Haley and DeSantis Tread Lightly on Trump


Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis seem reluctant to make the GOP primary about Trump, perhaps wary of alienating the legions of Republican voters who have backed him in the past, media reports said, reports T.N. Ashok

The Republican presidential race ahead of the primaries to the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire meet in another 50 days should have been a referendum on former President Donald Trump, instead, it’s turning out to be a vote on President Joe Biden’s performance, because of the vice grip on the GOP that Trump holds, media reports said.

As the four presidential hopefuls prep up their debate Wednesday in Alabama for the 4th GOP debate, challengers like number two Nikki Haley and number three Ron DeSantis seem reluctant to make the GOP primary about Trump, perhaps wary of alienating the legions of Republican voters who have backed him in the past, media reports said.

The former New Jersey Gov Chris Christie, the most vocal critic of Trump, hasn’t gained much traction in his campaign, polling below 4 per cent in Iowa, while holding at third place in New Hampshire. Christie and other anti-Trump Republicans say the party has no choice but to focus on the former president, given his weakness with independent voters and the unprecedented fact that he is facing as many as four criminal trials in the coming year, USA TODAY reported.

“If Trump is our nominee, we will not only lose the presidency again, but we will lose both houses of Congress, and we will lose races up and down the ticket,” Christie told NewsNation in an interview. “He is political poison, up and down the ballot.”

Wednesday’s debate: Will Trump surface?

The non-Trump candidates will get another chance to discuss the frontrunner − or not − during Wednesday’s debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama is the question. Trump himself plans to host a fundraiser in Florida, skipping the Alabama debate just as he did the three previous throw-downs in Pennsylvania, San Francisco and Milwaukee.

Pollsters and political analysts don’t expect the Trump issue to surface as they don’t gain much attention or traction with the republican voters during the debate because there’s little or no gain in it for the challengers. Most of Trump’s rivals are leery of attacking the GOP’s undisputed leader, fearing a backlash from grassroots Republican voters, they said.

Attacks on Trump seem to have strengthened him politically. Many Republican voters have rallied around him, regardless of whether the attacks have come from GOP rivals, President Joe Biden and the Democrats, or prosecutors and grand juries that have charged him with felony crimes, reports said.

Trump faces trials in Washington, D.C., and Georgia on charges of trying to steal the 2020 election. He was indicted in New York over hush money payments to an adult film actress, and in Florida on allegations of mishandling classified documents. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. “Criticism of Trump from any corridor makes him stronger in the Republican primary,” said Republican political consultant Mike Madrid, who opposes the ex-president’s campaign.

Trump holds leads of more than 45 percentage points in national polls compiled by the Real Clear Politics website.

Madrid added: “If politics was normal, this would be a referendum” on Trump. “But these are not normal times.”

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said there are basically three types of Republican voters: “Always Trump”, “Maybe Trump”, and “Never Trump”.

Challengers will need those Maybe Trump voters, he said, and that means they have to be careful in how they criticize the former president, making a case against him without offending the fence-sitters. Whatever the approach, the Republican race is all about Trump, whether candidates or pundits like it or not.

“It’s defined by Trump,” Ayres said. “He has such a big personality and has taken over the party.”

‘Trump’s Second Term Threatens America’s Existence’

A possible second term for former US President Donald Trump “poses a threat to the existence of America as we know it”, the editor of a US-based magazine has said.

Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, said he refuses to go gently into that good night. “We can’t participate in the normalization of Donald Trump,” an impassioned Goldberg said. “I refuse to participate in the normalization of Donald Trump,” Goldberg was quoted by US media reports as saying.

Goldberg is one of the few major newsroom leaders who has been exceptionally clear-eyed about the perilous storm on the horizon for American democracy. Using plain language, Goldberg and his team of writers at the magazine have not shied away from portraying Trump as a vandal of civilized society and an outright menace to the US Constitution, a CNN columnist wrote on Tuesday.

On Monday, The Atlantic published a special edition of its monthly magazine focusing on what a second Trump term would look like.

The aptly-titled “If Trump Wins” issue features two dozen articles laying out how the twice-impeached, four-time indicted candidate would shred norms, weaponize government, warp the rule of law, and degrade democracy, reports said.

Trump faces 90 counts of felony, a $250 million civil and criminal tax fraud trial in Manhattan, cancellation of his business licenses, subversion of the electoral processes and conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election verdict electing Joe Biden as the President in Washington DC and Georgia.

“I want people to be able to hand this issue to people… who are still unsure about the nature of Trump’s authoritarianism,” Goldberg explained.

While most leaders of major American newspapers hold to the belief that Trump will rule as an authoritarian, it is rare to hear any of them saying so aloud — especially in such frank terms. But Goldberg is more than comfortable doing so. He points out that his position is not a partisan one.

“It’s not about Republicans and Democrats,” he stressed, but “about authoritarians versus pro-democracy Americans”. And, in his view, not being open with readers about dangerous forces on the march would amount to a dereliction of duty, the CNN analyst said.

“I would prefer journalists to speak plainly about what they’re seeing,” Goldberg said. “And I believe that a second Trump term poses a threat to the existence of America as we know it.”

“It is not that difficult for newsrooms to say they are pro-democracy. Most leaders in the Fourth Estate have no problem saying so. The conundrum they face is that in this dark time in which we find ourselves, staking out a vocal pro-democracy stance effectively means being anti-Trump. Most news organizations are not comfortable in that turf, as it could be perceived as partisan and turn away audiences. This is one of the discomforting aspects of this whole dilemma that people in the news media face,” Goldberg noted.

“Our eyes and ears tell us that Donald Trump fomented an insurrection against the Constitution. Right? We saw it. We heard it. It happened. That means that he placed himself outside the norms of American democratic behaviour. That is why I am comfortable devoting an entire issue to answering the question of what a second Trump term would look like and reaching the conclusion that it would be terrible. Absolutely terrible.”

When asked by the CNN analyst whether being outspoken about the prospect of a second Trump presidency could alienate otherwise persuadable audiences, Goldberg argued that self-censorship is not the solution. As he put it, “At a certain point, you can’t convince people of reality”.

Former US President Donald Trump.(photo:Instagram)

“All we can do is try to present fairly and completely our fact-checked views of Trump and Trumpism and hope that people read it and understand that we are trying to be truthful with our readers and truthful with ourselves and transparent,” Goldberg said.

“And if some voters in America can’t handle that, then they can’t handle that. There’s not much I can do about it.”

“And this is the dilemma facing all journalism institutions,” Goldberg continued. “We’d like to be able to speak to 100 per cent of Americans. But at a certain point you don’t want to twist or muffle or downplay certain realities simply because reporting those realities offends a segment of your audience.”

Goldberg personally knows that being candid and reporting aggressively on Trump can come with severe consequences. After Goldberg reported in September 2020 that Trump had disparaged American service members who had died in the war as “suckers” and “losers” (something former White House chief of staff John Kelly later confirmed on the record to Jake Tapper), he had to move out of his house over security concerns for a period.

But, he warned, a second Trump presidency could be even worse for the press. And, for that reason, members of the news media will need to contemplate their editorial decisions now, given Trump’s already-declared hopes to muzzle critics if he were to regain power.

“We all understand that Trump thinks of us as enemies of the state, and we understand that there are consequences for us that come with this belief,” Goldberg said. “There’s a chance that he would try to somehow criminalize reporting in a second term, and so we have to sound the alarm about that, along with the more generalized threats to American democracy. And we have to sound the alarm now.”

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