Some Thoughts on the Trump Question

I’m writing this in advance of the expected Trump announcement, knowing that things can change rapidly and some of what is said here may be irrelevant after tonight. Whether we are pro-Trump, anti-Trump, wish he would a grip, or think he is the problem in the GOP, we definitely will have to deal with Trump. Someone needs to have a conversation with him. But since I am not a likely candidate, I will take a different tack. We need to have a conversation about Trump. Consider this my humble contribution.

Obviously, Trump has a knack for keeping himself in the conversation, and this go-around, he threw a little shade at Ron DeSantis – aka “DeSanctimonious” – just to get the ball rolling in that direction. He threw this inside fastball high and tight just days before the election, giving us a lot of heartburn and probably impacting the election negatively, since it seems a number of Republican voters stayed home for the midterms. This particular move was a thinly veiled (and unprovoked) preemptive strike. Trump obviously sees DeSantis as a serious rival, challenging any hopes for a return to the White House. As far as that goes, we shouldn’t be surprised that Trump would take the initiative to provoke a fight, per his modus operandi. Here is more of Trump being Trump.

I was a Ted Cruz guy when Trump labeled him “Lyin’ Ted.” To say that I took great umbrage at this label would be an understatement. No political candidate has been more criticized from my pulpit than Donald Trump. In 2016, I was elected to represent Utah as an alternate delegate at the Republican National Convention. Our delegation, led by Mike Lee, was particularly determined to use any means possible to force Trump off the ballot.  

Despite my indignation, the Ted Cruz label gained traction among the voters. Ted Cruz came across as insincere and a bit superficial. The voters saw him as self-righteous and phony, and Trump pegged him. At this very early stage in the process, it would seem that Trump will have to come up with something better if he really wants to bring down Ron DeSantis. “DeSanctimonious” doesn’t fit him, and the voters aren’t buying this time. 

But my point in this little essay is not to give a blow-by-blow analysis of the opening round between Trump and DeSantis. So far, the budding feud has been entirely one-sided, with Trump doing what Trump does and DeSantis ignoring it. This makes for a bad look for Trump and a very presidential look for DeSantis. Observers have rightly pointed out that this behavior on Trump’s part has a lot to do with the reason we have Joe Biden in the White House right now. So, the irritation on the part of many is justifiable.

But, back to my point. I think this is as good a time as any to give some thought to the political geography as we brace for what will likely be a tumultuous two years leading up to the Presidential election of 2024. Please permit me to make a few points for your consideration on the Trump Question.

First, we are living through the death of a culture, so we shouldn’t be surprised to hear a few strange gurgling noises coming from the hospital bed. A dying culture will surely produce a few Neros and Caligulas and, yes, Donald Trumps. Not to offend the Trump faithful. But he is a product of our time. Hopefully, nobody supported him for his piety, but if you did, you should stop. He isn’t that kind of President. That’s why the comparisons to Ronald Reagan have always fallen short for me. Reagan wasn’t exactly a paragon of virtue, but compared to Trump, he was head and shoulders more a man of integrity, wit, and wisdom. Trump is none of the above – though he did do exactly what he said he would in Washington – there is that. And, he weathered more political garbage than anyone in my lifetime. So, he has a backbone, just not much in the way of self-restraint. He has all the nuance of a wrecking ball and all the subtlety of a porcupine in a room full of balloons. 

But then, does anyone think America will again elect a man of virtue and honor? Should Ron DeSantis survive the bludgeoning he is likely to receive at the hands of Trump, what do you think the media will do with him? Does anyone believe that two years from now, the country will unite in their agreement that Ron DeSantis (or, for that matter, any candidate a faithful believer could support) is a good man? The character assassins have aimed their guns and await their moment.

Second, what is killing our culture is the assault on Biblical masculinity. And we shouldn’t be surprised that the void of Biblical masculinity leaves room for many substitutes. Since this could be taken as a swipe at Donald Trump, allow me to qualify: Trump is a manly guy, no doubt. But he exhibits something very different from Biblical masculinity. Surely, nobody would dispute that. I’ve heard plenty of people argue that they think he is a Christian – usually on pretty shaky ground, in my opinion. He doesn’t behave like the Christians I know, and I don’t see a lot of fruit of Christianity, though I have been encouraged by a few things he has said. And, of course, I would want him to know the joy of salvation, just as I would want Joe Biden to know it. 

I would never argue that Trump exhibits fake masculinity. Generally speaking, the men of this world can sniff out a phony in a few seconds. The great enthusiasm for Trump in some circles has not been inspired by anything phony. Instead, I argue that Trump fills a void for many who hunger for manliness in a soft and effeminate age. He is a leader, no doubt. Amidst all the outrage from Christians offended by Trump’s bluster and bloviation, we should remember that Trump isn’t going anywhere. 

Donald Trump built the most unlikely coalition in the modern era. He garnered enthusiastic support from the most conservative element of the “Christian right” since Reagan. At the same time, he gained almost militant support from the biker/trucker Libertarians I have ever seen. About a month before the 2020 election, I (foolishly) took my son and another young man to Virginia City, Nevada, on a Saturday evening. I should have known better. I had been to Virginia City previously, during daytime hours on weekdays when it is a quiet little mining town. But on Saturday evening, Harleys lined both sides of the street shoulder-to-shoulder for at least a mile. And Trump flags everywhere – lining the sidewalks and parading back and forth up the main drag through town. These bikers were militant Trump supporters. They were also vile. We encountered stark nudity waving Trump flags and signs. As I told the boys, they may support our guy, but they are not our people. This is the “basket of deplorables” that comprise a significant part of the Trump base.

Third, we would do well to consider Trump’s assault on DeSantis in its historical context. And please, I am not defending what he does; just making a few points about it. Trump’s assault comes in the wake of a twenty-year-long line of weak, capitulating men. We held our collective noses and voted for these “establishment” Republicans: George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and even George W. Bush to an extent. These men have one outstanding achievement: they frustrated the daylights out of voters on both sides of the aisle (though for different reasons). Will Ron DeSantis signal a return to that way of being Republican? Time will tell, but we should all hope not. 

Yet, I would argue that Trump’s flamethrower could be somewhat helpful in discovering the metal of Ron DeSantis. Don’t get me wrong: I prefer a different way of going about it, but we do need to know. And it is inevitable, when the war breaks out between these two (and it will unless DeSantis bows out for 2024), that Donald Trump will expose any duplicity in DeSantis. Again, not defending or justifying, only observing. 

We can be encouraged by DeSantis’ performance to date. First, the “DeSanctimonious” trial balloon turned torpedo almost immediately. And second, DeSantis hasn’t demonstrated a tendency to go “wobbly” (as George Bush might have). He hasn’t needed to resort to the brash New Yorker bully tactic we have grown accustomed to with Trump. DeSantis reminds me more of Wyatt Earp – longsuffering, patient, and ready to knock a head when the time comes.

Fourth, when Trump goes away, another Trump will come in his place. He might be Republican, he might be Democrat, he might be gay, he might be straight. But he will come. Or she will. We can count on it. The great vacuum of leadership in our country has given rise to this. You can hate Trump, you can love him, or you, like me, can say that you would still vote for him if he is the nominee. But we better get used to this kind of thing from both sides. In 2016, I argued that the Republican embrace of Trump would be used as justification when the Democrats come up with their own equivalent. I believe this more now.

That said, Trump does support us, even if he doesn’t represent us. I would rather have Samson fighting for us than settle for having Philistines as our masters. I support Jehu when he is “flanging down” Jezebel, and oppose him when he sets up his own idols.

Sixth, we should all root for Ron DeSantis. We should root for him to be what he is without capitulation. It has been rumored that Trump’s savage attack is due to a DeSantis attempt to woo the RINOs. If so, we all ought to be paying attention. Nobody should hope for a return to the way things were when the RINOs ruled the Republican party. I much prefer Trump’s hammer-fisted ways to the cloak-and-dagger betrayals that we came to expect from the RINOs. Surely, we can agree that one of Trump’s great contributions to our party was to break the RINOs’ grip. But we should root for DeSantis to win, and win now. We don’t need to wait another six years for a DeSantis presidency. That gives the media and the establishment bonus time to cook the books against him. I intend to support DeSantis should he enter the race.

Seventh, we should be careful about discounting a candidate we find personally distasteful. Instead, we should be mindful of the extraordinary times in which we live and recognize that we probably will have to take what we can get. Isn’t that what we did with McCain? I don’t mean to argue against fighting for what we want. We better do that and now is the time. But we should probably recognize that the barn is on fire right now. My little bucket of water might not do much to put out the flame, but it will do more if I throw it on the barn than if I stand by staring in disbelief. 

All that to offer a prophecy of sorts – though I wouldn’t want all my credibility to hang on this one thing. But let’s say I wouldn’t be surprised, should Trump come out on the losing end of a mele with DeSantis, if he announces a third-party candidacy. One thing we have all learned about Donald Trump – he doesn’t know how to concede anything.  And whether that is my suspicion of Trump coming out or a clear-eyed perspective of our current reality, time will have to tell. But it does seem clear to me that God has determined to chastise our nation. And all the key players, it would seem, have a role to play in that chastisement. I think we can include Donald Trump in that.