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'Trump can't win' column stirs debate about 2024 race

"I am as certain as I am writing this that Donald Trump will never again be elected president of these United States," National Review columnist Andy McCarthy wrote.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump in Scotland on Tuesday. (Steve Welsh/PA via AP)

National Review columnist Andrew McCarthy issued a stark warning to his fellow Republicans over the weekend: Nominating Donald Trump in 2024 would guarantee another four years of Joe Biden as president.

“I am as certain as I am writing this that Donald Trump will never again be elected president of these United States,” McCarthy, a former assistant U.S. attorney who twice voted for Trump, wrote in a much-debated piece titled “Why Trump Can’t Win” that was published Saturday.

Citing the string electoral losses the party has suffered since electing Trump in 2016, the former president’s mounting legal peril, his unfounded claims of voter fraud in 2020, his alleged incitement of violence on Jan. 6, 2021, and polls showing him losing to Biden in 2024, McCarthy made the case that nominating Trump would be a trap.

“The greatest peril for the country is four (more) years of Democrats in power. The difference this time ’round is that Trump’s nomination would guarantee that this peril becomes our reality," he wrote.

The column drew varied responses, with Republicans opposed to Trump like Bill Kristol heartily agreeing, self-described “liberal Republican” Will Saletan expressing skepticism and liberal journalist Judd Legum heartily disagreeing with its conclusion.

While Trump holds a commanding polling lead over Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis in an as-yet hypothetical race for the Republican presidential nomination, surveys have found DeSantis generally doing better than Trump in general election matchups.

Yet even while conceding Trump’s potential liabilities, many political observers believe that discounting his chances of defeating Biden is premature.

“I think that anybody who says, ‘he's done,’ that is clearly a mistake,” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said in March in an interview promoting “Confidence Man,” her book on Trump.

“There are plenty of Democrats that you and I know that are rooting for Trump to be the nominee, because they think he will be the easiest for President Biden to beat,” added Haberman, who has covered Trump for years. “I would not make the statement that gets made to me all the time, ‘Trump can’t win another national election.’ I don’t know that to be true, no one does.”

Donald Trump
The former president at the Aberdeen, Scotland, airport prior to his visit to the Trump International Golf Links. (Jane Barlow/PA via AP)

To be sure, President Biden faces his own reelection headwinds, not the least of which is the fact that 68% of U.S. adults surveyed in a Yahoo News/YouGov poll released in February said they believe that he is too old to be given a second term. Yet 45% say the same about Trump, and that doesn't factor in all of the other negative attributes cited by McCarthy, chief among them being his attempt to subvert the last presidential election.

How much of a factor Trump’s 2020 election denialism will affect his 2024 bid remains to be seen. On Monday, CNN announced that it would hold a town hall event with Trump, a move that drew criticism from those who accused the network of elevating the former president’s bogus claims in the pursuit of ratings.

Trump will field questions from undecided Republican voters in New Hampshire, CNN said, but it remains unclear how moderator Kaitlan Collins will handle Trump’s false assertions about voter fraud or his regular denouncements of the network as “fake news.” A CBS News/YouGov poll released Monday showed that 61% of Republicans preferred a presidential candidate who declared that Trump actually won in 2020.

For McCarthy, at least, those Republicans clinging to the belief that Trump still represents the party's best hope are, at best, clinging to a delusion.

“They want Republicans and conservatives to believe he’s got a shot, to be gulled into nominating him. Then, once he gets the nomination, and it’s too late for Republicans to reconsider, Democrats and the media will hit him with everything they’ve got: all of the January 6 ammo, all of his 2020 denialism, his lunatic tweets and ‘Truths,’ his attacks on popular Republicans, his praise for Democrats and dictators, and any possible indictments against him that they’ve been holding back on — long narrative indictments that lay out, in chapter and verse, felonies far more serious than what Alvin Bragg has brought and much tougher to slough off as weaponized law enforcement,” he wrote in his column. “After that onslaught, it would be a miracle if Trump cracked 43 percent of the popular vote.”