bumpy than the smooth sailing he enjoyed in 2016. Plus, as GOP strategist Karl Rove argues, his primary rivals still have plenty of time to make things interesting. Trump’s desire is to be coronated as the nominee, but the simple fact is that he still has to win delegates, and that requires real voters to show up and cast a ballot. As Rove also recently noted, Trump himself is starting to realize that he doesn’t get to simply walk unscathed to the nomination. He actually has to campaign for it.

Will weary and wary voters actually show up for Trump?

Despite the current news fad featuring co-flavors-of-the-month Glenn Youngkin and Nikki Haley, the only real knock against Governor Ron DeSantis is that he isn’t running away with the nomination against Trump. While pundits cook up plenty of explanations for DeSantis’s “failure” so far, (he’s too brash, he’s not personable, etc.) the reality is that he hasn’t “failed” at all. DeSantis’s real problem is that he’s just not beating Donald Trump, which has caused the exceedingly desperate anti-Trump donor wing of the GOP to cast about desperately for an alternative solution. Currently, they’re kicking the tires on Haley and Youngkin, but when polling shows that Haley is only barely outperforming DeSantis even in her home state of South Carolina, everyone should probably discount the trendy Haley hype machine. The anti-Trump wing of the GOP is not only skittish, but also fickle.

Expect plenty more shifts in allegiance as time goes on, including a shift back to DeSantis as the top Trump challenger.

Our prediction: Unforeseen twists and turns in the upcoming legal battles start to take their toll on Donald Trump, as well as those considering him, while DeSantis remains the most viable challenger, eventually setting up a gnarly, one-on-one political slugfest after Super Tuesday. Will it be enough to change the outcome?  Perhaps not. But many plot twists are likely still to come. Hold on to your hats.


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