One of the many bizarre fantasies that have characterized American politics for the past eight and a half years (ever since Donald Trump’s famous ride down Trump Tower’s Golden Escalator in June 2015) has been the belief that, if only the Republican primary field could be more quickly winnowed down to Trump and one other, then the majority could coalesce around that other to defeat Trump. After all this time, the first part of that fantasy finally happened in New Hampshire 2024, only to have result in the opposite of the second part. When the moment finally came, the voters (i.e., Republican primary voters) made it absolutely clear where their preference lies.
No one should really have been surprised by this. If the moneyed, zombie Reaganite elite that used to run the party – the rich who undoubtedly believe the country is theirs to rule by right – still believed the party was theirs and that their un-rich, taken-for-granted constituents whom they have for decades brought off with culture-war sloganeering were still in their pockets, then they were likely the only ones who still believed one of their own could be imposed upon their increasingly left-behind and increasingly angry-about-it constituents.
Unlike Ron DeSantis, who tried to win as an un-Trump Trump who could somehow outdo Trump, Nikki Haley was that elusive zombie Reaganite Republican that theoretically the party was waiting for – except that the shrinking part of the party that wanted what she was selling is getting smaller all the time! Instead, the left-behind base has finally left that part of the party behind – a sentiment so bluntly encapsulated in Don, Jr.’s remarks at Trump’s victory party in New Hampshire, when he said of Haley, “She’s going to send your kids to go off and die and she couldn’t care less.”
Who knows if that would actually happen if Haley were elected. She won’t be elected. So we will likely never know. But the sentiment speaks volumes, and maybe more than any other expresses the underlying resentment and rage behind the overthrow of the zombie Reaganite Republican elite. In the end, of course, Trump’s faux Populism may prove less salvific than his constituents expect. It represents the sort of anger-fueled movement politics that, whether on the right or on the left, always ends badly. But that is another topic for another day! Meanwhile, whatever the future of the Republican Party, it is becoming increasingly hard to imagine it reverting to the Reaganite monstrosity that served its elite so well and the country so poorly for so long.