Republicans' catch-22 in taking out Trump

There's an easy way to hit the GOP frontrunner where it hurts: call him a loser. But doing so could be career suicide among Republican voters.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and Ron DeSantis.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Gettyimages)

In the eyes of former President Donald Trump, there is no greater insult than to be a "loser." To be a loser, for Trump, is to admit that not only have you failed, but that someone else — someone ostensibly better — has succeeded in your stead. To be Trump, conversely, is to be a winner, to be the best, the undefeatable antithesis of everything that makes losers lose. The fact that Trump has in actuality lost many, many times in his various personal and political efforts is so anathematic to his sense of self that he is compelled instead to explain away each instance as being part of a massive conspiracy against him: He didn't "lose" re-election in 2020, it was "stolen" away from him; he didn't "lose" to author E. Jean Carroll's defamation and assault lawsuit, it was a "rigged" trial. There is no defeat that Trump — and, accordingly, his millions of followers — can't spin as an injustice against him.

This presents something of a conundrum for the growing field of GOP presidential candidates hoping to challenge the former president and current front-runner for his party's nomination ahead of 2024: how do you launch what should be a particularly effective general election attack against Trump for being an electoral loser — in 2018, 2020, and 2022 — without risking significant blowback from his core supporters whose majority bloc of votes you need to win the GOP primary? To commit to one is to fundamentally hamstring yourself for the other, which is why the 2024 Republican primary is going to be characterized in part by so many candidates trying to find ways of calling Trump a loser, without actually saying so.

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Rafi Schwartz, The Week US

Rafi Schwartz has worked as a politics writer at The Week since 2022, where he covers elections, Congress and the White House. He was previously a contributing writer with Mic focusing largely on politics, a senior writer with Splinter News, a staff writer for Fusion's news lab, and the managing editor of Heeb Magazine, a Jewish life and culture publication. Rafi's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, GOOD and The Forward, among others.