opinion | Republicans may want a candidate without Trump’s baggage in 2024

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Confessions can be made publicly or privately, and for legal or religious purposes.

In the legal world, anyone seeking a plea settlement must not be coerced into confessing and must be heard and believed by a judge.

There are many varieties of religious beliefs. The Catholic approach is conducted in secret, penitent to priest, and only a “good” confession will elicit absolution, with the priest being the sole judge.

There are also ritual confessions that are made public and are usually of more limited use. How many times have we heard elected officials acknowledge, apologize and promise reforms?

Many of the New York Times columnists engaged in an intriguing confession ritual last week, noting some allegations they had made wrong. Bret Stephens’ column was the most memorable of these self-assessments because, on the surface, it was an apology to those who voted for Donald Trump.

Stephens admitted that caricaturing Trump voters in many columns was wrong. Most of those voters, he now notes, were angry and for legitimate reasons. “I could have given Trump voters more credit for nuance, too,” he wrote.

Stephens is a fairly regular guest on my radio show, and we’ve talked a lot about the 2016 and 2020 votes. What he hasn’t included in his column-long admission of a mistake is a list of policies Trump got right, or the reasons Trump voters made a good choice in 2016 and four years later were apparently right, Trump versus Joe To Elect Biden: Three Crucial Supreme Court Nominees and Circuit and District Judge Results; Operation Warp Speed; higher defense spending; an embrace of reality about the Chinese Communist Party; a demand that NATO countries pay for their share of the security they enjoy; massive pro-growth tax cuts; widespread deregulation; the Abraham Accords; and a much less porous southern border than either pre-Trump or post-Trump.

Millions of Trump voters weren’t just angry, and millions weren’t angry at all. They were sensible citizens making a calculated choice between two candidates four years apart.

Stephens implied his goal is to convince Trump supporters to ditch the former president in 2024. That’s because Trump is the GOP front runner and likely nominee at the moment — although a lot could change.

The Jan. 6 hearings didn’t change the minds of Republican voters significantly, if at all. The special panel also greatly exceeded. His oily video slam on Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) inadvertently revealed that the committee’s agenda was geared toward revenge — not seeking facts. Showing a video of Hawley running around somewhere in the Capitol was an attempt at shame and only succeeded on the irrational and outbursts of anger. (The committee also shared the photo of Hawley raising his fist in support of the well-known but absurd argument that he incited rioters.) What does the video of Hawley running from the mob prove about Trump’s behavior on Jan. 6? ? Nothing of course.

Trump-haters online loved the video — and it almost certainly deepened attachment to Trump among those who abhor the smug complacency of the left.

Had the process achieved the goal Stephens set out in his column? That is, to separate Trump supporters from Trump? My guess is no, a guess hardened after trying to frame Hawley.

But then I also suspect that the committee’s goal is very different from a real investigation: it’s theater staged to sow skepticism among moderate Republicans and independents in Trump’s circle; and to pressure the Merrick Garland Department of Justice to impeach Trump on all grounds, however legally flimsy.

It is still too early to know if any of the goals will be achieved. Trump stays ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and all the other comers in most pre-game polls — although margins aren’t as robust as he’d like.

But also remember: Back then-Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin held pole position for most of 2015, only to be eliminated at the third debate. Debates in 2023 and snap ballots in primary states in 2024 will be the true test of whether Republican voters think their interests are better served by another candidate — one with all of Trump’s advantages and without his baggage.

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