Donald Trump, financial fraud
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media on October 4, 2023. Photo credit: © John Lamparski/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

If Donald Trump’s rivals are unwilling to attack him as hard as possible after his Israel gaffes, why are they even in this race?

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There is no doubt that, absent a conviction in one of his criminal cases or some unforeseen event, it will be a daunting challenge for any of the Republican presidential candidates to wrest the GOP nomination away from Donald Trump. However, it will be impossible for them to defeat him if they continue to refuse to put up a fight.

So far in this race, only Chris Christie seems to have realized that… and he may not even be in it to win it. As we suggested before, the former New Jersey governor may simply want to take revenge on Trump for giving him a case of COVID-19 that landed him in intensive care for a week.

Up to this point, the rest of the field has shown no real desire to go after the former president, which is truly baffling in light of the unique nature of the GOP primary.

First of all, there is the math of the contest: Trump has consistently polled well above 50 percent, meaning that he would still win the nomination if all but one of his opponents dropped out and that challenger somehow managed to secure all the remaining support — which would not happen.

Usually, in a crowded field, things are much more competitive and there is a lot more movement. Not this time. Apart from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis dropping in the polls, the trajectory of the race has not changed much.

Therefore, the immediate goal of the other candidates has to be to upset the status quo. And, because there is no indication that this will happen organically, i.e., that Republican voters all of a sudden decide that now is the time to abandon the former president, Trump’s opponents have to go on the offensive.

Paradoxically, that is both extremely easy and very difficult.

On the one hand, anybody who wants to attack Trump is working in a target-rich environment.

There are the four indictments he faces, the incessant lying, the childish boasts, the pettiness, the incoherent speeches, his criminal behavior in the past, the broken promises from the last campaign, the damning quotes from people who worked for him, and the fact that he tried to overturn an election.

On the other hand, Trump is leading a cult conditioned to believe everything he says and has proved to be largely impervious to anything thrown at him. In addition, his followers will rabidly go after anybody who criticizes their orange messiah, so obviously there is a downside to attacks that don’t stick. And, finally, most of Trump’s rivals have been enabling him for years and helped perpetuate the alternative reality he created for his supporters.

Still, sitting back and doing nothing clearly isn’t working.

Until now, the other candidates all seem content to run against Joe Biden, which is truly dumb since, the way this is going, none of them will ever face off against the president.

It’s like putting the proverbial cart before the horse… with the only difference being that none of Trump’s rivals has a horse or seems to be in a position to procure one. In fact, most of them also don’t seem to have much of a cart.

By now, it must be clear to them that the only way to the GOP nomination is through Trump, and that means that they need to change their strategy. And fast.

Up to this point, if they even dared to attack him, they did so timidly. That clearly doesn’t work.

Instead, they have to be bold and relentless.

This week offered a perfect example of what they should be doing but largely aren’t (yet).

Days after the devastating Hamas attack on Israel, Trump not only called Hezbollah “very smart” but he then also criticized Israel and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As usual, the former president’s motivation seems to have been that he felt slighted because Netanyahu had acknowledged that Biden won the 2020 election.

To be fair, this was so bad even for Trump that some of his rivals did criticize him this time.

However, it’s not enough to tweet out a statement.

To make any inroads in this race, Trump’s rivals have to use this opening to hit him as hard as they possibly can; they may not get a better opportunity. Right now, everybody is paying attention to the situation and sympathizing with the Israelis. Against that backdrop, what Trump said is especially egregious and reveals some of his many character flaws (e.g., his pettiness, his inability to let things go, his compulsion to make everything about himself, etc.).

By the way, the Trump campaign knows how badly their guy screwed this up. Usually, his team isn’t worried about damage control at all, but this time, they have been trying to limit the fallout as much as possible.

For example, on Friday, the former president posted a very uncharacteristic message to his Truth Social platform. 

Clearly, his campaign is sensing some vulnerability on this issue.

In light of that, here is what the rival campaigns should do: They should create web ads and put them online as quickly as possible.

The more hard-hitting, clever, or funny they are, the better. That’s because they will quickly take on a life of their own once published. If it’s a good video, it will generate tons of free media when different news outlets will pick it up (“Haley Hammers Trump Over Israel With Brutal Video”), which means millions of people will end up watching, and the cost of putting the ad together is negligible.

And, to be fair, the DeSantis campaign tried to do this on Friday.

It’s a decent attempt, but the execution is lacking. Putting Trump next to images of the atrocities that Hamas committed is good, but the contrast could have been even more jarring. In addition, the video is too long, especially the part in which DeSantis is speaking. To maximize the possibility that the ad is picked up by the media, it should not be longer than 30 seconds.

Most important, this won’t get under Trump’s skin, and that’s the key to the entire thing. Right now, he is on the defensive, and, as his opponent, you want to press that advantage. The best way to do that is to ridicule the former president, in which case his malignant narcissism will force him to lash out.

Therefore, the ideal ad would be one that just does that and that Trump sees repeated on Fox News.

For example:

Somebody is drawing something on a piece of paper with crayon.
Narrator: As president, Donald Trump only took an interest in his intelligence briefings when they had lots of images.
Interspersed is a clip of the former president calling Hezbollah “very smart.”
Narrator: Don’t you wish somebody had drawn him a picture about Hezbollah?
We see a piece of paper on which a child has drawn a man shooting a child and below that it says “Hezbollah = bad”


An image of somebody sitting on a golden toilet and reading.
Narrator: We don’t know which classified documents Donald Trump stored in his Mar-a-Lago bathroom.
Brief clips of the Hezbollah remarks and disparaging comments about Netanyahu.
Narrator: But clearly, they weren’t those that explained to him that Bibi Netanyahu is our ally and Hezbollah is bad.


Narrator: Donald Trump has a habit of praising some of the world’s worst people as long as they say good things about him.
Clip of the Hezbollah remarks.
Narrator: That makes you wonder what compliments he got from Hezbollah to call them “very smart.”


Narrator: Even in a time of crisis, Donald Trump makes everything about himself.
Clip of Trump being interviewed on 9/11 and saying that his building is now the tallest.
Narrator: But now is not the time for his petty grievances.
Clip of Trump criticizing Netanyahu.
Narrator: Now is the time to stand with Israel and not to praise its enemies as very smart.


Narrator: Donald Trump has lost a step. He still thinks Barack Obama is in office.
Clips of Trump being confused about who is in the white House.
Narrator: So it’s no surprise he also thinks Hezbollah are the good guys.
Clip of Trump saying Hezbollah is very smart.
Narrator: Trump, a great president in 2016 but now a liability.

Really, the options are endless, and there are any number of ways for his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination to get under Trump’s skin: his election loss, being a loser in general, his small hands, people laughing at him, calling him stupid, etc.

Now is the time to use all of them.

Because if his rivals aren’t willing to attack him right now, what are they even doing in this race?  


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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