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After he’s repeatedly survived the unsurvivable, we are supposed to believe that President Donald Trump might quit the presidential race before it truly begins because of a spate of negative polling.
This is the latest chatter among (unnamed) Republicans, according to a widely circulated Fox News report and cable-news talking heads.
Trump is a volatile figure and things could get weird if he’s far behind in the final weeks. But the idea that he is going to fall on his sword because the conventional wisdom has turned sharply against his chances runs starkly counter to all Trump’s predilections and past actions.
Good luck convincing him he’s going to lose after he survived the Access Hollywood tape that had GOP officeholders deserting him in droves, and after he prevailed on an Election Night when many people closest to him thought he was sure to go down to defeat.
There’s nothing any political consultant, pollster, or adviser can tell him about his dire political condition that he hasn’t heard, and dismissed, before.
If the polling looks bad for him now, Hillary Clinton had sizable leads in 2016, too.
The assumption behind the Trump-might-drop chatter is that the president would want to avoid the psychological sting of a loss, but he’s already signaled how he’ll handle a defeat — by saying he was robbed.
The anonymous Republicans speculating about this scenario surely are wish-casting and assume some other — any other — GOP presidential candidate would be better for the party’s chances. This, too, is doubtful.
How would the great drop-and-switch even work? The party would be implicitly conceding that the incumbent Republican president was such a disaster that he couldn’t even run for a second term — and then turn around and ask voters for four more years of yet another Republican president.
One of the points of this exercise would be to repudiate Trump, but how could the party plausibly do that after loyally and enthusiastically backing him for four years? Who would be a turn-the-page candidate? The natural successor would be Vice President Mike Pence, but he’s obviously more associated with Trump than any other figure in the party besides the president’s direct relatives.
How about a Trump critic, say, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse? But such a choice would be a whiplash-inducing change of direction for a party led the moment before by Trump.
The president’s base wouldn’t go away even if Trump said he weren’t running again, and its feelings would have to be taken into account — not to mention that Trump loyalists would make up a disproportionate share of Republican-convention delegates, who would presumably make the choice of a new candidate.
At a time of great populist passion in the GOP, deciding on a presidential candidate without the direct say of any voters would be fraught with peril, to say the least — and more likely to produce a civil war rather than comity.
Then, there’s the question of Trump himself. Unless the Trump-stepping-aside scenario becomes even more implausible and involves his resigning the presidency and getting dropped off by Marine One at a monastery to begin a four-month silent retreat, he’s not going to quietly abide some other Republican soaking up all the public attention that comes with being one of two people who will be the next president of the United States.
Perhaps former vice president Joe Biden indeed has a durable ten-point lead, in which case there’s nothing that the GOP can do to avoid a terrible drubbing. If Biden is that strong, some emergency replacement Republican candidate — hastily chosen amid a political panic — isn’t going to win, either.
It’s more likely, though, that the race will naturally tighten, and that Trump will be behind, but within range and have a puncher’s chance.
Regardless, there’s no way he quits without even trying to win the ultimate vindication for any president, and the ultimate repudiation of his critics.