Rich Lowry: Time for Republicans to say no, thank you, to Trump

(Damon Winter | The New York Times) A supporter of President Donald Trump wears a paper mask at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Aug. 2, 2018.

An endorsement from Donald Trump, as Alabama congressman Mo Brooks has learned to his chagrin, is no guarantee against future harsh denunciation.

Trump endorsed Brooks for senate in the belief that he would say whatever Trump wanted to hear about the 2020 election, then when Brooks faltered in the polls, humiliatingly unendorsed him.

Brooks responded by revealing how Trump had pressured him to support throwing Biden out of office and reinstating him as president, demands so unreasonable that even Brooks didn’t bend to them.

If Trump’s back-and-forth over Brooks is notably sophomoric, it’s not uncharacteristic. Indeed, the party will continue to be subjected to such spectacles as long as Trump is its dominant figure.

As everyone knows, he’s seriously considering running in 2024.

It’s understandable that he’d want to try to ascend once again to the most powerful office in the land. The question for Republicans is why they’d want to go along for this ride one more time.

The party should be entering a new, more discretionary phase in its relationship with Trump. The best argument for him once he was nominated in 2016 was that he was the only alternative to Hillary Clinton, and in 2020 that he was the only alternative to Joe Biden.

That isn’t the case now.

Republicans could have their pick of a variety of alternatives in 2024 who don’t personalize everything, who don’t create a haze of chaos around everything they do, and who don’t carry more baggage than the underbelly of an Airbus A380-800.

There are about 20 other potential Republican candidates and none of them has lost an election to Joe Biden before, and none of them has to expend any energy trying to explain away such a defeat.

Any of the other Republicans would offer a relative normality. Imagine Republicans not having to scurry away from reporters every time they ask about something the GOP nominee says.

Imagine having a nominee with a well-thought-out policy agenda, so the Republicans party doesn’t have to go platform-less the way it did in 2020.

Imagine a nominee who can, like Glenn Youngkin did in Virginia, make serious in-roads in the suburbs and win the popular vote again.

This vista may not be probable — if Trump runs again, he’s the prohibitive favorite — but it is certainly possible.

Trump, of course, has qualities other Republicans lack. No one else will be as entertaining, or have the same ability to command attention, among other things. But these qualities are caught up in Trump’s radioactive persona. A recent Wall Street Journal poll has Trump tied 45-45% in a hypothetical matchup with Biden, a weak showing given that Biden’s political fortunes are not exactly at a high ebb.

It’s certainly true that Trump could beat Biden or some other Democratic nominee, but he’d be a risky pick compared a Republican who could make a new impression on the electorate and wouldn’t be wedded, the way Trump is, to running his 2016 and 2020 campaigns yet again.

Meanwhile, on the substance, Trump’s claims to distinctiveness, especially on the border and trade with China, have been eroded by his success in changing the party.

If you are a Republican drawn to Trump’s populism and want a high-octane version of it, well, there’s Josh Hawley.

If you like the idea of a Trump-friendly Republican with governing experience in a major state, there’s Ron DeSantis.

If you are drawn to Trump’s combativeness and disdain for the establishment, there’s Ted Cruz or any number of other options.

To move on from Trump, the party doesn’t have to become “Never Trumpers” opposed to everything related to him. It would suffice to become “No, thank you, Trumpers” — in other words, appreciative of his policy accomplishments in office and still fond of him, but ready to move on.

Otherwise, it’s going to be Mo Brooks-like fiascos for the duration.

Rich Lowry Courtesy photo

Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.

Twitter, @RichLowry