GOP's Trump alternatives falling flat as 'fever of Trumpism' continues to burn: analysis

Candidates moving to challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 nomination, like South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have tried to position themselves as the face of a younger, more optimistic and policy-minded Republican Party. They are bolstered by polling that suggests that Republican voters want a different candidate than Trump.

But there's a problem, commentator Molly Jong-Fast wrote for Vanity Fair on Thursday. Not many Republicans want to move on from Trump — and even fewer want to move on from Trumpism.

"As we witnessed ever since the former reality star came down that bronze escalator and into our living nightmare, Trumpism was largely a vibe, a kind of embrace of the basest elements of the Republican Party," wrote Jong-Fast, noting Trump's famous line that Mexico is sending "rapists" to the United States."Trumpism unapologetically trumpeted things previous Republicans had been ashamed to admit existed—the racism, the nativism, the stupid. Trumpism came with slogans ('Build the Wall' 'Lock Her Up'), and for some, has vaulted the host of The Apprentice to deity status. QAnon diehards call Trump GEOTUS, which stands for 'God Emperor of the United States.' Trumpism isn’t about policy, it’s about Trump."

And even for those who do want to get rid of Trump as a person, argued Jong-Fast, they still agree with his authoritarian culture wars and attacks on groups they fear and hate — which is why Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is emerging as the clearest Trump alternative.

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"When The Washington Post recently spoke to more than 150 Trump supporters, reporters found that in most interviews, 'fatigue with Trump was not a break with Trumpist politics,' and that 'while these voters expressed interest in someone less divisive, they showed little appetite for more moderate policies or messaging — a combination many saw possible with DeSantis,'" she wrote. "DeSantis, who has yet to officially declare his candidacy, is apparently hoping that by acting Trump-like — plenty of bullying and threats — primary voters will somehow be wooed into thinking he’s Trump himself."

"The problem is Republicans don’t want to take the pain of rejecting Trumpism and possibly alienating his voters, and perhaps, driving him to run as a third-party candidate," concluded Jong-Fast. "But until they do, the base will control the party and no amount of thoughtful speeches will break that fever."