Donald Trump, no podium, Keep America Great, rally, Phoenix, AZ
Donald Trump speaking at a “Keep America Great” rally at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, AZ. Photo credit: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

Donald Trump has done two things for Republicans: Build the base (at the expense of moderates and independents) and lose elections. Democrats should be happy to let him keep doing that.

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In the first season of The West Wing, a popular TV show from the turn of the century about a Democratic president and his team — often dubbed “porn for liberals” because progressives win a lot and are always the good guys — one episode is entitled “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” 

That refers to the political handlers of the show’s main protagonist, President Josiah Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen), who encourage him to stop being timid and start being himself in order to succeed. 

Today’s Republican Party finds itself on the other end of things… and yet it seems determined to “Let Trump Be Trump,” even if that means its eventual implosion.

Conversely, Democrats should be thrilled to have the former president criss-cross the country to make insane speeches and endorse whack jobs as long as they perpetuate his Big Lie about the last election and lay out an unpopular platform when being interviewed by friendly cable news anchors beholden to him.

So, let’s take a look at what “Trump being Trump” has meant for the GOP over the past eight years and, more specifically, what it means right now. Spoiler Alert:  “Let Trump be Trump” has meant losing. A lot. 

As it turns out, no matter how he tries to spin it, Americans as a whole are not nearly as sold on the former president’s brand as the MAGA cult is. 

After eking out a narrow Electoral College victory in 2016 (while losing the popular vote by 2.5 million to an unpopular adversary) that was aided by, in no particular order, the Electoral College itself, the FBI, the mainstream media, and Russian hackers, the GOP has been on a losing streak that culminated in Trump getting crushed in 2020 by yet another unpopular foe. 

Yes, Republicans won a narrow (but dwindling) House majority in 2022, but they underperformed significantly compared to other opposition parties during the midterms.

There are a couple of reasons for that. On the one hand, the GOP’s agenda is just not all that popular. On the other hand, Trump himself is even less popular. 

Yet, out of necessity, Republicans are all-in on the former president because of his cult-like following among the base. If he decides to take his proverbial ball and go home, they will be right behind him because, to tens of millions of Republican voters, the former president is a messianic figure chosen to make their lives better. 

Those poor fools.

As a result, the pre-Trump leaders of the GOP have had to bend over backwards to accommodate the former president, even though they know it is bad for the party.

Specifically, that means that they have to constantly defend his indefensible behavior. By catering to him for years, they now own every despicable thing that comes out of his mouth.

More importantly, they also have to live with the MAGA candidates that the former president chooses. Look no further than Ohio, where the Trump-backed MAGA candidate Bernie Moreno won this week’s GOP Senate primary. 

Democrats like him so much as an opponent that one of their affiliated groups ran ads touting the former president’s endorsement of Moreno.

Now, in one of the races that may decide control of the Senate in a tough cycle for Democrats, their candidate, Sen. Sherrod Brown, is getting his dream opponent.

And it’s not as though the party can help out people like Moreno with lots of money. That’s because Trump has been spending the Republican National Committee’s money like a drunken sailor… a drunken sailor who has amassed millions of dollars in legal fees.

Another reason why Democrats should just let Trump be Trump is that the former president is going to get increasingly unhinged as the year progresses. 

There are experts who believe that the former president is not only displaying a hodgepodge of mental illnesses but also signs of dementia when he speaks in public. They predict that this dementia will fully manifest itself prior to the election. 

However, even if Trump does not increasingly speak gibberish in the next six months, he might as well. In fact, it might be better for him to be merely incomprehensible rather than so obviously suffering from dementia that even MAGA adherents will want him replaced at the top of the GOP ticket. 

Because, as we have learned, if he is merely nuts and outrageous, most Republicans will give him a pass… but the rest of the country won’t. 

And it seems highly likely that Trump will keep saying crazier and crazier stuff the closer he gets to the election… and to the start of the four criminal trials he faces. 

Sure, one might argue that letting Trump be Trump is playing with fire. After all, as a corrupt grifter with mental problems and authoritarian fantasies, the former president would pose a unique threat to the US were he to get back to the Oval Office. 

However, it also seems clear that, while he turns out the base like no other Republican, he is otherwise a drag on the GOP in terms of the money the party has available, the quality of the candidates it runs down-ballot in November, and how it is viewed by a majority of Americans (of course, Democrats are not much more popular themselves). 

The results of the primaries so far should be a wakeup call to the GOP. Since Nikki Haley, his last serious competition, dropped out of the race, Trump has had trouble getting 80 percent of Republican primary voters in many states.

Exit polls show that he continues to struggle with suburban voters, especially women. If these Republicans stay home in November, or vote for Democrats, it’s tough to see how the former president could come out ahead. 

It’s even tougher to see how a more unhinged Trump will get these millions of unhappy GOP voters to back him. 

In other words, 170 years after it was founded, the GOP is in serious trouble. 

And it’s not as though the RNC will step in… because the party’s leaders are now a tight-knit crew of Trump sycophants — including his daughter-in-law Lara.

They will sit back and let Trump be Trump, even if that means courting another defeat this fall. 

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